Are questions about how to teach/explain biology (so called soft questions) on topic here. I've noticed that some sites allow it. As an example I've noticed that Math SE allow question like, how to explain mathematical ideas to someone who asks or how to write mathematics. Not only do I find answers to these questions informative they often are well written and fun to read.

This got me thinking about how to best explain biology, and learn biology. While I have my methods for teaching and explaining biology, and I know how others in my department teach it, but I have always wondered about the other methods I might not be aware of.

Obviously my question would have to show some sort of research and be specific enough to allow actual answers.

Problems with allowing these kinds of questions is that they would be almost entirely opinion based and filled with anecdotes. How would one go about avoiding this pitfall? Is it worth the risk? Or should I find some other forum/ SE site to ask and read about teaching biology to students?


1 Answer 1


To me, they can be on-topic, but questions would have to be relatively specific and closely connected to specific biological concepts or problems encountered when teaching biology in particular. For instance, I think that your first linked post is far too broad, and I cannot see how a similar question on biology would make much sense. Answers would probably be random and widely different examples, from disparate subfields of biology.

I also think that all questions that mainly deal with educational methods or study techniques in general should be off-topic ("...methods for teaching and explaining biology, and I know how others in my department teach it, but I have always wondered about the other methods..."). Such questions could be on-topic at AcademiaSE, if targetted at the university level. However, to me, questions that ask for ways and methods to teach specific biological concepts or techniques (lab or field) should be on-topic.

Overall, I think this is a tricky area though (especially when thinking hypothetically about possible questions). All questions asking for this type of advice should be narrowly defined, so that the scope of possible answers isn't too wide. Therefore they must have an extensive background, that clearly shows what the poster is currently doing when teaching, what he/she has tried, and what seems to be lacking in teaching a specific concept or technique.

I suspect that views on this topic will differ within the community though, and further discussion is probably needed. Some users might feel that we should only allow questions asking about biological facts or methods in biological research, and not questions asking for how to best disseminate or teach these facts and methods. For now, you should just post your question(s) and see how they are received by the BioSE community.


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