to help others to do so, too (Reiss & White, 2013). In this approach,
biology education research contributes to such flourishing. Indeed, if
“others” is understood to include non-humans, this argument can be
seen as manifesting an inclusive environmental education. At present,
this argument for the fundamental aims of education seems powerful.
We are so used to arguments about extinctions, climate change, and
other threats to our continued existence that it can be difficult to keep
in mind how exceptional, from a biological perspective, is the age in
which we live. Indeed, the recent coining of the term “Anthropocene”
is an attempt to remind us of this very fact and how unusual are the
current times, when seen from an historical perspective.
We have deliberately started with biology and education because,
along with many who would read this article, our shared experience
when supervising doctoral students and researchers is that such individuals often start with research. To be sure, that is yet another way to
begin. Researchers are expected to identify a gap in the literature, formulate research questions, then derive a methodology to address
these questions. Although such an approach adds to the literature,
such findings are unduly constrained by the accidents of history—
since what has previously been investigated drives the identification
of gaps in the literature, and thus our own research. A better starting
point is to combine the personal interests of researcher(s) with analysis of what ought to be researched. We need to keep in mind the purpose of our research, i.e., what is needed, as argued by Steinberg and
Kincheloe (2004), who encourage researchers to ask research questions that will make a difference in students’ lives. Or, as Karl Marx
said, “The point is not merely to understand the world, but to change
it,” but it is important to add that this change should be evaluatated
from as many perspectives as possible.
As you see in the contributions from my colleagues elsewhere in
this article, we have endeavored to suggest some of the areas in which
biology education research might make such a contribution—
whether in the education of the next generation of biology teachers,
determining how to teach biology, increasing accessiblity of biology
to all learners, ensuring that biology is taught authentically, or in
many other ways. Our shared hope is that biology education research
can indeed make an increasingly valuable contribution to what needs
to be done for the benefits of learners, for human society generally,
and for the planet as a whole.
The Nature of Teacher Education
Programs in Producing Informed and
Effective Biology Teachers
Edith R. Dempster, University of KwaZulu–Natal, South Africa
Among the many factors impacting effective learning of biology,
few are as important as the nature of the biology teacher. Teachers
are the intermediaries between the content and processes of biology
and the students themselves; biology teachers must be both informed
and effective. Therefore, a major future research goal is to define opti-
mal teacher education programs that can produce and develop
informed, effective, and empathetic biology instructors. The topic is
conceptualized in relation to preservice teacher education although
answers may apply equally to in-service teacher education.
A variety of proposed research questions relate to the preparation of biology teachers. Such key questions are related to the following domains:
Determining the Qualities of an Effective Biology
The qualities of an effective biology teacher, once identified, must
inform the structure of preservice teacher education programs.
Lederman and Lederman (2015) reviewed the history of attempts
to determine the qualities of a good teacher and describe a transition from originally asking the opinions of students to engaging
the opinions of experts later. However, opinions about effectiveness
of science teachers are context-dependent. For example, students,
peers, administrators, and parents all will have different perspectives on what makes a biology teacher good. An educational system
that is strongly examination-oriented may judge an effective teacher
to be one whose students perform very well in those examinations.
By contrast, a schooling system that aims to produce critical
thinkers will judge a successful biology teacher differently.
Knowledge and Skills of Effective Biology Teachers
From the early 1900s to the 1930s, effective teachers were
described by several general attributes, including good judgement,
magnetism, considerateness, and leadership (Lederman & Lederman, 2015). Later, an effective teacher was considered to be one
who developed critical thinking skills and tolerance of a diversity
of viewpoints and opinions (Lederman & Lederman, 2016). Matthews (2015) describes a good teacher as a person who knows
the subject, is interested in children and teaching, can use technology effectively, and teaches engagingly.
One quality frequently identified with biology teaching effectiveness is their breadth and depth of subject matter knowledge.
A Norwegian colleague, Peter van Marion, who has considerable
experience in teaching the didactics of biology, in a conversation
with me (February 2016) reports that his preservice students identified strong subject knowledge, commitment, and enthusiasm as
the most important qualities of a good teacher.
The examples here support the conclusion that there are many
answers to questions related to identifying the knowledge and skills
of effective biology teachers. Additional research in this area would
Preservice Biology Teacher Education
Lederman and Lederman (2015) point out that there is no single best
way to educate future science teachers. Matthews (2015) concurs,
referring to countries that require no or minimal preservice teacher
education. Simultaneously, some developed countries require a minimum of a Masters’ degree in biology in order to teach at the secondary level. Contextual and political issues in different countries will
impact decisions about the structure of teacher education.
It is useful to be reminded of the important and oft-cited work of
Lee Shulman (1987), who proposed a framework for teacher education that identified three major components: subject matter knowledge (SMK), general pedagogical knowledge (PK), and pedagogical
content knowledge (PCK). These three components were subsequently expanded to include knowledge of the curriculum, knowledge of students, and contextual knowledge.
SMK is defined as a deep understanding of the fundamental concepts of a subject, knowledge of the research methods of that discipline, and knowledge of the nature of science (Groβschedl et al.,
2015). Studies have shown that SMK alone is insufficient for