Discipline: Biological Sciences
Subcategory: STEM Science and Mathematics Education
- Spelman College
Co-Author(s): Anna Powolny, Gene McGinnis, Jennifer Kovacs and Yonas Tekle, Spelman College, Atlanta GA
Spelman College piloted a novel approach to increase student engagement in STEM fields, through development of an introductory biology course intervention centered on a genetics and genealogy (G&G) approach. Biology faculty have taught the Genes and Genealogy curriculum in the introductory biology class in fall 2016 and 2017. Introductory biology was taught by personalizing the material for each individual student using the G&G approach. Students were taught the basics of genetics and evolution via an exploration of their own DNA (from genetic testing kits) or of an online “avatar” (the one of the instructors’ DNA sequence). The course involved three modules using genomic aspects of human evolution: Ethical, legal, Social issues in direct-to-consumer genotyping services, estimating Neanderthal ancestry and skin pigmentation analysis. An art component of this curriculum included an iBook titled “Who am I?” portrait builder which invited students to create a narrative about their recent and more deep ancestry.
Majority of the students (~80%) opted to use their own DNA rather than “avataar” DNA suggesting a high level of student buy-in for this approach. This was supported by survey data that revealed high level of student enthusiasm and engagement in the course. Most significantly, assessments of student learning before and after each module show learning gains in content knowledge.
We conclude that personalizing the introductory science curriculum is an effective strategy to increase student engagement.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): National Science Foundation
Faculty Advisor: None Listed,