National educational organizations have called upon scientists to become involved in K–12 education reform. From sporadic interaction with students to more sustained partnerships with teachers, the engagement of scientists takes many forms. In this case, scientists from the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG), the Genetics Society of America (GSA), and the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) have partnered to organize an essay contest for high school students as part of the activities surrounding National DNA Day. We describe a systematic analysis of 500 of 2443 total essays submitted in response to this contest over 2 years. Our analysis reveals the nature of student misconceptions in genetics, the possible sources of these misconceptions, and potential ways to galvanize genetics education.
Mutagenesis screens and analysis of mutant phenotypes are one of the most powerful approaches for the study of genetics. Yet genetics students often have difficulty understanding the experimental procedures and breeding crosses required in mutagenesis screens and linking mutant phenotypes to molecular defects. Performing these experiments themselves often aids students in understanding the methodology. However, there are limitations to performing genetics experiments in a student laboratory. For example, the generation time of laboratory model organisms is considerable, and a laboratory exercise that involves many rounds of breeding or analysis of many mutants is not often feasible. Additionally, the cost of running a laboratory practical, along with safety considerations for particular reagents or protocols, often dictates the experiments that students can perform. To provide an alternative to a traditional laboratory module, we have used Scenario-Based-Learning Interactive (SBLi) software to develop a virtual laboratory to support a second year undergraduate course entitled “Genetic Analysis.” This resource allows students to proceed through the steps of a genetics experiment, without the time, cost, or safety constraints of a traditional laboratory exercise.
Structured inquiry approaches, in which students receive a Drosophila strain of unknown genotype to analyze and map the constituent mutations, are a common feature of many genetics teaching laboratories. The required crosses frustrate many students because they are aware that they are participating in a fundamentally trivial exercise, as the map locations of the genes are already established and have been recalculated thousands of times by generations of students. We modified the traditional structured inquiry approach to include a novel research experience for the students in our undergraduate genetics laboratories. Students conducted crosses with Drosophila strains carrying P[lacW] transposon insertions in genes without documented recombination map positions, representing a large number of unique, but equivalent genetic unknowns. Using the eye color phenotypes associated with the inserts as visible markers, it is straightforward to calculate recombination map positions for the interrupted loci. Collectively, our students mapped 95 genetic loci on chromosomes 2 and 3. In most cases, the calculated 95% confidence interval for meiotic map location overlapped with the predicted map position based on cytology. The research experience evoked positive student responses and helped students better understand the nature of scientific research for little additional cost or instructor effort.
Exposure to genetic and biochemical experiments typically occurs late in one’s academic career. By the time students have the opportunity to select specialized courses in these areas, many have already developed negative attitudes toward the sciences. Given little or no direct experience with the fields of genetics and biochemistry, it is likely that many young people rule these out as potential areas of study or career path. To address this problem, we developed a 7-week (∼1 hr/week) hands-on course to introduce fifth grade students to basic concepts in genetics and biochemistry. These young students performed a series of investigations (ranging from examining phenotypic variation, in vitro enzymatic assays, and yeast genetic experiments) to explore scientific reasoning through direct experimentation. Despite the challenging material, the vast majority of students successfully completed each experiment, and most students reported that the experience increased their interest in science. Additionally, the experiments within the 7-week program are easily performed by instructors with basic skills in biological sciences. As such, this program can be implemented by others motivated to achieve a broader impact by increasing the accessibility of their university and communicating to a young audience a positive impression of the sciences and the potential for science as a career.
To help genetics instructors become aware of fundamental concepts that are persistently difficult for students, we have analyzed the evolution of student responses to multiple-choice questions from the Genetics Concept Assessment. In total, we examined pretest (before instruction) and posttest (after instruction) responses from 751 students enrolled in six genetics courses for either majors or nonmajors. Students improved on all 25 questions after instruction, but to varying degrees. Notably, there was a subgroup of nine questions for which a single incorrect answer, called the most common incorrect answer, was chosen by >20% of students on the posttest. To explore response patterns to these nine questions, we tracked individual student answers before and after instruction and found that particular conceptual difficulties about genetics are both more likely to persist and more likely to distract students than other incorrect ideas. Here we present an analysis of the evolution of these incorrect ideas to encourage instructor awareness of these genetics concepts and provide advice on how to address common conceptual difficulties in the classroom.
In this commentary, Brian P. Lazzaro and David S. Schneider examine the topic of the Genetics of Immunity as explored in this month's issues of GENETICS and G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. These inaugural articles are part of a joint Genetics of Immunity collection (ongoing) in the GSA journals.
In this commentary, Michelle Arbeitman et al., examine the topic of the Genetics of Sex as explored in this month's issues of GENETICS and G3: Genes |Genomes |Genetics. These inaugural articles are part of a joint Genetics of Sex collection (ongoing) in the GSA journals.
There is strong consensus among educators that training in the ethical and social consequences of science is necessary for the development of students into the science professionals and well-rounded citizens needed in the future. However, this part of the curriculum is not a major focus of most science departments and it is not clear if, or how, students receive this training. To determine the current status of bioethics education of undergraduate biology students in the United States, we surveyed instructors of introductory genetics. We found that there was support for more ethics education both in the general curriculum and in the genetics classroom than is currently being given. Most instructors devote <5% of class time to ethical and social issues in their genetics courses. The majority feels that this is inadequate treatment of these topics and most cited lack of time as a major reason they were unable to give more attention to bioethics. We believe biology departments should take the responsibility to ensure that their students are receiving a balanced education. Undergraduate students should be adequately trained in ethics either within their science courses or in a specialized course elsewhere in the curriculum.
There is continued emphasis on increasing and improving genetics education for grades K–12, for medical professionals, and for the general public. Another critical audience is undergraduate students in introductory biology and genetics courses. To improve the learning of genetics, there is a need to first assess students' understanding of genetics concepts and their level of genetics literacy (i.e., genetics knowledge as it relates to, and affects, their lives). We have developed and evaluated a new instrument to assess the genetics literacy of undergraduate students taking introductory biology or genetics courses. The Genetics Literacy Assessment Instrument is a 31-item multiple-choice test that addresses 17 concepts identified as central to genetics literacy. The items were selected and modified on the basis of reviews by 25 genetics professionals and educators. The instrument underwent additional analysis in student focus groups and pilot testing. It has been evaluated using ∼400 students in eight introductory nonmajor biology and genetics courses. The content validity, discriminant validity, internal reliability, and stability of the instrument have been considered. This project directly enhances genetics education research by providing a valid and reliable instrument for assessing the genetics literacy of undergraduate students.
While many institutions use a version of the Ames test in the undergraduate genetics laboratory, students typically are not exposed to techniques or procedures beyond qualitative analysis of phenotypic reversion, thereby seriously limiting the scope of learning. We have extended the Ames test to include both quantitative analysis of reversion frequency and molecular analysis of revertant gene sequences. By giving students a role in designing their quantitative methods and analyses, students practice and apply quantitative skills. To help students connect classical and molecular genetic concepts and techniques, we report here procedures for characterizing the molecular lesions that confer a revertant phenotype. We suggest undertaking reversion of both missense and frameshift mutants to allow a more sophisticated molecular genetic analysis. These modifications and additions broaden the educational content of the traditional Ames test teaching laboratory, while simultaneously enhancing students' skills in experimental design, quantitative analysis, and data interpretation.