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Tier One Guidelines

Guidelines for Tier One Proposals

as adopted by the University-wide General Education Committee

All courses designed for Tier One must be appropriate for and accessible to Freshmen who have met the standard requirements for admission to the University. No other University courses, then, should be prerequisites to Tier One classes.

There are many possible methods for teaching Tier One offerings, but active learning methods which support student opportunities to work cooperatively, and to have exposure to computer/multimedia applications are strongly encouraged. Collaborative teaching is encouraged, but only if there is a commitment by all teaching personnel involved to be present for as much of the course as possible.

All Tier One General Education courses must include an honors component.

Guidelines for Tier One Natural Sciences Proposals

as adopted by the University-wide General Education Committee

The guidelines for each of the two parts of Natural Sciences, Tier One – the physical sciences and the biological sciences – are found below. The two parts share:

Expected Learning Outcomes: Expectations of student outcomes must be clearly stated in any course proposal, and should include such objectives as the ability to: 1) understand the nature and application of science; 2) apply ideas and processes beyond the classroom; 3) recognize the complexity of many scientific issues as opposed to dualistic thinking, 4) speak and write about scientific knowledge, 5) perform appropriate mathematical calculations, and 6) read and understand scientific literature from popular sources such as magazines and newspapers.

Laboratory Component: Some kind of hands-on, inquiry based laboratory is required, and must be defined in any course proposal. The laboratory experiences mean designing experiments, generating and analyzing actual data, using abstract reasoning to interpret this data, formulating and testing hypotheses with scientific rigor. These experiences can be imaginatively constructed to be part of a lecture/discussion based course.

Quantitative Thinking: Course content should include – and, in the case of the physical science, emphasize – quantitative aspects of science, and the relevance of mathematical skills to the understanding of scientific problems. Fundamentals such as appreciating the relative scale of objects, rates of change, linear and nonlinear growth, the use of graphs, making quantitative deductions from data, etc., need to be an integral part of the course.

Physical Sciences, Tier One

1. Philosophy

Central to the Tier One philosophy for Physical Science courses is the notion that science plays an important role in the lives of all people. Thus, Tier One courses in the physical sciences must demonstrate the importance of physical and chemical processes in every subject area, and their application to events in the everyday world.

2. Two Course Models: Key Concepts or Theme-based

At least two models exist for the presentation of Tier One offerings. One model would emphasize the presentation of an overview of the key concepts in physical and chemical processes, drawing on, but not limited to, the specific discipline of the faculty involved. A second model would emphasize a particular theme and trace the occurrence of that theme through a wide variety of scientific disciplines. Both the key concepts and theme-based approaches should be rigorous, emphasize the integrative nature of science, including cross-discipline contributions, and include exposure to scientific thinking and procedures applicable throughout the sciences. The goal is to present material that encourages students to think critically about the world around them, and provide a hands-on experience of science. To this end, courses that tend to emphasize ideas and processes are encouraged over broad fact-based survey offerings that fail to provide an in-depth exposure to science. The nature of the scientific endeavor should be a key part of all courses.

3. Course Content: Commonality with Flexibility

Course content must retain flexibility to be able to take advantage of the disciplinary diversity of the involved faculty and to accommodate the preferred course model (key concepts or theme-based). There should, however, be some commonality among the Tier One Physical Sciences courses; in particular, certain concepts in the physical sciences are of such central importance that they must be included in every Tier One Physical Sciences Course offering. Proposals for physical science Tier One offerings must state how the required concepts will be presented. These required concepts are:

  • Newton's laws governing force and motion
  • Laws of thermodynamics governing energy and entropy
  • The role of electromagnetism in nature
  • The atomic structure of matter


Tier One Physical Science courses must be interdisciplinary courses that cut across departments and disciplines and integrate them so that the commonality of the scientific approach can be exemplified. To ensure this interdisciplinary perspective every offering must include course content that integrates two or more disciplinary or cross-disciplinary applications, such as:

  • Astronomy/Planetary Sciences: Formation and development of the Universe: cosmology, stellar evolution and planetary astronomy
  • Geosciences: Formation, development of the Earth; geophysical/geochemical processes of continents and oceans
  • Engineering/Technological Sciences: The interplay between science and technology; applied science and everyday life
  • Atmospheric Sciences: Formation, development of the Atmosphere; physical and chemical processes of the atmosphere, weather, and climate
  • Environmental Sciences: The interaction and interconnections between physical, chemical, and biological processes as they affect, and are affected by, human beings living in their environment

Biological Sciences, Tier One

1. Philosophy

Central to the Tier One philosophy for the Biological Sciences is the notion that biology plays a direct role in our lives and in the environment we live in. To understand this role, one must understand how biological systems work, how they develop, and how they form and influence our environment. Biological systems obey physical and chemical lows, but they have a distinctive history of shared ancestry shaped by inheritance, variation and natural selection. This makes biology and biological explanation different from the physical sciences.

2. Course Models

Knowledge in biology is connected in multiple dimensions, so there are many ways to teach biology. One can start with practically any example of a biological system or process and connect to the rest of biology. Faculty are encouraged to utilize a variety of pedagogical approaches such as collaborative and cooperative learning, discussion and written analysis of relevant biological problems, use of multimedia and WWW technology, and team teaching. Experimental exercises that engage the students in scientific inquiry outside the classroom, such as field trips, physiological experiments etc. are encouraged. These help students learn that science influences their lives all the time, and that knowledge of biology can be used to understand and solve problems in their own lives, not just in the classroom.

3. Course content

Tier One courses should include the following major biological ideas illustrated from a range of biological systems including animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms, and they should include examples of the utility of biology.

Biological systems differ from nonbiological systems because they have a genetic system for passing the information that controls structure and function from generation to generation. This makes possible evolution through variation and natural selection. Evolution is neither random nor end-directed.

Biological systems must be understood at multiple levels of organization from molecules to ecosystems. Fundamental structures and processes are conserved, particularly at the molecular and cellular level.

Examples of the utility of understanding biology include, but are not limited to, the following:

Health and disease are determined by heredity, environment and our own behaviors. Understanding human physiology and the biology of diseases can improve our own health.

Organisms are interdependent and interact to maintain communities and ecosystems. Our own actions influence these systems dramatically and can threaten our own environment and long-term survival.

Recent advances in biology, particularly molecular genetics, have applications in medicine, in industry, particularly biotechnology, and in other sciences.