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A comment on 'An online bioinformatics curriculum'

Tags teaching bioinformatics online
By: Rafael Najmanovich  
October 15 2012

This post is a short commentary on the following article:

Searls, D. B. An online bioinformatics curriculum. PLoS Comput Biol 8, e1002632 (2012).

As the author clearly states, any online curricula depends on the shifting availability of courses. Anyone who masters all the material present in the described curses would be more than qualified to become a bioinformatician. Yet, such person wouldn't be one at all. There are a multitude of topics that are specific for bioinformatics that are not addressed by these courses. To name one, the whole theory behind sequence alignments isn't part of any course (unless I missed it). There are plenty of other examples where it can be argued that bioinformatics is not just the sum of biology, maths and informatics. So my opinion is that we are not quite there yet. There are serious gaps for any bioinformatics online curriculum that cannot yet be fulfilled with what is currently available.

This brings me to the second point. How can we create the courses to fill the gaps?

It takes:

1. one or more professors/lecuturers/intructors to do it.
2. the technological infrastructure to create it.
3. production support to make it usable/nice/etc.

While items 1 and 2 are generally there, the last item is not generally present in universities. This is not present probably because of a vicious circle of lack of interest. Professors don't demand this, universities don't see the demand for it. At the core of this vicious circle is the lack of incentives (in terms of counting the time towards professors' teaching requirements and its contribution to their career advancement).

Ultimately the exposure given by such courses would be enough to make it advantageous for the institution to create the mechanisms and incentives so that such courses can be created - but for the most part, it is not the case at the moment.

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