Undergraduate biology textbooks fail to teach how science can improve industry practice

November 27, 2018, Bentley University
Undergraduate biology textbooks fail to teach how science can improve industry practice
While most undergraduates will work in non-STEM, business occupations, biology textbooks predominantly describe business in negative terms. This may impair both student engagement and their ability to apply science in the workforce. Credit: Bentley University Center for Integration of Science and Industry

Undergraduate biology textbooks do little to teach students how science can contribute to successful careers in industry or improved business practices at a time when some fear that science is under attack by corporate interests. A new study from the Center for Integration of Science and Industry at Bentley University shows that textbooks for first-year, undergraduate biology fail to provide context for applications of science in business and instead perpetuate a negative stereotype of industry and its relationship with science. This may impede the goals of science education by impairing both student engagement in the science curriculum and their ability to apply science in the workforce.

The , entitled "Representation of in introductory biology textbooks; a missed opportunity to advance STEM learning" appears in the journal CBE—Life Sciences Education. The research used text analysis to identify passages mentioning business or industry in textbooks used by >2 million first year biology students annually in the US. The analysis found few passages describing how biology could be employed in business careers and few examples of industrial applications of scientific concepts to support context-based learning. In addition, the research found that most of the mentions of business or industry were associated with negative connotations and that there was a disproportionate number of descriptions of irregular or fraudulent corporate actions. While the large majority of students who enroll in undergraduate biology will ultimately work in business occupations, these curricular materials provide little foundation for applying in these careers.

"We are concerned that the negative representations of industry in science textbooks may both alienate the large majority of undergraduate students who are preparing for careers in non-STEM occupations in industry, and lessen the likelihood that they will employ science in their business," said Dr. Sharotka Simon, lead author on the paper. "For science teachers, it is intuitive that science can contribute to the success of business, but we don't help our students make that connection. We need to do more than train future scientists; we need to help all students understand how science can help them succeed in the workforce."

The article discusses the results in the context of research showing that business decisions inevitably begin with fast, intuitive thinking, which can introduce biases into critical analysis. Repetition of negative stereotypes of business in science textbooks, coupled with the prevalence of such stereotypes in the popular media, encourages students to see science as being essentially at odds with business practice. A more effective strategy would be to provide constructive examples of how science can inform effective business practice to encourage reflexive use of science in business careers.

"Our focuses on how to maximize the public value that comes from scientific advances by better integrating the best practices of science and business," said Dr. Fred Ledley, Director of the Center for Integration of Science and Industry. "Business leaders need to recognize that science is not in conflict with business, but when effectively integrated, provides a foundation for successful products and strategy."

Explore further: Web-based teaching can improve science understanding for struggling pupils

More information: Sharotka M. Simon et al, Representation of Industry in Introductory Biology Textbooks: A Missed Opportunity to Advance STEM Learning, CBE—Life Sciences Education (2018). DOI: 10.1187/cbe.17-03-0057

Related Stories

Study explores what makes strong science teachers

June 29, 2018

A new study shows that eighth-grade science teachers without an educational background in science are less likely to practice inquiry-oriented science instruction, a pedagogical approach that develops students' understanding ...

Business genius can be taught, study says

September 12, 2018

How did Steve Jobs do it? What about Whole Foods Market and Starbucks? These kinds of "breakout" success stories show what is possible when business leaders imagine into the future rather than re-enacting the past—a strategy ...

Business degree increasingly useful for doctors

September 28, 2018

(HealthDay)—Having a Master of Business Administration degree (M.B.A.) can help doctors with important, practice-related decisions, according to a report published recently in Physician Practice.

New and updated resource on STEM education, workforce

October 28, 2014

It just became a lot easier for educators, students, parents, policymakers and business leaders to learn more about national trends in education and jobs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Recommended for you

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

NASA instruments image fireball over Bering Sea

March 22, 2019

On Dec. 18, 2018, a large "fireball—the term used for exceptionally bright meteors that are visible over a wide area—exploded about 16 miles (26 kilometers) above the Bering Sea. The explosion unleashed an estimated 173 ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.