The 84th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2015)

Integrating Anthropology and Biology: Comparing success rates and learning outcomes across majors when taking Human Evolution


1Department of Biology, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2Anthropology Department, Virginia Commonwealth University

March 28, 2015 , Archview Ballroom Add to calendar

A charge to bioanthropological curriculum development is generating learning outcomes for substantially different backgrounds of anthropology and biology majors. A primary concern is how prepared anthropology majors are for biology content; anthropology curriculum does not always require biology prerequisites. As bioanthropological research relies increasingly on genetics/phylogenomics, strong emphasis needs to be put on integrating biological content.

The core-level “Human Evolution” course at Virginia Commonwealth University is taught under an anthropology rubric. It is required for anthropology majors, and serves as a lab-based elective for biology majors. The course is divided into four primary units: two covering topics that are also explored in lower-level biology courses (e.g., DNA inheritance), and two focusing on paleoanthropological content (e.g., hominin taxonomy). Here, we compare results of course assessments and final course grades between anthropology and biology majors across five semesters and >200 students to determine whether the two majors performed differently on units with “biology” content vs. “anthropology” content.

Preliminary results of a series of statistical tests reveal that overall, anthropology and biology majors are earning comparable final grades in the course. However, when assessment results for units with differing content are contrasted, anthropology and biology majors scored comparably on “biology” content units, while biology majors scored statistically significantly worse on “anthropology” content units. These results might suggest that biology rather than anthropology majors are deficient in an integrated bioanthropological perspective. We recommend that anthropology and biology departments consider introducing integrated curriculum that is interdisciplinary rather than multidisciplinary by design.