Friday, October 11, 2013

ASBMB Promotes Concept Driven Teaching Strategies in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The latest issue of BAMBED (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education) contains a series of articles on "Foundational Concepts and Assessment Tools for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Educators." The goal is to get teachers to change their way of teaching undergraduate courses in biochemistry and molecular biology.

The first paper is an introduction to "Promoting Concept Driven Teaching Strategies in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology" (Mattos et al, 2013). The authors point out that ASBMB (American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) has been advocating concept driven teaching strategies for over a decade. What they don't mention is that this advocacy has been remarkably unsuccessful The majority of biochemistry and molecular biology courses are still taught in a memorize-regurgitate format. Most American courses are taught to the MCAT. Understanding concepts won't get you a good grade on the MCAT.

The idea of teaching fundamental concepts is useful if biochemistry and molecular biology are foundational courses designed as prerequisites for more advanced study. That's not how biochemistry is seen in most America colleges. Students usually don't take the course until their junior year and many don't take it until they are seniors! These courses are not generally seen as prerequisites for other courses in the biological sciences.

That's not how it works in Canada where biochemistry is a second year course and it is a prerequisite for many third year and fourth year courses. The importance of concept driven teaching should be more obvious in Canada. It isn't, in my experience. That doesn't mean we don't talk about it—or course we do. We all think that teaching concepts is a great idea. Problem is, we don't do it in our introductory courses.

This is one of the reasons why MOOCs are seen as a viable alternative to in-class biochemistry courses. You can spew out facts for multiple choice exams just as easily on a video as you do in a classroom. If, instead, we were actually teaching a concept driven course using a student-centered approach, then MOOCs would seem ridiculous.

Mattos et al. (2013) report that ASBMB developed a three pronged approach ...

  1. Building a network of scientists and educators focused on using and disseminating evidence-based teaching best practices.
  2. Fostering both an understanding of the use of appropriate assessment, and the creation of a network of educators focused on defining the foundational concepts of the discipline, identifying key cross-disciplinary principles, and incorporating the appropriate skills necessary for students to succeed in the practice of science into the curriculum and assessment of student outcomes.
  3. Promoting best practices in the education of our students by providing appropriate teaching and assessment resources for faculty.
They applied for, and received, a grant from the National Science Foundation (USA) to address these challenges. The results of those studies are ready to be published.

The next paper in this BAMBED issue describes the foundational concepts that all biochemistry & molecular biology instructors have to teach. Can you guess what they are before I post the answer? Put your best guesses in the comments.

Mattos, C., Johnson, M., White, H., Sears, D., Bailey, C. and Bell, E. (2013) Introduction: Promoting concept driven teaching strategies in biochemistry and molecular biology. Biochem. Mol. Biol. Educ. 41:287–288. [doi: 10.1002/bmb.20726]