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Revamping genetics courses, to include meaning

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In Genetics Class 2.0, at The Best Schools, Heather Zeiger discusses Rosie Redfield’s ideas for revamping genetics courses.

Redfield, you’ll recall, took on NASA over the arsenic-eating bacteria claim.


She suggests that the course needs to be changed from the traditional historical perspective to one that begins with a foundational knowledge of modern genetics, and then transitions into analysis. Her view is to always keep in mind the current applications of genetics and how best to prepare students in light of these applications.

The historical perspective, it was thought, would walk students through the many steps and questions that scientists asked as they discovered genetics. However, as Dr. Redfield points out:

Unfortunately, this wasn’t working as planned; although students learned to solve our genetic analysis problems, their ability to think scientifically didn’t noticeably improve and they didn’t seem to understand much genetics.

And while making the students walk through the process of discovery is a good idea, in theory, it was not what was happening in practice:

Pioneer geneticists treated these processes as “black boxes” whose rules they deduced, but our students appeared to avoid this challenge by simply memorizing the rules and problem-solving rubrics that well-meaning instructors provided.



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