Baylor College of Medicine to Provide a Bioscience and Society Course Online for Credit to All Undergraduate Students

Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) is using the Internet to provide learning opportunities usually available only at top-tier colleges and universities. BCM aims to reach all students, particularly underrepresented minority and economically disadvantaged students, at undergraduate institutions with limited resources.

BCM faculty and staff developed Genes, Health and Society—a bioscience and society course, available for credit and accessible online. The course is designed to build and increase student understanding of genetics and to provide insight into the promise of genomics for enhancing human health and health care delivery.

Key Results: BCM personnel, led by William Thomson, PhD, director of the Center for Collaborative and Interactive Technologies and professor of family and community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine:

  • Created an advisory committee to provide guidance and peer review for course content and design.
  • Established the basic structure and core elements of Genes, Health and Society.
  • Pilot-tested the course with 28 economically disadvantaged, predominantly Hispanic undergraduate students, to determine:
    • The efficacy of the instructional content and delivery method.
    • The perceived quality of the course content.
    • The functionality and appeal of the course features and delivery methods.
    • Overall satisfaction with the educational experience.
  • Revised the course based on the pilot-test results, improving the scores of students from 79.3 percent (pre-test) to 88.2 percent (post-test).
  • Deployed the first module.


The course, available to registrants online, consists of three distinct modules that can be taken individually or collectively, for credit or certification of completion, and it is much broader in scope than originally planned.

The modules are:

  • Transmission Genetics (complete as of June 2009), focusing on classic Mendelian genetics and the principles of heredity. Students gain familiarity with the methods and tools used to predict the heritability of a given trait.
  • The Nature of Genetic Material (nearing completion as of June 2009), discussing the molecular identity, structure and behavior of genetic material and the historical events and scientific advances that led to these discoveries.
  • Medical Genetics (nearing completion as of June 2009), examining genetic influences on disease processes and susceptibilities.


Each module contains several sections including self-assessment questions, supplemental material and interactive simulations or "virtual experiments." Students can customize their learning experience by exploring topics of particular interest to them or by using specific modules as supplements to their existing coursework. The navigation system allows students to move freely among the modules—even working through two or more modules simultaneously.