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Interdisciplinary biology education: a holistic approach to an intractable problem

Author(s): Kristin Jenkins


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Presentation on interdisciplinary biology education at the 2019 Great Lakes Bioinformatics Conference

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Version 2.0 - published on 21 May 2019 doi:10.25334/Q4M74V - cite this


Bioinformatics, quantitative biology and other important emerging disciplines like data science are described as interdisciplinary - combining a variety of skills and practices from multiple sources to generate novel approaches to biological problems. Each of these disciplines is a potentially effective route for teaching many core biological concepts, and no biology education would be complete without exposure to these disciplines. However, it is unclear how each of each of these disciplines can receive the appropriate level of attention in an already over-full biology curriculum. How is a faculty member (or department) to incorporate experience with all these important disciplines to prepare students for the 21st Century workforce?

Could extending our interdisciplinary approach to research benefit biology education? Vision and Change provides an overarching guide to what all biology students should know, categorizing this knowledge as core concepts and competencies. These broad categories describe topics and practices required in many disciplines, including bioinformatics and quantitative biology, such as using models and hypothesis testing. Transferring and applying knowledge in different situations is challenging for students, but is a key skill in interdisciplinary sciences. Exposure to multiple disciplines could be leveraged to support both the development of core skills and knowledge and the ability to transfer and apply knowledge in different scenarios.

Such an interdisciplinary approach will require communities of practice that can support collaboration and communication between disciplinary educators. The ability to share resources, provide professional development and exchange ideas on effective pedagogical approaches will reduce barriers to interdisciplinary teaching. The Quantitative Undergraduate Biology Education (QUBES) project is an example of this type of community of practice, where bioinformatics and quantitative biology faculty have come together to improve biology education.

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