Bioinformatics is a new and emerging field that utilizes computer technology to manage and analyze biological information. The use of bioinformatics is a shift from the traditional research methods where laboratories were used. Bioinformatics uses computational approaches and skills to solve biological questions (Neumann 2006). The bioinformatics approach is mainly used in studying molecular and cell biology. The use of bioinformatics in the contemporary classrooms is inevitable, thus the teachers need to include this approach in biology classes. There are several effective methods that can be used to teach bioinformatics to undergraduates as will be discussed below.
The first method proposed by (Parke 2013) is the use of high performance computing (HPC) which involves the use of high performance or fast computers to solve scientific or biological problems. An example of a High Performance Computing (HPC) system is the XSEDE that is used for computing and data sharing. HPC is important in teaching bioinformatics because it increases the capacity of collecting Big Data and the data needs to be analyzed accurately and fast. Bioinformatics involves the analysis of large amounts of data that cannot be accomplished with ordinary computing.
In identifying the most appropriate bioinformatics teaching strategy, it is important to know the level of knowledge of the students. Introducing bioinformatics to students requires the use of customized tools and databases that are taught by teacher assistants in a real-time bioinformatics lab (Neumann 2006). For more advanced undergraduate students, more complex tools and databases such as Student Workbench (bioquest.org), which is a web-based tool used to analyze molecular data, can be utilized.
Students, just like scientists and researchers, are users of bioinformatics. The users not only need to be introduced to bioinformatics but also need continuous training to keep them updated with the evolving technology. (Schneider 2010) proposes the use of a comprehensive bioinformatics training that satisfies the range of student interests and learning objectives (2). The training proposed by Schneider et al. is valuable because it integrates the challenges in training such as differences in trainee backgrounds and lack of materials, and provides the necessary solutions to these challenges. (Wood and Gebhardt 2013) propose a different type of training: the European Learning Laboratory is for Life Sciences (ELLS) LearningLAB which enables the exchange of new information locally and internationally, which in turn helps students to access real-life biological data and get exposed to contemporary research methods (4).
Form and Lewitter proposed the use of inquiry-based learning in teaching bioinformatics that involve solving real-world problems with modern skills (1). Inquiry based learning involves the use of questions and scenarios instead of presenting facts to the students, this helps the students learn the subject in their own way. The authors propose rules of teaching bioinformatics that include empowering students, addressing different learning styles and linking activities to pre-existing science curricula.
Students prefer computer based learning compared to traditional learning and they find learning bioinformatics more interesting when working in pairs or groups (Machluf 2016). Even though the students find it more … Read More