Better BiochemistryI strongly support the concept of teaching core concepts even though I disagree with many of the actual concepts that are proposed. Here are the five core concepts with links to my discussions.
- evolution [ASBMB Core Concepts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Evolution ]
- matter and energy transformation [ASBMB Core Concepts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Matter and Energy Transformation]
- homeostasis [ASBMB Core Concepts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Homeostasis]
- biological information [ASBMB Core Concepts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Biological Information]
- macromolecular structure and function [ASBMB Core Concepts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology: Molecular Structure and Function]
However, I'm not convinced that most instructors really buy into the goal. A problem arises whenever they start to think about what to teach in their courses. Part of the problem is that many instructors don't really understand evolution and because of this they don't realize that it needs to be integrated into all parts of a biochemistry course.
The other part of the problem is that most instructors teach to the MCAT in American colleges. There's a conflict between teaching core concepts of biochemistry—especially from an evolution perspective—and preparing students to pass the MCAT. I sense that the average instructor doesn't realize that this conflict exists.
I was reminded of this when I read an article in ASBMB Today, the society magazine. The article focused on "Rooting student assessment in the literature" and it was written by Henry Jakubowski [ASBMB Today, April 2015]. Henry thinks that we should focus on teaching core concepts and he has developed some lessons based on recently published papers. He notes that ASBMB has outlined core concepts and so has the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). That's the group that administer the MCAT exam. AAMC's version of "core concepts" is heavily focused on human biochemistry.
It's easy to see what's required to pass the MCAT because AAMC has set up a website: MCAT pre-health: Biochemistry. Henry Jakubowski is an editor for the biochemistry submissions. (Many of the lessons are Khan Academy videos. Check out the ones on Principles of Bioenergetics to see what kind of core concepts are acceptable to AAMC.)
Here's how Henry describes his objectives ...
In line with these ideas, new initiatives by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Association of American Medical Colleges endorse and assess learning competencies and defined learning goals and objectives (instead of proscribing a list of courses) for students studying biochemistry and molecular biology and taking the new MCAT15 exam.Did you notice that evolution is the #1 core concept in the ASBMB list but it's missing from the diagram? That's because evolution is not a core concept on the MCAT exam.
The new MCAT, offered for the first time this spring, has an explicit section on biochemistry, as input from targeted cohorts showed it as important for academic success in medical school. The exam also puts greater emphasis on scientific reasoning and inquiry skills. Anyone familiar with the ASBMB core concepts and associated learning objectives can see immediate congruence with the MCAT goals (figure 2).
If you really were to teach biochemistry and molecular biology from a core concept perspective, including an evolutionary perspective, you would probably be hurting students who want to go to medical school. That's because you would have to cover topics like photosynthesis and comparative biochemistry and that takes away from time that should be spend on memorizing the structure of the amino acids. Not only that, if you actually taught the core concept of thermodynamics correctly—the meaning of ΔG′° and the fact that most reactions have a real ΔG of zero—then you would be conflicting with what students are supposed to know for the MCAT [see this video that's recommended for the MCAT].
This is a problem. Biochemistry instructors are going to have to choose between teaching correct ASMBM core concepts, including evolution, and the other things that are necessary to pass the MCAT. I don't think that most instructors realize there's a problem.
When push comes to shove, American instructors are going to prepare students for the MCAT since that's what students expect and they are paying $25,000 a year for four years of pre-med instruction. American instructors need to stop pretending that they are going to change education according to the ASBMB recommendations. It's the AAMC that dictates what's in a biochemistry course, not scientists.