Essentials of Biology – Fifth Edition

I am very happy to announce the release of the latest edition of the Mader/Windelspecht text,  Essentials of Biology. As an author, this text has always been important to me, not only because it was one of the first texts I worked on for McGraw-Hill education, but because of its increasingly importance in environment of science education role in pushing the boundaries of textbook publishing. More importantly, as an educator, this text represents a milestone in my efforts to generate new content, in new formats, to emphasize the importance of science in the lives of our students.

Using Student Data In the Revision Process

One of the biggest differences between this text and most others in the market is the fact that the revision of this text is not typical of what most textbooks experience.  Typically, a revision process involves sending reviews out to faculty, compiling these reviews, and then making edits based upon the recommendations of the faculty. Unfortunately, that process does not include the actual users of the texts – the students. However, students don’t know what they don’t know, and usually trying to figure that out occupies a significant amount of time as an instructor.

I am one of the pioneers in the use of data from the SmartBook platform in the revision process. It is now possible to overlay student interactions with SmartBook questions (sometimes called probes) over the actual text. This creates what are  called “heat maps”. An example of one is shown below:


What this is showing is the areas of the text that the students are struggling with, on a national level. What this data allows us to do is:

  • revise the actual content of the text with specific student knowledge deficiencies in mind
  • build digital learning resources that target specific knowledge deficiencies (see below)
  • revise SmartBook questions so that they better probe what the students know and don’t know

To understand more about this process – here is a link to a presentation I made at Learning Solutions 2016 that explored how data is changing content development.

Preparing for the Next Generation of Digital Publishing

The textbook publishing industry is changing rapidly. Not only are many traditional publishers referring to themselves as “learning technology companies”, but the very nature of how we deliver content to our students is changing. I am lucky enough to work for McGraw-Hill Education and to serve as a consultant that allows me to be at the forefront of those efforts.  Recently, based on the data obtained from the heat map technology, plus improvements in digital content editing,  I have embarked on several new projects that are linked to the Essentials 5e text:

  • The continuously updated textbook. Science is moving at a pace that is stretching the limits of traditional publishing, and the concept of “editions” is quickly disappearing. I am working with McGraw-Hill to produce versions of the Essentials text that more closely resemble apps, meaning that you may in the future be able to offer Essentials 5.1 to your students.
  • The topic-based, or “relevancy text”. For several semesters I have taught at course at Appalachian State that is focused on topics rather than a table of contents. If you want to learn more about this approach, and get a preview of what this new version will look like, click here.

Relevancy and Student Engagement

In addition to the print component of this book, I have been working on a series of projects that can help instructors introduce relevancy (importance of science in their lives) into their classes. This is an incredibly important aspect of not only my authoring activities, but also my role as a science educator and communicator. All of these are free resources for you to use in your classes, no registration is required.

RicochetScience Videos on YouTube

I have launched a new series of YouTube videos that can act as learning resources in your classes. These videos are free to embed and use in your classes.


Relevancy Articles

In addition, I have been working on a series of articles that have been focused on the intersection of science and society. I have been posting these to my website, under the heading of PopScience.

Upcoming in this series are articles about GMOs and infectious diseases. Each article will include a handout of discussion questions that you may use to engage your students.

About the Cover Photo

One of the fun aspects of writing texts is the choice of photos, especially those associated with the cover. Usually, the Essentials series of texts has explored insects and evolution. For this edition, I decided to deviate just slightly from this topic and instead focus on the importance of pollinators, namely bees, to the overall health of the ecosystem (which of course, also has an evolutionary story!).

From the back cover…..

The diversity of life on our planet is staggering. Scientists believe that while over 2.3 million species have been identified, that this represents just a fraction of the total biodiversity of our planet. Each species, whether it be the bumblebee on the front cover, a flowering plant, or a fungi growing in the forest, is the result of a long evolutionary history characterized by adaptations to its environment and interactions with other species.

The bumblebee on the front cover is just one example of that evolutionary success. There are over 250 known species of bumblebees in the genus Bombus. Bumblebees are pollinators, meaning that they move pollen between flowering plant species. The success of the flowering plants (Angiosperms) is due to the coevolution of plants with their pollinators. In the case of the bumblebee, the length of its tongue determines which plant species that it can collect nectar from, which the bee needs for flight. As the bee collects nectar, it also collects pollen, which it transfers to its larvae for food. Some of that pollen sticks to the bee, and is transferred between plants, allowing the plant to complete its life cycle. Bumblebees also have the ability to partially regulate their body temperature. They do this by shivering a set of muscles to generate heat. This allows them to begin foraging for nectar earlier in the year and later into the fall, and thus gives them a wider range of plant species to collect pollen and nectar from.

And yet, like many species of bees, the bumblebee is facing challenges due to changes in their environment, most notably human use of pesticides, urbanization and climate change. Many species of bumblebee are in decline. Ultimately, the loss of any species can have a ripple effect through an ecosystem. The loss of the bumblebee, which plays an important role as a pollinator, will undoubtedly have a widespread negative influence on agriculture and the health of many ecosystems.

The goal of this text is to provide a foundational knowledge of our scientific understanding of life – the science of biology. Biology is an exciting area of science, with new discoveries being made almost every day in the areas of genetics, physiology and medicine. Our goal with this text is to assist you in developing an appreciation of what it means to be alive and to inspire you to learn more about the complexity of species that occupy our planet with us.


Additional Resources

Are you interested in learning more, have questions, or want to make a comment about these projects? Then send me a quick note from the contact page.