The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Genotyped undergraduates: Better learners and leaders in the personal genomics era


Sociology and Anthropology, University of Rhode Island

Thursday Evening, Park Concourse Add to calendar

Personal genomics isn’t just high-tech navel-gazing. It’s a potentially powerful tool for understanding human evolutionary biology. This begs an important question of educators: Can personal genomics improve undergraduate learning of biological anthropology? To test the hypothesis that it does not, and to find out whether direct-to-consumer genetic testing contributes to learning success, 145 students in introductory and advanced biological anthropology courses at the University of Rhode Island were given the option to have thousands of their SNPs genotyped by 23andMe, with university granted funds. Pre- and post-tests both about evolutionary principles and the fundamentals of personal genotyping were administered at the beginning and end of the courses. Assignments drew upon the experience, and surveys were periodically collected. Guests with relevant expertise visited the classrooms. Of those that opted to participate (which was the vast majority), only one student responded ‘yes’ to a survey question asking if they wish they had not. Students in both courses demonstrated improved understanding of, and confidence about, fundamental principles of evolution and science in general. However, by the end of the courses, many still struggled with interpreting disease risk and probability, with understanding laboratory methods of genotyping, and with comprehending ancestry reports. Nonetheless, students demonstrated improved understanding of many principles of human genetics as well as many of the ethical and privacy issues to do with personal genomics. All together these results suggest that student participation in personal genomics does not hinder learning success, but, rather, that it enhances undergraduate learning in biological anthropology courses.

This teaching initiative was generously funded by the Provost's Office of the University of Rhode Island .

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