Rethinking Hardy–Weinberg and genetic drift in undergraduate biology

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Abstract

Population genetics is often taught in introductory biology classes, starting with the Hardy–Weinberg principle (HWP) and genetic drift. Here I argue that teaching these two topics first aligns neither with current expert knowledge, nor with good pedagogy. Student difficulties with mathematics in general, and probability in particular, make population genetics difficult to teach and learn. I recommend an alternative, historically inspired ordering of population genetics topics, based on progressively increasing mathematical difficulty. This progression can facilitate just-in-time math instruction. This alternative ordering includes, but does not privilege, the HWP and genetic drift. Stochastic events whose consequences are felt within a single generation, and the deterministic accumulation of the effects of selection across multiple generations, are both taught before tackling the stochastic accumulation of the effects of accidents of sampling.

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