Genetic Engineering Online Lesson Leads to Increased Knowledge and More Accepting Student Attitudes 1

By Troupe, G.; Golick, D. et al. | NACTA Journal, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Genetic Engineering Online Lesson Leads to Increased Knowledge and More Accepting Student Attitudes 1


Troupe, G., Golick, D., Lee, D., NACTA Journal


Introduction

Although genetically engineered crops or GMOs have been a part of the world food system for nearly three decades, some consumers are still skeptical of the technology. Crop genetic engineering is the manipulation of a plant's DNA in order to improve crop management or end use qualities of the crop. Genetic engineering is commonly done by inserting genes from a source other than the crop plant to encode proteins that perform a novel function. Another common genetic engineering technique involves new gene insertion to block the expression of a gene that already exists in the plant. Over 90% of the soybeans, corn and cotton planted in the U.S. have been genetically engineered, primarily to benefit farm production (Fernandez-Cornejo, 2014). Papaya, rice and canola crops have also been commercialized with genetically engineered events and are currently available on the U.S. market.

Experts in biotechnology have long assumed that consumer attitudes towards genetic engineering would become more accepting over time, gradually diminishing in skepticism and risk perception while embracing the use of genetic engineering technology in our food system. However, consumer attitudes have not changed much since the entry of genetically engineered foods to the marketplace (Frewer et al., 2013). Many studies have found a positive correlation between knowledge of science or biotechnology and accepting attitudes towards genetic engineering (Mowen et al., 2006; Tegegne et al., 2013; Fonseca et al., 2012; Mowen et al., 2007; Sohan et al., 2002). A meta-analysis has indicated that a positive correlation between knowledge and attitudes holds across contexts and cultures (Allum et al., 2008). In addition to knowledge, an individual's attitude toward genetic engineering can be shaped by their view of the benefits and the risks of genetic engineering for their health, the environment and the economy.

Few studies have been conducted to directly link instructional practices with learner attitudes about genetic engineering. Our goal was to develop a resource that teachers could easily adopt and incorporate into classrooms. Our team designed The Journey of a Gene (passel.unl.edu/ge), an online educational tool built to teach the steps required to produce a genetically engineered crop. The Journey of a Gene presents learning through a problem-solving context and focuses on the story of developing disease-resistant soybeans for farmers. This resource organizes the science and technology of the genetic engineering process into four main steps. Within each step, students can view short videos and animations to learn the information needed to understand each step of genetic engineering. Each section concludes with a video of a scientist who takes the students into their lab, greenhouse or field to share how the step is done. The online learning environment also includes a section on risks and benefits which provides instruction on food safety testing for GMOs and shares video testimonials representing arguments both for and against the application of genetic engineering in our food system. Integrating this instructional resource into high school or entry-level college curriculums could educate future consumers.

This study was done to test the hypothesis that student use of The Journey of a Gene as a learning resource would lead to a more accepting attitudes toward genetic engineering. A survey measuring attitudes towards genetic engineering was given to nearly 900 students in one high school course and four college science courses. Half of the students took the survey before receiving the educational treatment (pre survey/ control group) and the other half took the survey after receiving the educational treatment (post survey/treatment group) and the scores of these groups were compared.

Methods

Population and Treatment

The sample population and sampling frame for this study included four college science courses (biology, genetics, plant science and biotechnology) taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and one Iowa high school course (biotechnology) during the fall semester of 2014. …

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