Active Learning of Biochemistry Made Easy (for the Teacher)

Joseph A. Bobich

Department of Chemistry, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX 76129; [email protected]

So Much Information, So Little Time
The number of biochemistry facts keeps increasing at a substantial rate. How can a biochemistry teacher best present the most important and useful information about where biochemistry has been, is now, and where it is going? And how can that best be done in 35–40 (or 70–80 in this case) lecture hours?

This paper addresses the problem. Let us divide it into two parts, content and form, and consider each separately. Biochemistry Content Constraints There are far too many biochemical facts for anyone (let alone any student) to learn them all (1), so choices must be made.

Most teachers choose their facts by selecting a textbook and/or producing their own fact-filled lecture notes. However, educators generally agree that studying concepts and principles (rather than facts) produces superior learning (2). This is particularly important for the molecular life sciences where the fundamentals are largely understood, but the facts can be overwhelming.

Therefore, material to be learned should focus on biochemical principles and concepts, rather than rote memorization of lecture material (3, 4), with illustrative facts brought in to make the concepts real. That, of course, sounds easier than it actually is, in part because most teachers lecture, and lecturing does not promote such higher order learning (5).

Biochemistry Pedagogy Constraints
The second part of the problem, form, has an apparently direct solution: active learning methods (6–13). As King (14) put it succinctly, the “guide on the side” is an improvement over the “sage on the stage”. Silva and Batista (15) have pointed out the desirability of promoting active learning methodologies for biochemistry teaching.

Developing an Effective Solution
We tend to teach the way we were taught, so lecturing prevails. What plan might be created to produce widespread change?

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