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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Khan Academy and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Team Up to Teach Evolution and Biochemistry for the New MCAT


Better Biochemistry
Students have to write an exam called the MCAT in order to get into American Medical Schools (Canadians students also write the MCAT). The exam is created and marked by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). The format of the exam is changing in 2015 to include more biochemistry and molecular biology. This means that "pre-med" students will likely be taking more biochemistry and molecular biology courses.

Most American schools teach to the MCAT in their biochemistry and molecular biology courses because there are large numbers of wannna-be doctors in their class. The biochemistry lecturers feel that it's their duty to prep the pre-med students to pass the MCAT. This has a devastating effect on American biochemistry courses [Better Biochemistry: Teaching to the MCAT?] [Better Biochemistry: Teaching ATP Hydrolysis for the MCAT]. It is inconsistent with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBM) goals of developing concept-driven courses that focus on fundamental principles [Fundamental Concepts in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ].

The Khan Academy is taking advantage of the new MCAT in 2015 by posting a series of videos on basic biochemistry and evolution. The content is approved by the AAMC in order to make sure it is suitable for MCAT preparation. Here's what they say on their website [Khan Academy MCAT].
This collection is being developed for the revised MCAT® exam that will first be administered in spring 2015. Videos will be added to the collection through fall 2014. All content in this collection has been created under the direction of the Khan Academy and has been reviewed under the direction of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). All materials are categorized according to the pre-health competencies tested by the MCAT²⁰¹⁵ exam; however, the content in this collection is not intended to prescribe a program of study for the MCAT²⁰¹⁵ exam. The content is also included in the Pre-health Collection within MedEdPORTAL’s iCollaborative sponsored by the AAMC: *MCAT® is a program of the AAMC and related trademarks owned by the Association include Medical College Admission Test, MCAT, and MCAT²⁰¹⁵. For more information about the MCAT exam visit :
So, how did the Khan Academy prepare the videos? They set up an MCAT Video Competition and picked the best ones. You can read about the winners at MCAT Video Competition Winners. It's an eclectic mix of people but 11 out of 15 winners are medical school students or graduate students. Keep in mind that teaching introductory subjects like evolution and biochemistry is hard and Teachers Have to Know Their Subject.

I'm going to look at the videos on evolution prepared by a second year MD/PhD student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and videos on biochemistry prepared by a second year MD student at Harvard Medical School and a third year med student at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Medical students are very bright and very confident of their abilities. We'll see if these students learned enough in their undergraduate courses to be able to create accurate videos that will help university graduates pass the MCAT.

Before looking at some specific examples, let me make a general comment on Khan Academy videos. I've looked at quite a few of them over the years and every single one I've seen is a "kindergarten-level" video. What I mean by that is that the level of the presentation is barely suitable for students beginning high school and in some cases they really are pitched at the level my three-year old granddaughter could understand in a year or two. They certainly aren't up to the level of any university course that I've ever taught.

These MCAT videos are no exception. But they are intended for students who are about to graduate from university. Most of these students will be getting a science degree. The mini courses are intended for students who are about to write the MCAT exam and this should represent the level of knowledge expected of medical students. As a general rule, the students who are preparing for the MCAT have achieved high grades in their biology and chemistry courses and in their biochemistry and molecular biology courses. They wouldn't be considering medical school if they weren't in the top 25% of their class.

Why are the videos pitched at such a low level of education? Is this truly representative of the quality of university education in American universities? Check them out for yourself at: Biomolecules.

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