The beginning of the new academic year brings teaching into focus again. While we are thinking about the organizational aspects of teaching in light of COVID-19 pandemic, it is also important to think about the program. Specialized courses of molecular and cell biology may be not so popular among medical students and related students, particularly due to a lot of theoretical information and lack of perceived practical relevance.
However, Schoenmaker, Deng, and de Vries have recently published an interesting article in Frontiers in Public Health, where they shared how they improved their teaching of molecular biology and attracted students’ interest in their course.
Namely, they embedded a genetic disease that severely affects the musculoskeletal system, fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), in all aspects of a course for an international group of Research Master Human Movement Sciences students at the University of Amsterdam.
Various molecular cell biological aspects of FOP were systematically implemented in the course, covering genetics, biochemical consequences of the mutation, signaling pathways that affect bone formation, and lectures on how to clone or cure the mutation. “Students were invited to critically think about how to use the theories learned in the course to analyze a research paper”, state the authors. Moreover, during the practical part of the course, students assisted in novel research on FOP patient-derived or control cells, and reported the research findings in a form of a research paper.
Indeed, by building a Molecular Cell Biology course around an appealing disease, the authors claimed to have increased the general motivation for the course among the students with a primary background in biomechanics and physiotherapy, as reflected in the course evaluations.
Figure 1. Skeleton with FOP
The authors suggested that “embedding an audience-tailored human disease with a known genetic cause into a course can be implemented to many medical curriculum related courses” to increase students’ perception of the relevance of a course. Personally, I agree with them, and we may all find inspiration for further improving of our own teaching practices based on their successful real-life experiment.
For additional details, please read the article.