1 May 2002


To:       Raymond Knapp, Chair, Undergraduate Council


From:   Ray Ingersoll (Chair) and Sally Gibbons (Resource staff person),

Foundations of Scientific Inquiry Workgroup


Re:       Course approvals for the College’s new General Education curriculum for Fall, 2002.



This document summarizes the following:


(1)   the process the Workgroup used to review courses;

(2)   criteria used to evaluate proposals and determine their appropriateness to this foundational area;

(3)   issues and questions emerging from the review process;


Introduction to the process used to review courses

The following members of the Foundation of Scientific Inquiry Workgroup participated in the course proposal review process:


Ray Ingersoll (Earth and Space Sciences) – Chair

Theo Apostal (Undergraduate Representative)[1]

Scott Chandler (Neuoscience/ Physiological Science)

Douglas Durian (Physics and Astronomy) – FEC

Robert Fovell, (Atmospheric Sciences)

Ted Gamelin (Mathematics) - UgC and UgCC

Elma Gonzalez (OBEE)

Andrea Liu (Chemistry/Biochemistry)

John Merriam (MCD Biology)

Rick Paik Schoenberg (Statistics)

Resource Staff: Sally Gibbons (GE Office)

Jack Beatty (Psychology) and Bob Goldberg (MCD Biology and GE Governance Committee) were members of the workgroup who were both interested in participating in the process but were unable to attend any of the meetings.  


The Workgroup met four times to conduct the course review. In the first meeting (Click here for the minutes to this March 14th meeting), the group was introduced by David Rodes to the intent of the GE reform and to the administrative process used to ensure that the proposals submitted meet the criteria for certification under the new GE. The Workgroup members received and reviewed the materials sent to departments for the submission of course proposals, including a copy of the new GE requirements and guidelines for certifying courses. Taken together, these discussions and materials introduced members to their charge in implementing the new GE requirements.


In the second meeting, the group as a whole reviewed four proposals selected by the Workgroup Chair as presenting issues he anticipated would be common among the proposals. The aim of this review was to calibrate the group’s evaluations in order to ensure that the group agreed on: (1) criteria that course proposals should meet in order to be approved for GE credit; (2) what defects in a proposal warranted requesting modification of the course by the department submitting it; and (3) what defects warranted rejecting it.


Each of the four proposals possessed unique features. The courses included one Physical Science course, one Life Science course, one Humanities course seeking Life Science credit, and one Social Science course seeking Life Science credit. One was a 4-unit course remaining 4 units; two were 4-to-5-unit conversions; and one involved a 4- or 6-unit option. The four proposals were also highly variable in the quantity and quality of materials provided. The group’s assessments of the four proposals are recorded in the attached minutes for the 4 April meeting.


The remaining proposals were each reviewed by three Workgroup members, as assigned by the Chair. Faculty members from the life sciences were generally selected to review proposals in the physical sciences, and faculty members from the physical sciences were generally selected to review courses in the life sciences. The rationale was that scientists from outside the field should be able to ascertain the merits of the courses if they were to be appropriate to GE. A spreadsheet indicating the readers for each proposal is attached.


The final two meetings were devoted to collecting the “votes” of the Workgroup members charged with reviewing the proposals. Each proposal could receive an “A” for approve, “M” for modify, or “R” for reject. Proposals approved by all three reviewers were accepted, to be sent to the UgC without further discussion. Proposals that did not receive three identical votes were discussed by the group. If agreement could not be reached following the discussion, a vote of all members was taken.


Criteria used to evaluate proposals and determine their appropriateness to this foundational area 


The Workgroup referred regularly to the language adopted in the GE reform legislation for guidance regarding criteria for assessing which courses are appropriate to Foundations of Scientific Inquiry. That language states:

Foundations of Scientific Inquiry (4 courses, 18 units)

The aim of courses in this area is to ensure that students gain a fundamental understanding of how scientists formulate and answer questions about the operation of both the physical and biological world. These courses also deal with some of the most important issues, developments, and methodologies in contemporary science, addressing such topics as the origin of the universe, environmental degradation, and the decoding of the human genome. Through lectures, laboratory experiences, writing, and intensive discussions students consider the important roles played by the laws of physics and chemistry in society, biology, earth and environmental sciences, and astrophysics and cosmology.


In addition, the Workgroup appealed to GE principles and guidelines for proposal submission to ascertain the intent of the legislation.


Ø      Courses from departments outside the sciences

One issue that emerged was how to evaluate courses from departments outside life or physical sciences requesting GE credit in this foundational area. In cases in which a course included both science and nonscience content and methods, the Workgroup sought to ensure that the science material was adequate to earn 4 or 5 units of credit in this area. Some Workgroup members argued that even if only half of the material was science material (as opposed to material providing a nonscience approach to the course topic), that fact shouldn’t be interpreted as meaning that this is only “half” a course in the sciences, since the integration of these discourses could weave the approaches together in a way that GE should seek to achieve, unifying scientific, social and humanistic material. It was also suggested that GE should endorse diverse approaches to science, and that students who were threatened by science might find a more congenial introduction to science by seeing the connections among humanistic, social and scientific concerns. Decisions as to whether a “mixed” course contained enough science were made on a case-by-case basis.


