As many commentators have noted, over-simplification of genetic concepts, by scientists, educators and the media, can lead to an overly deterministic view of the role of genes in health and disease, which can affect citizens’ decision making with respect to important genetic issues, such as pre-and post-natal genetic testing and reproductive decisions based on the results of such tests. The Genetics Pedagogies Project has drawn on historical and contemporary primary scientific sources (print and archive) to produce an alternative, counter-factual curriculum for teaching introductory genetics to first year undergraduates, which aims to address some of the common mis-conceptions that can arise from traditional teaching methods. In so doing, we have engaged with historians, scientists (past and present), educators and students.

The experimental curriculum employed a historically-informed, interactionist emphasis (based in large part on the unpublished work of the biometrician W. F. R. Weldon) to facilitate a more subtle and less deterministic view of genetic issues for students. This new curriculum was delivered to volunteer students, and their prior and subsequent views about genetic determinism were compared with those of students following the standard curriculum.

This project received approval from the PVAR Faculty Research Ethics Committee (ethics ref: PVAR 11-094).