I've discussed the concepts before [ASBMB Core Concepts]. There are problems.
Various committees continue to meet in order to build a "concept inventory" to guide the new curriculum. There have been a series of workshops organized around the main themes. The participants in the workshops are, for the most part, teachers at small universities and colleges. They have lots of experience teaching undergraduate courses but they aren't necessarily experts in the subject material.
I saw this clearly when I attended a session at the last Experimental Biology meeting in Boston last April. The purpose of the meeting was to review the major concepts in Evolution and Homeostasis. I met a great deal of resistance from the workshop leaders when I tried to explain the concepts of neutral alleles and random genetic drift and show them why they were so important when comparing sequences and constructing phylogenetic trees.
INTEGRATING EVOLUTION AND HOMEOSTASIS WITH THE CORE CONCEPTS OF BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGYThis same group has published some of their findings in the July/August issue of the education journal, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education (BAMBED)1 (Aguanno et al. 2015).
Symposium Tues. 9:45 am Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, room 256
Chaired: E. Bell
9:45 RCN-UBE: Integrating Evolution and Homeostasis with the Core Concepts of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology J.E. Bell, A. Aguanno, P. Mertz, M. Johnson and K.M. Fox. Univ. of Richmond, Union Col., NY, Univ. of Alabama, St Mary’s Col. of Maryland and Marymount Manhattan. (559.2)
Small Group Work: Integrating Evolution and Homeostasis into the Core Concepts E. Bell, Univ. of Richmond A. Aguanno, Marymount Manhattan Col.
Group Discussion on Core Concept integration with Homeostasis A. Aguanno, Marymount Manhattan Col.
Small Group Work: Question Development Involving Evolution and Homeostasis M. Johnson, Univ. of Alabama
Group Presentations and Discussion on Question Implementation K. Fox. Union Col.
Here are the learning objectives they have developed under the "Evolution" concept.
- central importance of the theory of evolution
- Darwin's theory of evolution
- process of natural selection
- evidence for the theory of evolution
- molecular basis of natural selection
I pointed this out to the authors at the meeting and stimulated a discussion about these concepts. The authors, and the other teachers in the room, were pretty certain that the differences in amino acid sequences were all due to natural selection. Most of them had never heard of random genetic drift.
The problem here is that the learning objectives and the "capstone experiences" are being developed by teachers who don't really understand evolution. It is assumed that the best people to work on the new curriculum are experienced teachers but that's demonstrably false. (It applies to the other concepts as well.)
It turns out that biochemistry professors are not as knowledgeable about core concepts as you might imagine.
The results, right, indicate that less than 8% of the respondents thought that evolution was an important concept.
This could be due, in part, to the fact that biochemistry courses are often taught by professors who are members of a chemistry department but no matter what the explanation it looks like we have a lot of work ahead of us if we are going to convince our colleagues to make evolution a core concept.
I'm pretty sure that many of the people who teach our introductory biochemistry courses at the University of Toronto don't see evolution as a core concept and don't understand modern evolutionary theory.
1. Disclaimer: I am on the editorial board of that journal.
Aguanno, A., Mertz, P., Martin, D., and Bell, E. (2015) A National Comparison of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Capstone Experiences. BAMBED 43:223-232. [doi: 10.1002/bmb.20869]