The Block Plan
The three and one-half week course style of the block plan at The Colorado College enables our Biology Department to design and to offer many classes and research opportunities that are not possible at schools with a traditional semester system.
The following aspects of our Biology program are just a sample of the curriculum uniqueness that is possible at Colorado College:
Small Class Size: The Colorado College Block Plan limits class sizes to a maximum of 25 students. As a result, even introductory biology courses have this modest class size. This allows each student to receive individual attention, and in some classes to do investigative projects even in their first biology class.
The College supports lower enrollment limits in courses where having fewer students is a distinct educational advantage. In the Biology Department both transmission electron microscopy and scanning electron microscopy are taught with enrollment limits of 8 students. In this way, every student has an opportunity to spend considerable time learning to use complex scientific instrumentation. Field courses are limited to 14 students so that the whole class can travel together in one van, the instructor can communicate effectively with the whole class in a field setting, and students can engage in hands-on field investigations rather than simply being observers. In some cases safety considerations combine with educational benefits to determine lower class size limits, as in the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Ecology course taught in Belize, Central America. In this course, the safety of walking through the tropical forest at night and snorkeling on a coral reef are enhanced by a low student to instructor ratio.
Ecology and field courses: The location of Colorado College alone is an excellent place for students interested in ecology. We are situated at the north-south limits of ranges for many species. For example, Cholla Cactus, as well as Pinon Pine, grows from Colorado Springs southward. On the other hand, we are at the southern limit of the range of the Sharp-tail Grouse. In an east-west direction, the elevation changes from roughly 6,000 to over 14,000 ft. on the top of Pike's Peak. The variance in elevation results in a mosaic of ecosystems ranging from plains to tundra with various forest ecosystems in between.
Proximity to these diverse ecosystems would be of marginal significance to an ecology student on a semester system because he or she would have relatively little class time to spend outside studying them. However, on the block plan, students only have a single class at a time. This not only allows for complete concentration on the class material, but also provides ample time for field trips. Many classes take day trips to zoos, museums, and out into the surrounding environments to observe flora and fauna. Also, some classes take overnight trips to study ecosystems farther away. These trips can last up to a week, but most are two or three days long. Some of these trips are camping trips, but more often the professors utilize the CC Cabin, which is in the mountains about one hour from campus, as well as the Baca Campus which is in the San Luis Valley three hours to the south.
Genetics and pre-health: Students interested in genetics have access to a wide variety of modern equipment now used in today's scientific laboratories. Because this is a rapidly changing field of science, it can be difficult for professors to provide current information and laboratory experiments; however, our department has the equipment and faculty to stay up-to-date in providing students both. The classes usually consist of morning lectures with afternoon lab experiments with DNA. The same professor conducts these, ensuring that lecture and lab are congruent.
For pre-health students many of the above apply. The equipment and techniques employed by the faculty prepare the undergraduate for pre-health training in many areas including medical school. Recently, the Human Anatomy and Physiology class has been extended into a two-block format. This gives the professor enough time to cover a year's worth of Anatomy and Physiology while giving the students more time with the dissection for that class. In the dissection, the students have the opportunity to work with actual human cadavers -- excellent preparation for medical school.
Research opportunities: Possibly the greatest strength of our department is its ability to provide research experience to students who are interested and willing to do the extra work. Virtually all of the professors in the biology department have ongoing research or can help students develop their own project. Up to three research blocks are provided for interested students to perform research with the supervision of a professor. Because of the wide range of faculty interests, research can be done in most disciplines that fall into the realm of biology. Also, off-campus research credit can be given for research carried out in other places or countries, but the project must be reviewed by the biology faculty here at CC beforehand. This opportunity provides an excellent experience for students interested in graduate school or those planning on becoming part of a research team upon graduation.
For more information on specific classes be sure to check out the Biology Department Classes.
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