BI 151

Biological Reasoning

Semester: Fall 2011

Download a PDF copy of the official syllabus.

BI 151-01H: M W F, 8:00 am, Rhodes Hall Room 316 (RH 316).
Credit: 3 Semester Hours


Dr. Michael S. Taylor
Office: Rhodes 217
Phone: 651-2357

Office Hours

Monday 11 am - 12 pm, Tuesday 10 - 11 am, or by appointment. If my office door is open, please feel free to inquire whether I am busy with pressing matters; if not, I will be happy to meet with you. E-mail is the most effective way to contact me. I check e-mail regularly during the school week, and will generally provide a timely response. I will also use e-mail to contact the class.

No Textbook for this Course

Biology, 8th ed. (Campbell and Reece, 2008). The textbook is optional, although helpful for the last 3-4 weeks of the course. You are not required to bring the text to class.

Important Dates

Final Exam Monday, 12 December 2011, 8:00 am.

Last Date to Drop: Friday, 28 October 2011.

Web Site
Most course material will become available online as the semester progresses.

Course Description

Students learn the process of scientific reasoning by applying the scientific method of hypothesis development and testing. To this end, students will explore a variety of morphological and genetical evidence related to the common ancestry of organisms on earth. Each student proceeds by developing individual hypotheses about the origin and relatedness of organisms. These hypotheses are tested against anatomical and molecular evidence in a series of units. Student record their hypotheses, predictions, results, and conclusions, along with their reasoning processes, in ongoing journal entries during the course. In the process the students are exposed to a variety of types of biological evidence along with the tools for locating and analyzing it, and gain experience in application of scientific reasoning to a problem.

This course addresses specific objects of the University Studies Program. Specifically, you will develop your capacity to critically evaluate evidence to test scientific hypotheses. Critical evaluation will require you to integrate evidence from a wide variety of scientific disciplines. You must then clearly communicate your reasoning to explain and justify your acceptance or falsification of your hypotheses.

All of the reading material and assignments will come from handouts given in class. The handouts will also be available on the class website as the semester proceeds.

Expectations and Policies - Read This Carefully

Please Turn Your Cell Phones Off!

If your cell phone continually disrupts the class, you will lose 20 points from the total of your homework assignments. Total homework points is 40% of your final grade (the largest proportion), so a 20 point deduction can be devastating to your final grade. If you have a bonafide need to have a cell phone on (vibrate only), please notify me in advance.

Academic Expectations

Academic study at the university level requires scholarly diligence. Your dedication and perseverance will be the primary determinant of your success in class. Your final grade depends solely on the effort that you apply to the course. I strongly recommend regular study and review of the course material. However, you are an adult with the ability to establish your own priorities and make decisions based on those priorities. Consider carefully the choices that you make and balance them against the final grade that you hope to earn.

You see there is only one constant. One universal. It is the only real truth. Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect. - The Merovingian


Attendance is not required but will be recorded and reported, per University requirements. Failure to attend class can result in loss of student financial support. The official attendance policy is stated the Undergraduate Bulletin ( Regular attendance will not guarantee success. Lack of regular attendance will almost certainly guarantee failure.

Excused absences must be arranged with the instructor in advance (e.g., for University-sanctioned events), or your absence must be validated by a written doctor's excuse, police report, or other verifiable document. All absences are subject to verification. Missed exams and assignments can only be made up for excused absences (see below). No exceptions.

Important: The death rate of aunts, uncles and cousins increases dramatically around test time. A family death or illness is only valid for immediate family members (parent, sibling, child). Notification of a family death must come to me from the Learning Assistance Programs Disability Support Services (651-2273). They will notify all of your instructors at once of any family emergency.

About the Assignments

Unlike many classes you may have at Southeast, this course will have assignments made and work due at almost every class meeting. Some assignments will be done online, such as the journal entries and phylogenetic trees. Many of these assignments will be done on paper. Paper assignments will be handled by in a variety of ways.

Due dates are due dates: You have the responsibility of completing all assignments by the expected date and time. Unless specifically stated otherwise, assignments are due at the start of class on the assigned date. Any assignment not turned in at that time is considered late. For example, if I collect an assignment at the start of class, your assignment will be late if you turn it in at the end of the same class period. If you miss a take-home or in-class assignment you may be turn it in before the start of the next class meeting for a maximum of 50% credit. Note that this is a failing grade for the assignment, although you receive at least some credit. No assignment will be accepted after more than one class meeting late.

Some assignments (journals and phylogenetic trees) will have a specific due date. Unless stated otherwise, these assignments must be turned in at the start of class on the due date. If you miss that deadline, I will not accept the assignment. These assignments typically have a greater point value than the take-home and in-class handout assignments. You will be given more time to complete these assignments, typically 3-5 days, but they will not be accepted late.

Forgetting is not an excuse. A printer or computer problem is not an excuse. Manage your time wisely; do not wait until the last minute. You need to complete all assignments, because they build upon one another. Do not fall behind as catching up is extremely difficult.

Make-Up Exams

You are expected to take all exams on the appointed date. Failure to do so will result in a grade of zero for the exam, unless you have a valid and verifiable excuse. If I can not verify your excuse, you will not be allowed to take a make-up exam. The make-up exam may be a different from the exam administered in on the appointed date, including format, length and types of questions asked.

