Fate of science education in Iraqi universities
Monday, August 10, 2015: 4:20 PM
340, Baltimore Convention Center
University-level science education in Iraq, especially in the Life Sciences and Ecology, is extremely poor. Lack of interest and the perception that there is no viable career path are the main reasons for the poor quality of science education. The society in Iraq, as in many other developing countries, is ‘ecology illiterate’. To reduce green house gas emissions, climate change due to human impact, and declines in species diversity it is critical to properly prepare the global community with robust science (and especially ecology) education. In the Life Sciences course at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, professors have introduced critical thinking methods to motivate non-science majors to learn and understand the Life Sciences. We asked: how do we motivate students to learn in ways that leave lasting positive impressions? To examine this question we focused on one critical metric: in-class summative assessments administered 3-4 times each semester. The assessments all were exams with open-book/open-note (OBON) questions, a format unknown in Iraqi K-12 education. Over a 2-year period we evaluated 300 students in cohorts (sections) that took 12 OBON examinations (3 per semester). The OBON questions were designed to assess whether students could synthesize and apply rather than memorize and repeat. We hypothesized repeated exposure to OBON assessments would increase passing rates while moving student learning to higher levels in Bloom’s taxonomy.
Results/Conclusions: Across cohorts (sections), we found a 40% passing rate in first-time OBON exam takers. By the end of the semester, 75-88% of the students passed the exams (depending on the semester). We found that students embraced the challenge of the OBON examinations once they gained experience and were given continued encouragement from professors. This method instilled resilience in the students and nurtured success through failure (or failing safely). Constant encouragement appears to help Iraqi students develop drive and motivation to succeed in the end. We also found that once students were exposed to Life Sciences and Ecology they became fully engaged in the discipline, even though they all majored in different disciplines. The liberal arts style of learning that emphasizes exposure to different disciplines is useful in educating all students, especially in Iraq. More liberal arts education in developing countries would allow for more inclusive global programs that address global ecological issues.