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The Interdisciplinary Human Biology Program

Indiana University Bloomington was an early creator of new majors that bring together interdisciplinary faculty using innovative pedagogy for instruction. An example is the major in Human Biology, which was started in 2006. The major has grown dramatically since its inception (now with over 400 majors, and offering B.A. and B.S. degrees), and its curriculum has been elaborated and refined since that time.

Human Biology is an intellectually-vibrant inter- and multi-disciplinary major that challenges students to gain a holistic view of humanity. It provides students with a solid grounding in the scientific understanding of human biology, and emphasizes the ways that human biology is shaped by, understood, and interpreted within a social and cultural context. The B.A. in Human Biology takes a holistic approach to Homo sapiens, with a focus on the organismal level. The B.S. in Human Biology extends the investigation of human biology to the sub-cellular and molecular level and places the details of human biology within the larger context of biological and biochemical mechanisms common to life forms.

Both degrees are organized around seven learning goals: Scientific inquiry, knowledge of human biological systems, interdisciplinary & synthesis, collaborative problem-solving, communication and writing, ethical reasoning, and civic engagement. To accomplish these goals, students take low and upper level courses in the sciences that provide an understanding of the scientific process relevant to understanding human biology.

They are also able to choose one of six Areas of Concentration, where they pursue upper-level coursework in the life sciences and the social science and humanities. Collectively these courses provide content that is then utilized in three pedagogically-innovative core courses in Human Biology (The Intricate Human, Human Dilemmas, Complex Problems of Humanity). The first two in the sequence are large classes co-taught by faculty in the life science and the social sciences or humanities; the third is a smaller senior capstone course organized around a specific problem, to which students must apply all of the skills they have acquired in Human Biology classes. The first course emphasizes scientific reasoning; the second ethical reasoning, and the fourth brings together all of the learning goals. Team-based and case-based learning is a signature of all of these courses, as is an emphasis on student inquiry and presentation (oral and written) of research.

Faculty teaching in the human biology major come from diverse departments across the campus, and bring a wide range of interests and expertise. In support of the curriculum, the program offers workshops for new and continuing faculty teaching in the program, works closely with the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL), and actively refines the learning outcomes associated with major coursework.