Reducing Racially Biased Beliefs by Fostering a Complex Understanding of Human Genetics Research in High School Biology Students (Collaborative Research: Duncan)

The project will refine a genetics education curriculum, called Humane Genome Literacy (HGL), in order to reduce belief in genetic essentialism. This research will provide curriculum writers and educators with knowledge about how to design a humane genetics education to maximize reductions in students’ genetic essentialist beliefs. The research findings will demonstrate how to support teachers who wish to reduce beliefs in genetic essentialism by teaching students about the complexity of human genetics research using the HGL learning materials.

Full Description: 

Genetic essentialism is the belief that people of the same race share genes that make them physically, cognitively, and behaviorally uniform, and thus different from other races. The project will refine a genetics education curriculum, called Humane Genome Literacy (HGL), in order to reduce belief in genetic essentialism. This research will provide curriculum writers and educators with knowledge about how to design a humane genetics education to maximize reductions in students’ genetic essentialist beliefs and minimize the threat of backfiring (unintentionally increasing belief in essentialism). The research findings will demonstrate how to support teachers who wish to reduce beliefs in genetic essentialism by teaching students about the complexity of human genetics research using the HGL learning materials.  Project research findings, learning materials, and professional development institutes will be made available to educators and researchers across the country who desire to teach genetics to reduce racial prejudice.

To prepare for the research, the project will revise and augment the project’s existing HGL curriculum and professional development institutes.  In year one, the project will develop new versions of the HGL interventions. Using these materials, the project will train teachers to implement new versions of the HGL interventions in their classrooms. Researchers will video and audio record a sample of teachers and students as they learn. These data will be analyzed qualitatively to: (1) examine how the conceptual change of genetic essentialism was promoted or impeded by interactions between teachers, students, and the materials; and (2) identify and corroborate general factors undergirding the backfiring effect.  Knowledge constructed through these studies will be used to revise the HGL interventions and PDIs.  In year three, using the revised versions of the HGL intervention, the project will conduct a cluster randomized trial (CRT). The CRT will compare the HGL interventions to a well-defined “business as usual” genetics curriculum, using a statistically powerful and geographically diverse sample (N = 135 teachers, N = 16,200 students, from 33 states). Using data from the CRT, the project will identify classrooms where the interventions reduced essentialism, had no effect on it, and where it backfired. Then, the project will use stimulated recall methods to interview the teachers and students in those classrooms to make sense of factors that contributed to these outcomes. The project will use this information to develop the final version of the HGL interventions and PDI materials. By the end of year four, the project will have trained an additional 90-100 teachers to use HGL interventions, reaching an additional 10,800-12,000 students, in at least 33 different states.

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