iThink Biology is a freely accessible online biology textbook that has been three years in the making developed by our biology faculty at the School of Arts and Sciences – Divya Uma, Jayanti Mukherjee, Kaustubh Rau, Sravanti Uppaluri and Sriram. During their experience setting up and teaching for the BSc program at Azim Premji University, the faculty made important observations about the needs and objectives of teaching biology to diverse batches of students.
Keeping these in mind, they have created iThink Biology to encourage the curiosity of learners and develop important capacities that will help them in any field of study. Here are some of the unique features of the e‑book:
The content is written in a language that is easy to follow. The tone is conversational and includes many pauses to encourage readers to think critically about what they have just read.
Digital and dynamic
This electronic book can be accessed through a computer, mobile or tablet. A handful of digital features makes this resource dynamic and interactive. Weblinks to external resources on the world wide web, demonstration videos and interview recordings within chapters, and quizzes are some features. Several documents are also available to the reader for download.
Themes and case studies
The content has been organised at two levels: Themes and case studies. iThink Biology invites readers to explore biological systems the way they are in real life – integrated with sub-disciplines like molecular biology and genetics and placed in a social and historical context.
Take the chapter “Cotton”, where one of the case studies is on the production of Bt cotton. Through the case study of Bt Cotton, the reader learns about the beginning of recombinant DNA technology in a lab, Cry toxins and insecticidal action, as well as the socioeconomic impact of Bt cotton in India.
The Indian context
Most of the case studies and papers cited in iThink Biology are from India. From the development of India’s first indigenous rotavirus vaccine to communities living with lions in Gir Forest, most of the research work referred to is by Indian scientists and set within Indian contexts. Through case studies that include systems from their immediate environments, such as growing rice or stray dogs in urban centres, learners from all social backgrounds can develop a curiosity for science in action.
Capacities over content
iThink Biology attempts to develop five key capacities of the reader – scientific tools, the scientific process, quantitative skills, reading and interpreting, and bridging science, society and the environment. Each chapter, exercise or case study focuses on one or more of these capacities. This approach ensures that learners are equipped with the means to critically think about any real-world problem.
The features and objectives listed above help answer the question of what to teach the Indian biology student, but it also considers why we teach it to them. Why are we teaching students to isolate endophytic fungi in a lab? What is the value of assessing the correlation between consumption of white rice and diabetes? Why ponder on novel ways to communicate science to the general audience? In an ever-changing world with an unpredictable future, iThink Biology is a small step on the long path to transforming educational resources in India to make them relevant, accessible and encouraging of a learner’s curiosities and capabilities.
iThink Biology can be used as a supplement by teachers looking to explore alternate ways of teaching life sciences – do write to us with your feedback or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org!