Science & Education

, Volume 23, Issue 2, pp 445–464 | Cite as

The Status of Genetics Curriculum in Higher Education in the United States: Goals and Assessment

  • Teresa L. McElhinnyEmail author
  • Michael J. Dougherty
  • Bethany V. Bowling
  • Julie C. Libarkin


We review the state of genetics instruction in the United States through the lens of backward design, with particular attention to the goals and assessments that inform curricular practice. An analysis of syllabi and leading textbooks indicates that genetics instruction focuses most strongly on foundations of DNA and Mendelian genetics. At the same time, a survey of faculty indicates that other concepts, such as the application of genetics to society or the environment, are viewed as equally or even more important than foundation concepts. This disconnect suggests a need for more explicit goal setting prior to curriculum development. We also review the relationship between concept inventories, multiple-choice tests measuring conceptual understanding, and curricular goals. Existing concept inventories offer a strong foundation on which to build community-developed concept assessments of genetics knowledge. Concept assessments such as these would allow the genetics education community to test hypotheses of curricular change.


Genetic Faculty Item Response Theory Faculty Perception Concept Inventory Transmission Genetic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to acknowledge the thoughtful comments provided by two anonymous reviewers whose helpful suggestions contributed to the betterment of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Teresa L. McElhinny
    • 1
    Email author
  • Michael J. Dougherty
    • 2
  • Bethany V. Bowling
    • 3
  • Julie C. Libarkin
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.American Society of Human Genetics and Department of PediatricsUniversity of Colorado School of Medicine, ASHG Administrative OfficeBethesdaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesNatural Science Center 204D, Northern Kentucky UniversityHighland HeightsUSA
  4. 4.Geocognition Research Lab, Department of Geological Sciences and Center for Integrative Studies in General ScienceMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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