This Sunday morning at the International Congress of Genetics, Tony Griffiths gave an interesting presentation with the above title. He identified 12 possible reasons why students have problems learning genetics. His main argument: students should learn concepts and principles and apply them creatively in novel situations (the research mode). Instead, too many details are often crammed into seminars and textbooks. In other words, students often stay at the lowest level of Bloom’s taxonomy, the remembering of knowledge. The highest level, the creation of new knowledge, is seldom reached, although these skills are of course critical for a successful researcher.
Andrew Moore from EMBO talked about the teaching of genetics in the classroom. He was concerned that a survey found that molecular evolution (or molecular phylogeny) was taught in not more than 30% of European classrooms. He gave some examples of how principles of genetics can be integrated into high school teaching.
Wolfgang Nellen explained his successful Science Bridge project of teaching genetics in the classroom, using biology students as teachers. Interestingly, they have not only taught high school students, but also journalists and – priests (German language link here). Politicians were the only group of people that weren’t interested in his offer of a basic science course.
Teaching is a very specific mode of transferring information, one that has its own paths. It is an attempt to diffuse a lot of information throughout an ad hoc community.
But it is often decoupled from any social networking, usually having just an authority figure disperse data, with little in the way of conversations. There is little analysis and even less synthesis, just Remembering what is required for the next test.
Bloom’s taxonomy is a nice measure of an individual’s progress through learning but it is orthogonal to the learning a community undergoes. Most instruction today is geared towards making the individual attain the highest part of the pyramid.
How does this model change in a world where social networking skills may be more important? What happens to Remembering when Google exists? When information can be so easily retrieved, grading for Remembering seems foolish.
The methods we use to teach at most centers of higher education are, at heart, based on models first developed over a century ago. It may be that they will have to be greatly altered before some of the real potential of online social networks will occur.