In recent years the need for ecological literacy and problem solving has increased, but there is no evidence that this need is reflected by increased ecology coverage at institutions of higher education (IHE) across the United States. Because introductory biology courses may serve to direct student interest toward particular biological categories such as ecology, time devoted to topics in these categories within introductory biology courses may be crucial for captivating student interest. In a 2009 survey, members of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) College and University Sections identified 20 topics they considered essential for inclusion in introductory biology courses. The NABT members, acknowledging the importance of ecological concepts, considered two ecological topics essential. The present study evaluated the actual coverage of ecology and other topic categories compared to recommendations and according to location. For this purpose, lecture and lab syllabi were collected from 26 rural, suburban, and urban IHEs from the Mid-Atlantic region. Course content was divided into eight categories, including ecology, and percentages of total lecture and lab time per category were calculated. This actual coverage was compared to the NABT recommendations. Actual coverage of ecology was not significantly different from coverage recommended by the NABT members, whereas cell/molecular/biochemistry and evolution were lower and genetics, development, and taxonomy were higher than recommended. Course content was also compared by location, with no significant effect of institutional location on ecology coverage. We conclude that although students taking introductory biology courses in Mid-Atlantic IHEs are likely to receive the NABT's recommended coverage of ecology instruction regardless of institutional location, actual ecology coverage has not increased, regardless of the increased need for ecological literacy.
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Vol. 75 • No. 8