The rapid development and increasing inter- and multi-disciplinarity of life sciences call for revisions of life science course curricula, recognizing (inter alia) the need to compromise between covering specific phenomena and general processes/principles. For these reasons there have been several initiatives to standardize curricula, and various authors have assessed general curricular requirements. The results have shown that teacher preferences strongly influence both topic arrangement and course content, and generating consensus among scientists and lecturers is challenging. Applying a somewhat different approach, we have focused on a limited part of the curriculum (cell metabolism). Using Delphi methodology, in four rounds of surveys we investigated phenomena that 15 experienced, practicing lecturers consider to be central aspects for students to learn in the cell metabolism module of an introductory university course.
The overall aim was to identify learning goals of special concern, i.e. aspects considered by the teachers to be both central and difficult for students to understand. Our informants emphasized learning goals of overarching and principal type, e.g. to be able to couple different system levels (from molecules to cells to organisms) and grasp the interactions between them. However, they also expect detailed knowledge, e.g. to know the structure of central biomolecules and metabolites. The main result of the study is a ranked list of learning goals of special concern in cell metabolism. We also identified both important learning goals and difficulties that have not been previously reported (even though they are covered by most textbooks), e.g. that energy production occurs in well-regulated steps and the necessity of proximity and common intermediates for coupled reactions.