Bioinspiration is a promising lens for biology instruction as it allows the instructor to focus on current issues, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. From social distancing to oxygen stress, organisms have been tackling pandemic-related problems for millions of years. What can we learn from such diverse adaptations in our own applications? This review uses a seminar course on the COVID-19 crisis to illustrate bioinspiration as an approach to teaching biology content. At the start of the class, students mind-mapped the entire problem; this range of subproblems was used to structure the biology content throughout the entire class. Students came to individual classes with a brainstormed list of biological systems that could serve as inspiration for a particular problem (e.g., absorptive leaves in response to the problem of toilet paper shortages). After exploration of relevant biology content, discussion returned to the focal problem. Students dug deeper into the literature in a group project on mask design and biological systems relevant to filtration and transparency. This class structure was an engaging way for students to learn principles from ecology, evolution, behavior, and physiology. Challenges with this course design revolved around the interdisciplinary and creative nature of the structure; for instance, the knowledge of the participants was often stretched by engineering details. While the present class was focused on the COVID-19 crisis, a course structured through a bioinspired approach can be applied to other focal problems, or subject areas, giving instructors a powerful method to deliver interdisciplinary content in an integrated and inquiry-driven way.
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© 2021 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
- problem-based learning