Linfield Faculty Lecture Series


Teaching Life on Earth in Two Semesters: A Story 4.6 Billion Years in the Making

Streaming Media

Document Type

Video File


1 hour 5 minutes 14 seconds

Publication Date



Biology | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Education | Educational Methods | Evolution | Higher Education | Scholarship of Teaching and Learning | Science and Mathematics Education


For at least fifty years, introductory biology courses have taught the subject using a "levels of organization" structure: students learn biology from "little" (atoms and molecules) through "medium" (tissues and organisms), ending with "big" (organisms, populations, species). Linfield College's Biology department once organized its enormous, two-semester Principles of Biology course in the same way. But its professors knew those topics were not related to one another in any meaningful biological way and that this traditional organization, being arbitrary, often obstructed rather than facilitated learning. Many students simply ended up memorizing a gigantic set of (seemingly) unrelated facts and failed to see the big picture: that all life on earth is the product of evolution, and that all of life can be understood when viewed through that lens. In order to address this problem, Dr. Christopher Gaiser (professor of biology at Linfield), Dr. Michael Roberts (professor emeritus of biology at Linfield), and the other Linfield Biology faculty entirely rebuilt Principles of Biology as a narrative arc, running from the origins of life on Earth to Homo sapiens, using evolution as the theme that knits the story together. In this lecture, Dr. Gaiser describes the genesis of this change, the challenges the department met, and the rewards for students and faculty alike.


Sponsored by the Linfield College Office of Academic Affairs.