The art and science of genomics is rapidly evolving to meet societal needs. To ensure appropriate translation of the newly discovered knowledge in genomics so that everyone in society can understand and potentially benefit, we have to teach genomics in an innovative and fun way in the school system, beginning in the junior years and continuing into the senior years. The objective is to raise awareness among all students, whether they end up pursuing higher learning in genomics or not. It also allows conversations to take place regarding the societal implications of the scientific advance. This model has shown some early success in countries such as Britain. Locally, Genome BC has piloted this approach in parts of the high school system in British Columbia.
Within post-secondary education, we are uniquely positioned to take a strategic approach to teach genomics that can produce sustainable results with potentially far-reaching impact. Let us take a deeper into the three pillars of this strategic approach.
1. Produce a cross-cutting learning platform to teach genomics. This can become the backbone for all genomics curricula across institutions and faculties. Imagine the development of individual courses that are modular and shareable between schools. The courses can also be grouped together thematically, with different levels of difficulty that target students in different years of post-secondary education. The platform has the capability of online learning to meet the needs of students residing in rural and remote areas. Essentially, this platform houses the common curriculum on genomics with a spiral design. It aligns well with the recent transformative development of competency based education that focuses on learning outcomes. This approach also encourages contribution from, and collaboration among, different disciplines. Genomics education has the potential to become a best-practice model in inter-professional education.
2. Tailor and customize genomics learning with discipline-specific content. This is important because learning is better retained and/or applied when the context is explicit and relevant. For instance, case studies and examples that are used should motivate students to explore and learn more about genomics. This approach reinforces the significance of genomics education while simultaneously providing an opportunity to engage stakeholders from various disciplines. A good example is how the Choosing Wisely Canada (CWC) campaign has successfully captured the attention of the public and post-secondary institutions while engaging a broad spectrum of disciplines to generate discipline-specific content. These disciplines effectively become spokespersons under the unified banner of CWC.
3. Align genomics education with translational research and innovation. The tight connection between education and research is critical and should be emphasized repeatedly. Funding opportunities and other resources to build up genomics education seldom become available. This can be remedied, at least in part, by constantly linking education with research. We must remember that in the genomics world, new information emerges rapidly and education is a powerful enabler to translate the new knowledge. New modalities of knowledge translation should be explored with an education lens to see how learning can be enhanced. Some contemporary examples that show early promise include hackathons and start-up competitions.
The strategic approach outlined above requires thoughtful consideration by society. Undoubtedly, it will generate extensive dialogue. It is not business as usual, and requires disruption of how we currently deliver post-secondary education. The strategy is going to take time, resources and commitment for its successful implementation.
Dr. Roger Wong is Executive Associate Dean (Education) in the Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia, a geriatrics specialist doctor, clinical professor of geriatric medicine, the 13th President of the Canadian Geriatrics Society, and a TEDx speaker. He tweets at @RogerWong10.