Academic Honesty

Honesty is vital to your integrity and success in civilized society. You are expected and required to be honest in all academic endeavors. Any violation of the university policy on academic honesty is subject to disciplinary action. The Undergraduate Bulletin defines academic dishonesty as ...those acts which would deceive, cheat, or defraud so as to promote one's scholastic record..., and states that [v]iolations of academic honesty represent a serious breech of discipline and may be considered grounds for disciplinary action, including dismissal from the university. The Undergraduate Bulletin contains the full statement about academic honesty (

Dishonesty will not be tolerated. You are free and encouraged to participate in group study, but written assignments and exams must result from only your effort. Cheating or plagiarism will result in a grade of zero for the exam or paper, with no opportunity for makeup. You will also be subject to sanction through the University as described in the Undergraduate Bulletin. No exceptions. Information on the University Policy for Academic Honesty is at

Civility and Harassment

Civil discourse between people with diverse backgrounds and cultures is an essential component of a university education. Your successful education in the classroom requires a mutually respectful and cooperative learning atmosphere for students and instructors. Any action that interferes with a civil environment will not be tolerated. Such actions include, but are not limited to, physical or verbal abuse, sexual misconduct, threats, intimidation, harassment, coercion and/or other conduct which (a) submits any person to pain, discomfort or indignity or (b) threatens or endangers the physical or mental health or safety of any person may result in disciplinary action. See Judicial Affairs for more information:

Students with Disabilities

Students may obtain official information about disabilities from Learning Assistance and Disability Support Services ( The university has many services to assist with your successful education. If you have a special need due to a disability, please notify me at the beginning of the course. Reasonable efforts will be made to accommodate special needs.

Grading Policies

I do not give grades; you earn them. Each student begins on the first day of class with a grade of zero. You add to your grade through exams, homework assignments, journal entries, and your active participation in class.

Evaluation Percent
Homework 40%
Journals and Phylogenetic Trees 35%
Four Exams (inc. the final exam) 25%

Grade Percent Quality
A ≥ 90.00 Outstanding
B 80.0-89.9% Above Average
C 70.0-79.9% Average
D 60.0-69.9% Below Average
F ≤ 59.9% Failure

Simply performing the minimum that is requested from you will be sufficient to achieve average quality for the course. To achieve greater quality requires correspondingly greater effort on your part. Less effort from you will also be judged accordingly (see below). Extra credit will not be available. No exceptions. Put your “extra” effort into learning the class material.


In-class and take-home assignments, coupled with class discussions, will teach you the concepts needed throughout this course. As a result, homework assignments will be given in nearly every class period. You are expected to thoroughly read, complete, and comprehend each assignment. Failure to complete the assignments or missing the discussions (see attendance above) will almost certainly hinder your chances of success in this course.

Journals and Phylogenetic Trees

The concepts and evidence provided by the homework assignments will be used by you to develop and test hypotheses about evolutionary relationships for 20 or so organisms. These hypotheses will take shape as phylogenetic trees, which graphically represent the hypothesized relationships. Your ability to test your hypotheses stems from your ability to critically evaluate and integrate the evidence and concepts learned from the homework assignments and class discussions. After testing your hypotheses, you will explain and justify your reasoning process in your written journal assignments.

Exams: Three lecture exams and one final exam

Each exam is worth 50 points. Lecture exams will typically consist of short answers that will require critical reasoning with justification. Your ability to construct intelligent (and intelligible) responses are critical to successful answers. Cell phones and other electronic devices must not be out on tables, chairs, floors, etc. during exams, or you will be immediately dismissed and receive a grade of zero on the exam.

How do I grade?

In a word, tough. However, the real answer is more nuanced. As noted above, an A grade is outstanding, while a C grade is average. Thus, to achieve an A, you need to craft outstanding answers on your exams, write outstanding journal assignments, and complete outstanding homework. In short, you must demonstrate complete mastery of the material presented in this course. You will earn an above average grade with above average effort; you will earn an average grade with average effort. Bear in mind that the average reflects the work performed by most people in a large group. Some students will do better than average, some will do worse. How will you perform?

Hint: Always answer every question on exams. If you do not answer a question, I have no choice but to give you zero points. If you attempt an answer, you at least have a chance of getting something down on paper that is correct, or at least partially correct, which means you have a chance of earning at least some points for the question. Even four points out of a 10-15 point question is better than zero points.

What constitutes an outstanding/above average/average/etc grade? As stated above, this course requires that you communicate clearly and effectively (including spelling and grammatical skills), demonstrate an ability to integrate different forms of information (i.e., evidence), and demonstrate critical thinking and reasoning skills. A person who consistently demonstrates mastery of all of these skills in this course will earn an outstanding grade. If you demonstrate command of two of these skill but are weak in a third (e.g., reasoning and integration is outstanding but spelling is somewhat problematic), you will be more likely to earn an above average grade. If your reasoning is less than clear, and you do not communicate effectively, you are more likely to earn an average grade (or worse).

This class requires that you work hard to earn an A grade. Earning an A is very possible, but you will have to put forth the effort. The grade you earn will reflect the effort you put into this course. Judge accordingly. Cause and effect. I am merely the keeper of your grade.

Do I grade on a curve? When a student asks this question, the implied question is Will you adjust my current score to a more favorable score? After all, the 90%-80%-70%-60% grade scale is already based on a normally-distributed curve, so grades are inherently curved. Still, with the spirit of the question in mind, I may or may not adjust the score of a given exam. Each class, and each exam, is different. Do not rely on curves to improve your score; instead, be prepared. If I do curve, then be pleasantly surprised.

Taking notes

This course is unlike many others, in that I will not be doing a lot of lecturing. So what do you take notes about? Not everything that is important will be written on the board. In fact, many important things won't be stated by me. In discussion, you and your classmates will say important things. You have to use your judgment, and when someone says something that seems important, write it down. Keep some paper in your binder along with the study guide for this purpose. Don't take notes on the study guide pages, since you will hand in most of them to be graded, and notes you make on them may not be available.

Dr. Mike Taylor
Rhodes 217
(573) 651-2357

Course Web Directory

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Journal Entries

Four journal entries scheduled throughout the semester. Journal 1
Journal 2
Journal 3
Journal 4