Interdisciplinary and Transferable Concepts in Bioinformatics Education: Observations and Approaches From a UK MSc Course
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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OriginalversjonFrontiers in Education. 2022, 7, 826951. 10.3389/feduc.2022.826951
Bioinformatics is a highly interdisciplinary subject, with substantial and growing influence in health, environmental science and society, and is utilised by scientists from many diverse academic backgrounds. Education in bioinformatics therefore necessitates effective development of skills in interdisciplinary collaboration, communication, ethics, and critical analysis of research, in addition to practical and technical skills. Insights from bioinformatics training can additionally inform developing education in the tightly aligned and emerging disciplines of data science and artificial intelligence. Here, we describe the design, implementation, and review of a module in a UK MSc-level bioinformatics programme attempting to address these goals for diverse student cohorts. Reflecting the philosophy of the field and programme, the module content was designed either as “diversity-addressing”—working toward a common foundation of knowledge—or “diversity-exploiting”—where different student viewpoints and skills were harnessed to facilitate student research projects “greater than the sum of their parts.” For a universal introduction to technical concepts, we combined a mixed lecture/immediate computational practical approach, facilitated by virtual machines, creating an efficient technical learning environment praised in student feedback for building confidence among cohorts with diverse backgrounds. Interdisciplinary group research projects where diverse students worked on real research questions were supervised in tandem with interactive contact time covering transferable skills in collaboration and communication in diverse teams, research presentation, and ethics. Multi-faceted feedback and assessment provided a constructive alignment with real peer-reviewed bioinformatics research. We believe that the inclusion of these transferable, interdisciplinary, and critical concepts in a bioinformatics course can help produce rounded, experienced graduates, ready for the real world and with many future options in science and society. In addition, we hope to provide some ideas and resources to facilitate such inclusion.