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What should a 21st century biology textbook be like?

In “Why Do We Have to Learn This Stuff?”—A New Genetics for 21st Century Students” Rosie Redfield (yes, the one who couldn’t replicate NASA’s arsenic-eating bacteria experiments, and withstood the ridicule), offers a new way of teaching biology

As a first step, geneticists need to step back from the current curriculum and decide what 21st century students really need to know about genes and inheritance. These decisions should be based on how students will use what they learn, and not on what we as geneticists value. Then we can develop specific learning goals—lists of skills we want students to gain from our teaching. Only then will we be ready to develop a syllabus, and to create the textbooks, assessment tools, and validation tools we’ll need. At the same time, we should be promoting parallel changes at earlier levels; the brief time high school and first-year university students devote to genetics shouldn’t be wasted on Mendel’s laws and Punnett squares.

I expect that just reading this article will have raised the hackles of many readers whose favourite topics I would cut. Procrastination is attractive—if we wait long enough, maybe the pace of change will slow, the issues will become clearer, and traditionalist colleagues will retire. As long as we remain comfortable with teaching largely irrelevant material, we don’t have to worry about changing it. But if we want to make the genetics we teach genuinely useful to our students, we need to start the process now.

Thoughts? What do you think of her syllabus?

How much time should go into defending Darwin or assessing his legacy as opposed to exploring reality?

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2 Responses to What should a 21st century biology textbook be like?

  1. 1

    Genes don’t care what beliefs those examining them hold, they will behave the same way whether the person studying them believes I.D, Creation or evolution. In light of how many times darwinian predictions/expectations have been falsified and the data has been a “surprise,” I will boldly say eliminating the darwinian religion from schools would aid and encourage scientific progress.

  2. 2

    I think biology in the 21st century will have textbookazines because they’re easier to read than real books. The subject has been dumbed down so much already, why not substitute books for something that’s mostly pictures and no actual science.

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