Making Affordable and Engaging Courses

Students studying in library
Dr. Haven Hawley and other faculty collaborated to build an affordable course from the ground up: WST3610 Gender, Race, and Science.

Dr. Haven Hawley and other University of Florida faculty collaborated to build an affordable course from the ground up. WST3610 Gender, Race, and Science was revived to offer students more than just a catalog of ideas; instead, Dr. Hawley and her team sought to create an experience that enabled students to utilize a variety of resources to evaluate knowledge from a longitudinal perspective.

The course included students of fields ranging from anthropology, to biology, to English. This assortment of diverse participants enriched discussion and enabled analysis of how science, and our acceptance of science, has evolved over time. Instead of utilizing a traditional textbook, Dr. Hawley utilized university resources ranging from the George A. Smathers Libraries’ Special Collections to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“We have a lot of people who are very knowledgeable, and I knew that we could put together resources that would be like a textbook from library resources, from readings that the libraries have already paid for, from state appropriations and other funds from the many people who support the University of Florida,” Dr. Hawley said.

One of the subjects of the course was Maria Sibylla Merian, a 17th century illustrator-scientist who “invented” detailed study of species, their life cycles, and their habitats. Her place in society as a woman affected her participation and how she was seen over the course of her life, but her work is now regarded as a key scientific revolution and is used to model modern procedures. The course raised key questions about the role of science in society. What is science? Is science about who conducts it? Is it only science if certain people do it?

These questions are complex but important, and incorporating interdisciplinary sources and voices was an integral component of finding their answers. Dr. Hawley believes that it’s vital to realize that knowledge isn’t just revealed to us: we are responsible for asking the questions that ultimately produce the meaning of whatever we’ve uncovered. The creation of knowledge that we have right now may have been overturned, it may have been wrong in the past, or it may have been ignored because of society’s perception of the person who discovered it. By becoming educated about the choices that people make, we can make a difference in how knowledge is accepted in order to move society forward.