ASM events
This conference is managed by the American Society for Microbiology

1. Context of problem

Table of contents
  1. 1. 2. Methods & findings

Basic Information re research:

-Course - name and number:   Applied and Environmental Microbiology 2

-Semester(s):   July - Oct 2004 (before EBL) to July - Oct 2005 - 2007 (with EBL)

-Student population (Aquaculture, Environmental Science Majors):

-Number of students:  15 - 30 each semester

-Level of students:  Sophomore

Scholar Implementation Plan (Please fill in approximate dates when these activities will be completed.)

-File IRBAs October 2008 (had one in 2004 / 05)

-Data collection: All data have already been collected. 

-Most data analysed. Still to do: SOLO analysis of student written answers.

My experience in teaching microbiology to science and to aquaculture students is that these students initially have little idea of what microbes are and what they do. Consequently, while they commonly report it to be interesting, they also find it difficult with much new content to learn. This leads to surface approaches to learning so that students often do not retain knowledge for much beyond the final exam. Furthermore, there appears to be only a restricted appreciation of where and how microbiology relates to other disciplines such as aquaculture. Thus, I feel that for many students little conceptual change has taken place as a result of my teaching.

My major objective for undergraduate students is that they learn how to think scientifically and to develop an appreciation of why this might be useful, even if they do not intend to practice science in their chosen career. Students should be able to use their newly learnt concepts and knowledge to think in a way that is qualitatively different from how they did prior to studying. I see my teaching as a model of scientific thinking for the students to observe, to interact with, to learn from, to practice, to become proficient at, and, not the least to enjoy! My focus is now very much on how students learn, rather than just on what they learn, so that students can become more independent in their learning.

Specifically, I want my students to learn how to think like a professional microbiologist. This entails students learning specific microbiological skills, concepts and knowledge and being able to apply these to new situations. To achieve these, students need to learn a range of generic skills including: developing analytical and evaluative thinking, problem solving, good communication and how to work effectively and ethically with colleagues. I want students to learn and practice the scientific method to form their own knowledge of microbiology. The approach that I have taken to date, and which I wish to further develop, is enquiry-based learning (EBL). For example, to learn about a form of microbial metabolism, I might use published data of chemical profiles in sediment to pose questions as to the types of metabolism indicated; how the chemical environment developed; what are the requirements for the particular metabolism and what bacteria can perform it? The students use their textbook or other resources to work out solutions to the questions that I have framed. In this way, they are working in the manner of a scientist who needs to learn about an unfamiliar subject. Students are assessed in a similar fashion. Students come to appreciate that the learning and thinking skills that they develop enable a sound understanding of microbiology, and are transferable to other situations.

Constructivist approaches require students to fully engage with the content and build upon their existing knowledge by exploring and researching the discipline. Instead of passively learning content from didactic lecturing, students work through a syllabus themselves, with the teacher setting the framework to support and guide their learning. I believe that establishing an appropriate framework is critical in science disciplines where there is an expectation that students will learn a large amount of content.

2. Methods & findings

I have implemented this approach in the microbiology units that I teach, to an extent, and have evaluated the approach in a number of ways: student opinions of their own learning, peer observation of teaching, my self reflection of the teaching and learning activities and comparing final grades versus level of assessment in the exam. I have evaluated exams (for years before and after the introduction of EBL) according to the SOLO taxonomy and this has indicated that student grade distributions are similar, but the level of assessment has increased.

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