Learners in dialogue. Teacher experise and learning in the context of genetic testing

P.A.M. van der Zande

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Learners in Dialogue; this thesis aims at the exploration of teacher expertise for teachers who want to teach genetics in the context of genetic testing and at finding ways to foster teacher learning concerning this expertise. Recent developments in the field of genomics will impact the daily practice of biology teachers who teach genetics in secondary education. A special focus was on moral reasoning because reasoning and decision-making based on genetic information in such test situations introduces moral dilemmas and recent neuropsychological research suggests that intuition and emotion play a role in moral reasoning,. For describing the necessary expertise we explored the educational practice and clinical genetic practices. Nine experienced teachers and 12 respondents representing the clinical genetic practices (clients, medical professionals, and medical ethicists) were interviewed about the biological concepts and ethical, legal, and social aspects (ELSA) of testing they considered relevant to empowering students as future health care clients. The ELSA suggested by the respondents were complemented by suggestions found in the literature on genetic counselling. Next we asked the teachers about the pedagogical content, moral and interpersonal expertise areas concerning how to teach genetics in the context of genetic testing, and the lessons of five of them were observed. To find out how intuitive and emotive considerations are dealt with in present moral education, fifteen pre-university students were interviewed on their way of reasoning by confronting them with real-life situations, and the nine teachers were asked about their approach to moral education, and about their views on student reasoning. In the last part of our study we explored the use of a teacher community to develop teachers’ expertise. Eight biology teachers participated in order to develop expertise for teaching genetics in the context of genetic testing in the four areas: subject matter; pedagogical content; moral and interpersonal expertise. Individual developments are reported using constructed narratives, overall patterns by aggregating individual data. The findings revealed that the required teacher knowledge consists of multiple layers that are embedded in specific genetic test situations: on the one hand, the knowledge of concepts represented by the curricular framework and some additional concepts (e.g. multifactorial and polygenic disorder) and, on the other hand, more knowledge of ELSA and generic characteristics of genetic test practice (uncertainty, complexity, probability, and morality). Next we learned that the required teacher expertise encompasses specific teaching and learning activities, interpersonal expertise and a preference for teacher roles and teaching approaches for the moral aspects of teaching in this context. Concerning moral reasoning we found that during their reasoning all students used intuitive, emotive, and rationalistic considerations. The teachers reported that they observed students using intuition and emotion in their reasoning. Neither the educational literature nor the interviews yielded an articulated pedagogical approach in which these considerations played a role in moral reflection. Studying the teacher community showed us that teaching such issues involves the professional identity of the teachers. The community was useful for the expertise development and this development connects to identity development in terms of self-understanding
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Vermunt, J.D.H.M., Primary supervisor
  • Waarlo, A.J., Supervisor
  • Brekelmans, J.M.G., Supervisor
  • Akkerman, Sanne, Co-supervisor
Award date24 Jun 2011
Print ISBNs978-90-3935574-9
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2011


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