Comprehensiveness rating: 3 read less
This ten-chapter, 220-page, pdf textbook covers many topics that are usually found in a general biology textbook. These include scientific thinking, life’s diversity and origins, evolution, reactions, membranes and energy, heredity, proteins, genes, and social systems. Using the Table of Contents and the Acrobat Find tool, topics such as cell cycle, phases of mitosis and meiosis, cellular signaling, and epigenetics were not found. The book starts with a three-page Table of Contents, but there is not an index nor glossary at the end of the book. Although the textbook has some diagrams and figures to help illustrate concepts, more visuals of experiments and biological structures and processes would be helpful. I noticed one figure citation, but the source of the others figures is unclear. The Preface notes the use of footnotes so students can delve into topics in more detail, and web links are often provided (some with brief descriptions and some without); adding additional links to help students understand and/or visualize key concepts would be helpful. Within each chapter are thought-provoking “Questions to answer and ponder.” There are many terms in the textbook, and it would be helpful if these were highlighted within the text and/or placed into another feature (e.g., list at the start or end of a chapter). The Preface also notes that there are foundational observations that apply to biological systems, and the material is often presented with explanations of experiments that helped to understand the concepts. This is helpful to show students that our knowledge was developed through experimentation, however, students may get overwhelmed by the details and miss the main concepts.
Accuracy rating: 5
The chapters I read seem to have accurate information. Many of the footnote links are to Wikipedia pages which are not always accurate. I noticed one footnote that stated “video with lost of misspelled words;” finding another video or resource could help decrease student confusion. The material is presented in the textbook with scientific objectivity.
Relevance/Longevity rating: 5
This book mainly includes historical experiments and well-accepted concepts in biology, so this information will likely not need to be updated. There are many web links in the footnotes and some within the text, and these often need to be updated.
Clarity rating: 1
This book has very high cognitive load. There are many long paragraphs, and the main point of each may not be clear to students. The text is packed with many scientific terms, and some are not defined until later sentences or paragraphs. Some of the scientific and non-scientific terminology is very advanced for an introductory textbook and would likely be more appropriate for an upper-level or graduate-level textbook. There are many non-scientific words that are not part of the daily vocabulary of students in an introductory course, and this would present a particular challenge to English-language learners. Some definitions are unclear; for example, cytologists are defined as “students of the cell.” Students at this level would need more help differentiating main concepts and key ideas from supporting details.
Consistency rating: 4
Based on the Table of Contents, and chapter sections and subsections appear to be consistent. The presentation of the material between chapters also seems to be consistent. Which terms and the way terms are defined within the text is not always consistent. For example, some terms are defined on first use, and others are defined later. Chapter one has the term stochastic in parentheses after random in one paragraph and after noisy in the next then refers to stochastic events, behaviors, and processes; this may confuse students unfamiliar with this term. In a later chapter, when noting that X-rays caused mutations, X-rays are defined but not mutations.
Modularity rating: 2
Although each chapter is broken down with subheadings, it may be difficult to assign parts of a chapter or only some chapters or to rearrange the order of the material. For example, historical experiments are presented in a timed sequence. The book is uses a lot of terminology that is not usually re-defined in later chapters. For example, chapter 7 on heredity uses terms such as chromosome, eukaryote, mutation, enzymes, catalysis, hydrophobic, monomer, hypomorphic, etc. To improve the modularly, terms would need to be redefined or easily accessible (e.g., a glossary or supplement).
Organization/Structure/Flow rating: 2
This book is like many others where concepts are built upon one another, and the chapters have a logical sequence of topics. Since the text includes many terms and concepts, students may focus on these and have trouble discerning the main points. This could be improved with clear section introductions and conclusions and features such as lists of key concepts or main ideas.
Interface rating: 4
I did not have any problems opening the pdf in browsers or downloading it. Reading it in Acrobat provided easier navigation. Since there were not titles or chapter numbers on each page, it was often difficult to know where I was within the text. The Preface refers to being able to read the text through the nota bene system, however, it was unclear how to access this. It also refers to beSocrative activities and provides a link, however, a login and password were required for access. The figures were small, and the text was difficult to read and sometimes fuzzy. Word clouds were often used, and the smaller words could not be read even after zooming. There were no figure numbers which would make it difficult to direct students to certain figures or separate them from the text. The figures could be improved by providing legends, especially for students without a lot of experience with graphs and scientific figures.
Grammatical Errors rating: 4
I did not notice any major grammatical errors. There were a few small typos in the text, for example “eon” instead of “one, missing spaces between words or sentences, or extra periods. These were easy for me to identify as simple typos, but they may create an additional challenge, especially for English-language learners (e.g., a student might think “andin” or “allelecan” are words they have not yet learned).
Cultural Relevance rating: 1
Chapter 1 uses ableist language by referring to a scientist as “mad” and includes an image and also does not replace the description or image with something more realistic. In the next paragraph, it is stated that intelligent design creationism is “extremely unlikely to be true” and “can be safely ignored” which might “turn off” students who hold these beliefs. One figure includes the word “bullshit” which might be offensive to some students, and the humor may not be understood by students who do not use this term as part of their culture.
To present how biological concepts were understood, the textbook often names researchers and describes their experiments, and all of the examples I read were white men (there is also a link to a video about Watson and Crick, however, there is controversy about his and Crick’s interactions with Rosalind Franklin, and James Watson has made racist remarks.)
There is an opportunity to use examples that can engage students and connect to their lives. For example, chapter 1 uses historical physics experiments to demonstrate the importance of the scientific process; using more recent, newsworthy, biological experiments with which students are familiar would help to engage them while teaching them some biological concepts. Using examples that are relevant to the populations of students we serve could also be helpful to engage students and connect their learning (for example, sickle-cell anemia as an example of a genetic disease linked to malaria, rather than skin color as many students believe). Chapter 7 uses lactose intolerance as an example, and there is an opportunity to discuss the co-evolution of genes and culture in Africa and Europe.
The book starts by focusing on scientific thinking and then the authors use descriptions of experiments throughout the book to demonstrate how concepts were worked out. The remainder of the text covers many general biology topics in a fairly typical manner. However, there are fewer pedagogical features (e.g., glossary, outcomes, summaries) than most traditional textbooks. I was not able to access the beSocratic activities so cannot comment on the supplements to the text. The Preface notes that students spend too much time learning vocabulary and use terms such as analyze, identify critical factors, make predictions, dissect critical factors, and the “Questions to think and ponder” test these skills, but the material is not presented in a way to help students develop these important skills. This book accurately presents the content, and instructors could supplement it to help students develop learning strategies to critically think about the material.