Learn About the Project
NEXUS, is a four-year, $1.8 million project designed to create and share effective models for teaching interdisciplinary science, including developing new courses and new ways of assessing how well they work.
Four universities—Purdue University; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC); the University of Maryland, College Park, and the University of Miami—are working together to create a curriculum that connects biology with physics, math, and chemistry. While the schools will each design a different piece of the project, they will use the same set of assessment tools and test at least part of the curriculum developed by the other universities.
The goal is to create a curriculum that can be used at different types of schools with different students. The participants will also figure out how to move beyond testing students’ knowledge of facts to assessing their ability to demonstrate competence by using what they have learned in new contexts.
Scientists commonly work across disciplinary boundaries, but the classes offered by many universities have been the same for decades. Creating a curriculum that reflects the interdisciplinary nature of science has become a top propriety for many colleges, universities, and scientific societies. Two significant examples include,
- A New Biology for the 21st Century by the National Academy of Sciences, which envisions an interdisciplinary future for biology research; and
- Vision and Change a 2011 report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Foundation, which makes recommendations for reforming the way that undergraduate biology is taught.
The NEXUS project began in 2009 when HHMI asked research universities to suggest experiments in science education. HHMI noticed a common theme when several schools said they wanted to address issues raised by a 2009 report that examined what medical and premedical students need to learn to become scientifically-literate physicians.
That report, Scientific Foundations for Future Physicians, was developed by a committee of scientists, physicians, and science educators convened by the Association of American Medical Colleges and HHMI. It recommended fundamental changes in undergraduate education and outlined eight interdisciplinary competencies that science undergraduate students should master before they go on to medical school.
HHMI staff brought the four universities together to work on this problem and encouraged them to collaborate. The schools wrote a joint proposal outlining how they would collaborate, and HHMI agreed to fund them. NEXUS was born.
The four universities are currently designing and testing interdisciplinary modules that can be dropped into an existing course or integrated into the redesign of an entire curriculum. Although the modules will focus on premedical and other pre-health students, the NEXUS participants agree that they will be relevant to most undergraduate biology majors.
Each school is focused on a different topic:
- Purdue University is revising the introductory chemistry curriculum to include more biological chemistry with a focus on active learning approaches.
- The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is infusing mathematical modeling into their introductory biology course, including quantitative reasoning skills and mathematical approaches to understand biological processes and living systems.
- The University of Maryland, College Park is revising their introductory physics course for biology majors to present physics concepts in a biological context.
- The University of Miami is developing biomedical case studies that will challenge students to use scientific inquiry to analyze the biology, physics, chemistry, and math involved in human health and disease.