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Teaching Biochemical Pathways Using Concept Maps

Author(s): Simon Brown

Journal: Educational Research in Medical Sciences
ISSN 2252-0341

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 39;
Date: 2013;
Original page

The interesting paper by Dinarvand and Vaisi-Raygan (1) makes valuable points about a particularly challenging aspect of biochemistry learning and teaching. Their work prompts me to ask two questions and make a comment. First, what do the authors mean by a concept map (CM)? A pathway map could be considered a CM, but a CM could cover modes of regulation and kinetics in relation to particular reactions or pathways and there are many other possibilities. Irrespective of this, a CM can get extremely complex if more than a few concepts are involved (2), as can be seen in examples given by Novak (3). This is the fundamental problem of teaching and learning biochemistry (4), which combines the network of pathways, compartmentation, macromol¬ecular structure, regulation, kinetics and some fairly sophisticated chemical concepts.Second, how did the students go about preparing CMs? My experience is that students prefer to use a computer for most tasks, but standard CM software (5) may not be suitable. For example, they often struggle unnec¬essarily to use software to prepare a graphical summary of the structural features of a protein, its precursors and the gene encoding it. This distracts them from the material. My suggestions that pencil and paper might be sufficient are usually met with amazement. Third, as Dinarvand and Vaisi-Raygan (1) make clear, a coherent summary of the metabolism considered in a course in metabolic biochemistry is crucial if students are to appreciate the pathways and their interconn-ection and regulation. For many years I have used an approach in which students collaborate in tutorials to achieve this. The sessions are usually initiated by me drawing the plasma membrane and the mitochondrial membranes on a large board and inviting the students to fill in the blanks (I provide large sheets of paper so that students can make copies). With coaxing, someone volunteers and I explain that the volunteer is not alone because everyone is expected to help and, eventually, everyone will be the volunteer. Thereafter, I act as moderator, provide support to any nervous students and, very rarely, offer some clarification, correction or suggestion. The sessions are very lively and highly productive. We usually spend one week going over the details of the reactions in all the pathways we have considered, and in the next tutorial we generate a simpler outline of the reactions and superimpose the regulation of the pathways. In addition to the generation of a coherent overview of the pathways and processes, the advantages of this approach include instant feedback on the suggestions made by students (often provided by other students); real discussion of the biochemistry; identification of particular points of difficulty; the voluntary inclusion of almost every student, which gives me some indication of those who might be struggling; and laughter. The feedback is consistently positive and students actually ask when the sessions are going to happen as we approach the end of semester. A similar approach works just as well when summarizing a semester’s work on cell and molecular biology.
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