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Special Section: Foundational Concepts and Assessment

Tools for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Educators,

Part 1: Essential Concepts and Skills
Carla Mattos†
Introduction: Promoting Concept Driven Margaret Johnson‡
Hal White§
Teaching Strategies in Biochemistry and Duane Sears¶
Molecular Biology Cheryl Bailey||
Ellis Bell‡‡*

From the †Northeastern University, ‡University of Alabama,

§University of Delaware, ¶University of California Santa Barbara,
||HHMI, ‡‡University of Richmond

The American Society For Biochemistry And Molecular The Society has developed a three pronged approach to
Biology (ASBMB) long ago (about 10–12 years) recognized supporting the appropriate changes in academia to focus
both the changing nature of Biochemistry and Molecular on student centered education of all students in the molec-
Biology (in reality all of the molecular life sciences) and the ular life sciences. These involve:
ways we need to educate our students (not just our science
1. Building a network of scientists and educators focused
majors but all students) in the molecular life sciences. All
on using and disseminating evidence-based teaching
students need to appreciate and understand the broad con-
best practices.
ceptual areas of the discipline, the interdisciplinary nature
2. Fostering both an understanding of the use of appro-
of much current and future science, as well as the process
priate assessment, and the creation of a network of
of science in terms of both its approaches to problems and
educators focused on defining the foundational con-
the cross disciplinary foundational concepts that can con-
cepts of the discipline, identifying key cross-
tribute to a clearer understanding of life processes, goals
disciplinary principles, and incorporating the appropri-
that align well with those of vision and change [1].
ate skills necessary for students to succeed in the
A major rationale for this is that modern molecular life
practice of science into the curriculum and assessment
science is increasingly interdisciplinary, both from the con-
of student outcomes.
ceptual perspective and from the experimental perspective,
3. Promoting best practices in the education of our students
and that the advances of the future will increasingly be
by providing appropriate teaching and assessment
made at the interface between the disciplines [2]. Students,
resources for faculty.
therefore, need to understand both foundational discipli-
nary concepts and how they relate to broader interdiscipli- To address these challenges ASBMB applied for, and
nary concepts as well as broad themes from the allied field was awarded, a grant from the National Science Foundation
disciplines of Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and Com- (The Undergraduate Biology Education track in the Research
puter Science in addition to process of science skills that Coordination Network program (RCN-UBE) Award number
are often common to all the scientific disciplines. This pla- 0957205 “RCN-UBE: Promoting Concept Driven Teaching
ces an increased emphasis on presenting the essential con- Strategies in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology through
cepts and themes from the allied fields in the context of the Concept Assessments,” Ellis Bell, PI). As part of this project,
molecular life sciences, either in traditional Biochemistry the Project Steering group was split into three groups, one
and Molecular Biology courses or in the currently emerging focusing on the foundational concepts of the discipline, one
“blended” courses [3–5] that bring together the foundations on critical concepts of the allied fields of Chemistry, Physics,
of Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics/Computer Science and Mathematics, and one on the necessary skills (in their
in the context of the molecular life sciences. broadest sense) that a student should have upon graduation.
These topics were discussed extensively over the past 2 years
in a series of regional workshop meetings involving hun-
*Address for correspondence to: Department of Chemistry, Gottwald
dreds of educators from a wide variety of institutions includ-
Science Center, University of Richmond, 28 Westhampton Way, Rich-
mond, Virginia 23173. E-mail: ing major research universities, liberal arts colleges, and
Received 26 July 2013; Accepted 30 July 2013 minority serving institutions geographically located across
DOI 10.1002/bmb.20726 the country, and well attended sessions at both the Annual
Published online in Wiley Online Library Experimental Biology National Meeting and the ASBMB
( sponsored small education meeting.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education 287

Biochemistry and
Molecular Biology Education

The three papers presented in this special section development of appropriate assessment tools and the crea-
resulted from the working group’s analysis of the input tion of a web-based toolkit for educators. We have
from these meetings. They include some sample learning suggested some sample learning objectives in the three
objectives with the goal of guiding future efforts of the pro- papers, not to be prescriptive but to illustrate the types of
ject to develop assessment tools aligned with this consen- learning objectives that can then provide a basis for devel-
sus. The titles of the papers are: oping appropriate questions that can be used to gauge stu-
“Foundational Concepts & Underlying Theories for dent understanding. We hope that these three papers will
Majors in ‘Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’” John T. help focus the community’s efforts both on curricula reform
Tansey, Teaster Baird Jr., Michael Cox, Kristin Fox, Jenni- to align both course and program curricula with the con-
fer Knight, Duane Sears, and Ellis Bell. cepts of “Vision and Change” and promote the use of
“What Skills Should Graduates of Undergraduate Bio- assessment tools that are aligned with the appropriate
chemistry and Molecular Biology Programs Have Upon foundational disciplinary and interdisciplinary concepts, as
graduation?” Harold B. White, Marilee A. Benore, Takita well as skills, necessary for our students to successfully
F. Sumter, Benjamin D. Caldwell, and Ellis Bell. complete their undergraduate education.
“Essential Concepts & Underlying Theories from
Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics for ‘Biochemistry
and Molecular Biology’ Majors” Ann Wright, Joseph Pro-
[1] AAAS, (2012) Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A
vost, Jennifer A. Roecklein-Canfield, and Ellis Bell.
Call to Action, AAAS, Washington, DC. Available at http://visionandchan-
These three papers represent a consensus of the knowl-
edge and skills that biochemistry and molecular biology [2] Bell, E. (2001) The future of education in the molecular life sciences, Nat.
majors should have upon graduation with a degree in bio- Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 2, 221–225.
chemistry and molecular biology or, (recognizing the exis- [3] Caudill, L., Hill, A., Hoke, K., and Lipan, O. (2010 Fall) Impact of Interdisci-
plinary undergraduate research in mathematics and biology on the
tence of separate degrees) biochemistry. We have not sug-
development of a new course integrating five STEM disciplines. CBE Life
gested how this might be taught in terms of individual course Sci. Educ. 9, 212–216.
content recognizing that there are a wide variety of combina- [4] Gentile, L., Caudill, L., Fetea, M., Hill, A., Hoke, K., Lawson, B., Lipan, O.,
tions of courses that together in a program might accomplish Kerckhove, M., Parish, C., Stenger, K., and Szajda, D. (2012) Challenging
the overall goal of students mastering these areas and skills. disciplinary boundaries in the first year: A new introductory integrated
science course for STEM majors. J. Coll. Sci. Teach. 41, 44–50.
We would also encourage the use of this framework when
[5] Ulsh, L., Drew, D. E., Purvis-Roberts, K. L., Edwalds-Gilbert, G.,
considering the design of courses for non science majors. Landsberg, A. S., and Copp, N. (2009). Accelerated integrated science
The Society’s RCN-UBE grant is now focusing on align- sequence (AISS): An introductory biology, chemistry, and physics
ing the identified conceptual areas and skills with the course. J. Chem. Educ. 86, 1295–1299.

288 Introduction