Courses on the history or philosophy of science were generally accepted, as long as there was sufficient science content. The Workgroup felt that learning the history and philosophy of science bears directly on how science is practiced. On the other hand, courses that discussed science (e.g., evolution) from a nonscientific perspective (e.g., cultural anthropology) were not accepted. In these cases, it seemed that the courses did not help students “gain an understanding of how scientists formulate and answer questions about the operation of both the physical and biological world.”


Ø      Courses requesting reuniting

Not all courses submitted to this foundational area requested reuniting from 4 to 5 units. Those that did, however, were expected to provide sufficient documentation to warrant the additional unit. Some departments simply completed the reuniting worksheet (resulting in the total student hours adding up to at least 15), without providing much further evidence that the workload was indeed equivalent to 15 hrs/week. This was not deemed a problem in cases where significant additional work (e.g., a lab) was added. The doubts emerged for courses where the department simply stated that although the course had been at 4 units, the workload warranted the increase to 5.


Some Workgroup members felt that we should avoid micromanaging and trust the faculty when they assert that the extra unit is deserved. Ted Gamelin and Ray Knapp, speaking on behalf of the UgC, countered that the UgC takes reuniting very seriously and would feel that they have to review this Workgroup’s approval of reuniting much more carefully if the issue of reuniting was not addressed. The suggestion was made that, in cases where the reuniting wasn’t clearly supported, the submitting department should provide further documentation to justify the increase, alerting them to the fact that the UgC curriculum committee will be looking closely at this issue. In some cases, the Workgroup took this approach. In others, the group approved the course at 4, rather than 5 units, and alerted the department to this fact.


Ø      Rigorous science courses as GE offerings

Some Workgroup members questioned the propriety of having certain rigorous courses in physics, chemistry, and biology, for example, being treated as General Education courses. It was thought that these might not reflect the intent of GE to introduce nonscience students to the field in a broad way that the students could integrate into the rest of their studies and their lives. On the other hand, the Workgroup agreed that nonscience students should be rewarded if they meet their GE requirement by taking these challenging classes.  Also, it was agreed that these classes clearly meet the aims of this foundational area as articulated by the legislation (see above), as well as advancing several of the GE principles (e.g., critical thinking, problem solving, and general knowledge) identified in the guidelines. The group decided to accept these courses as appropriate to the new GE curriculum, while also acknowledging that few nonscience students would use them to fulfill their GE requirements.


Issues and questions arising from the review process

Not all course proposals lent themselves to clear-cut inclusion or exclusion from this foundation area. Courses in mathematics and statistics raised several questions. These departments are housed in, and are considered part of, the physical sciences, and they have requested physical science GE credit for their course offerings. Although everyone agreed that mathematics and statistics provide essential foundational skills and knowledge required in both the physical and life sciences, they were not all agreed that the courses actually constitute physical-science courses. Ted Gamelin noted that many of the applications provided as examples in the mathematics courses are drawn from the sciences. The same is true in some of the statistics courses. On the other hand, the examples are meant only to illustrate the math and statistics problems and methods, rather than being the focus of the course.


Although the discussion of statistics had much in common with that of math (given that both are core skills used in science, but are, arguably, not themselves physical or life sciences), the statistics courses raised slightly different issues. As the statistics department noted on their GE course information sheet, basic scientific methods are taught and applied in these courses (e.g., experimental design, hypothesis testing, causation and correlation). This focus lends a scientific quality to the courses. Nevertheless, many Workgroup members felt that statistics courses are skills courses, which, however valuable, aren’t in themselves courses in physical or life sciences.


In the end, the group felt that it did not have sufficient guidance from the GE Governance Committee (and the FEC?) to determine how to handle the mathematics and statistics offerings. The group chose not to act on these courses, instead referring them back to these committees for further discussion. In addition, the Workgroup suggests to these committees that they consider developing a stronger Quantitative Reasoning GE requirement. If that were to happen, students would receive the higher-level mathematics and statistics training that everyone agreed should be a part of their general education.


One suggestion, that did not receive thorough discussion by the Workgroup, since it was not part of the Workgroup’s charge, was that all UCLA undergraduates should be required to take at least one course in Statistics as part of their Quantitative Reasoning requirement. This suggestion should be discussed by the GE Governance Committee.


Courses approved for GE credit in Foundations of Scientific Inquiry

71 courses were approved for GE credit in Foundations of Scientific Inquiry. These included 44 courses in the physical sciences, 24 in the life sciences, and 3 that could be counted in either life or physical sciences. The list of courses is appended.



[1] We would like to express our appreciation to Theo Apostol, the student representative on the workgroup, for his thoughtful and active participation in this process.  His willingness to think broadly about GE curriculum reform in the sciences and to share the student perspective, as he understands it, contributed an important dimension to our discussions and decision-making process.