I am very pleased to announce the release of the latest edition of Inquiry Into Life (15th edition). This is my 9th book in the Mader/Windelspecht series that I have served as the lead author, and the 22nd book that I have authored or edited since I first began my journey as a science author.
This was an exceptionally important project for me, not only because I had the opportunity to work on the text using some next-generation authoring tools (see below), but more importantly because it was Dr. Mader’s Inquiry into Life text !
Dr. Mader was one of the first science educators to recognize that there was a need for a different variety of science textbook for those students who were not majoring in the sciences. She wrote the first edition of Inquiry Into Life over 40 years ago to fulfill that need for her students. But rather then just authoring a “reduced” , or “baby-bio” version of a text, she set out to design a text that was interesting to young adults who were just entering college.
The result was something new, a human-focused textbook. Unlike the human physiology texts that are commonly used in A&P courses, this human-focused text tells the story of biology from the perspective of the human animal. The goal was not only to make the content relevant to the student, but to remind them throughout the text that in many ways they share characteristics with all the other life on the planet.
As an instructor in the introductory science classroom for over 20 years, my goals parallel those of Dr. Mader. My classrooms are about relevancy, and the importance of science in everyones’ lives. Biology is a fascinating subject, and I want to make it relevant and understandable to everyone. So I set out four goals for this edition:
updating of chapter openers and the Science in Your Life features to focus on issues and topics important in a nonscience majors classroom
utilization of the data from the LearnSmart adaptive learning platforms to identify content areas within the text that students demonstrated difficulty in mastering
refinement of digital assets to provide a more effective assessment of learning outcomes to enable instructors in the flipped, online, and hybrid teaching environments
development of a new series of videos and websites to introduce relevancy and engage students in the content
Next – Generation Textbook Authoring
Textbook authoring has changed dramatically over the past few years. The use of cloud-authoring platforms enables authors to rapidly revise content that is responsive to a variety of digital platforms. More importantly, at least for this edition, is the the use of student data from the LearnSmart/SmartBook adaptive learning platform to identify areas of the text that student’s are struggling with, and then either revise this content or develop additional learning resources (such as animations) to assist in the learning process.
The video below explains this process in a little more detail:
I recently gave a presentation at DevLearn 2015 where I discussed how this approach is allowing me to get inside the minds of my students:
If you attending the Ecosystems 2016 or Innovations 2016 meetings this spring, I have sessions at both events will be diving deeper into the data obtained from this process and how this data has influenced the development of content.
Ricochet Science – Free Resources for Science Education
As you can probably tell, I am a proponent of next-generation authoring platforms, and their potential to allow the textbook to evolve into a continually updated format (sometimes called an evergreen model). Science is dynamic, and the pace of scientific discovery and technological innovation is amazing. Unfortunately, textbooks are still static objects, which in the case of Inquiry, are revised every 3 years.
As a science communicator and author, I recognize that there is a need to be able to supplement the content of a textbook more rapidly. I have developed a website, RicochetScience.com, that does exactly that. This site provides updates on news and stories that are interesting to nonscience majors. In addition, the site contains:
- Tutorial videos from our Ricochet Science YouTube site. These short videos (usually less than 2 minutes) were designed based on data from adaptive learning content to address specific knowledge deficiencies of students. They may be easily be embedded or linked to your course content.
- Infographics. From Myths about Vaccinations to What is H. pylori, these graphics can help engage students.
- Relevancy articles. Articles by the author on topics as diverse as exobiology, genetics of cancer, and the isotopes of the Fukushima disaster.
These resources are free to all educators and are widely used by institutions and instructors across the globe.
About the Cover
One of the greatest parts of being an author is the ability to choose the art and photos (to some degree!) that are in the text and to participate in the design of the cover art. Since taking over the Mader series, one of my goals has been to design cover art that helps tell the story of what the book is about – rather than just the image of yet another animal.
This edition of Inquiry Into Life continues that quest. For this edition, I wanted to make a connection between humans and their influence on the environment. Climate change, ecosystem degradation, and emerging diseases were all possibilities, but in the end I decided on simply focusing on biodiversity. The cover was designed to reflect the concept that humans are linked to the biodiversity of the planet, and we are ultimately responsible for the problems we are causing.
From the back cover:
Our planet is an amazing collection of species, from the smallest bacteria to the largest whales, all of which have adapted to life in complex aquatic and terrestrial environments. Humans, as one of those species, are also highly evolved organisms, but we are unique in the fact that not only are we capable of understanding the complexity of life on Earth, but also in the fact that we have the ability to influence our environment on a global scale. Fortunately, we are also a naturally inquisitive species. From an early age, we visit zoos, aquariums, natural areas, libraries and the Internet to learn more about the diversity of life that we share this planet with. Often, our search for understanding leaves us with even more questions than when we started. Within this textbook we will not only explore what it means to be human from a cellular, physiological, and evolutionary perspective, but also how we compare to the other species of life that occupy our planet. This text takes a unique perspective in the study of biology—we will use our species as the focal point of our journey. By doing so, we can more readily satisfy our natural curiosity, and in the process, discover some of the basic principles that define all life.
From the Preface:
Dr. Sylvia Mader’s text, Inquiry into Life, was originally developed to reach out to science-shy students. The text now represents one of the cornerstones of introductory biology education. Inquiry into Life was founded on the belief that teaching science from a human perspective, coupled with human applications, would make the material more relevant to the student. Interestingly, even though it has been over forty years since the first edition was published, this style of relevancy-based education remains the focus of the national efforts to increase scientific literacy in the general public.
Our modern society is based largely on advances in science and technology over the past few decades. As we present in this text, there are many challenges facing humans, and an understanding of how science can help analyze, and offer solutions to, these problems is critical to our species’ health and survival.
The front cover of this text was chosen to indicate not only that humans are the stewards of the planet, but also that we have interactions with almost all of the life in the biosphere. It is important that we know not only why we are different, but how we are the same as the species we share the planet with. Students in today’s world are being exposed, almost on a daily basis, to exciting new discoveries and insights that, in many cases, were beyond our predictions even a few short years ago. It is our task, as instructors, not only to make these findings available to our students, but to enlighten students as to why these discoveries are important to their lives and society. At the same time, we must provide students with a firm foundation in those core principles on which biology is founded, and in doing so, provide them with the background to keep up with the many discoveries still to come.
In addition to the evolution of the introductory biology curriculum, students and instructors are increasingly requesting digital resources to utilize as learning resources. McGraw-Hill Education has long been an innovator in the development of digital resources, and this text, and its authors, are at the forefront of the integration of these technologies into the science classroom.
As an educator and an author, it is important to me that I keep in direct contact with my colleagues in the classroom. If you ever have any suggestions, concerns, or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you are a teacher with a passion for technology in the classroom and have an idea for a project that will help our students learn and appreciate science, then check out my company site, Ricochet Creative Productions, and drop me an email.