Previously, a two semester project-based hands-on training course in biotechnology was first developed in 2003 piloted and offered until 2007 (funding became prohibitive). This course, titled Modern Techniques in Genetic Engineering (BCH 490/49), was presented at the ASPB meeting in 2005. and well received. Kausch and Chandlee developed this course for undergraduate students as a two-semester sequence that was entirely research oriented and project-based and resulted in numerous student posters, presentations and publications. In this unique course, each student received their own gene construct to introduce and evaluate in transgenic crop plants of interest. Each gene introduction project was written up and submitted as a poster presentation to international meetings (for example; American Society of Plant Biology, ASPB 2003-2006) or published in peer-reviewed journals. Thus, this was not merely a trivial training exercise. In our first offering of this course we included twelve undergraduates, one graduate student, four High School teachers and fifteen High School students. The results from the first year were published as abstracts and presented to the 2003 ASPB meetings in Honolulu, Hawaii. That year we sent six posters to the ASPB meetings co-authored by the students and represented by four undergraduates, one graduate student and two High School students who were sponsored to attend by USDA funding. To make the sequence more productive, we included 12 undergraduate interns in 2005 (recruited through BCH 190) who are mentored by graduate students or previous 490/491 students who received course credit (BCH 491/492 Special Projects: Research in Biochemistry).
In addition to the interns, we have also included High School teachers, who received graduate credits, and together with graduate students in the lab, mentor High School students in the laboratory. The students learn science by actually doing it; as well as other qualities of good scientists such as patience, persistence, perseverance, attention to detail, responsibility, and record keeping. This approach drives interest in underlying fundamentals through current and advanced technologies while providing real incentive to burn the midnight oil.
While this course was highly effective by all measures, it lacked a truly inquiry-based science approach to the projects. While subtle, the presentation to the students as projects (put this gene into plants) was misconstrued as merely a training exercise rather than science. In other words, presented this way students see the exercise as so many titration curves rather than an exciting and challenging scientific experience. We now have reconfigured this course with a hypothesis driven approach (i.e. “can floral development be disrupted to result in male sterility?”)