ASM events
This conference is managed by the American Society for Microbiology
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(1) Teaching responsibilities:

I am a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech.  With ~1800 students, Biological Sciences is the single largest undergraduate major on our campus.  We also provide service teaching for other life science units on campus.

I have taught sophomore-level Cell and Molecular Biology and General Microbiology lectures multiple times with enrollments primarily in the range of 100-150 students.  Next fall I will be coordinating an experimental section of General Microbiology that will be team-taught and restricted to majors only.

During the spring semester I routinely teach Microbial Physiology, a dual-level undergraduate and graduate course, to roughly 60 juniors/seniors and 6-12 graduate students.

I serve as the coordinator for the Microbiology/Immunology option curriculum (that we are preparing to convert in new degree/major). There are roughly 80 students enrolled in this curriculum and I advise about half of them.

I also manage a NSF funded research program that is currently training 3 Ph.D. students and 2 undergraduate students in the laboratory.  We study bacterial quorum-sensing systems.


(2) Student learning challenge or problem:

Abstract of Biology Education Research Project: 

 Virginia Tech is the only major university in Virginia with a specialized undergraduate curriculum in microbiology.  Shortly after arriving at VT, I was awarded an NSF CAREER grant (1998-2003) that provided funding in support of both research and educational initiatives and served as a driving force for revisions to this Microbiology Option curriculum.  The educational component of this grant was focused on re-designing the curriculum in a manner that would streamline it, while keeping the content modern and relevant, to better prepare our students for professional programs or entry into the workforce.  In 2007, I became coordinator of the Microbiology Group in Biological Sciences.  In this capacity, I oversee the management of the option curriculum (enrollment of ~80 upper classmen per year) and am also responsible for supervising the academic faculty and staff that maintain our microbiology teaching laboratories (~1000 students per year).  Maintenance of the curriculum and the teaching labs requires a coordinated effort by a dedicated team of individuals committed to providing a quality education to our student body.  With the support of the VT Microbiology Group, I have begun to implement a plan to further improve the educational experience that our students receive.  We are working with colleagues at the University of Maryland (UMD)-College Park to test educational tools they developed and translate them to VT courses.  The goals of this collaboration are to incorporate state-of-the-art research into multiple courses in the curriculum and permit individualized improvement in teaching skills through group discussions.  At UMD, careful evaluation of student responses to the assessment tool by the faculty, especially when students selected incorrect “distracter” answers, revealed gaps between faculty and student understanding of the concepts.  This information was used to drive course and curriculum reform to enhance student learning.  We anticipate success in achieving these goals at VT. 


The progress we have made on this cooperative venture is as follows:   


Nov. 2010: I visited UMD to give a research seminar and learn about their educational initiatives in microbiology.  They provided me with a list of the 13 desired learning outcomes/concept inventory for students in their program, which is focused on host-pathogen interactions, and an assessment tool, consisting of 17 questions, for these key concepts. In return, I shared details of our microbiology curriculum structure as they were in the midst of revising their curriculum.  It was clear that our educational programs were on convergent paths and we could complement each other by joining forces. 


Dec. 2010: The VT microbiology group (up to eight research active faculty, two teaching faculty and two instructors) decided to begin implementing the UMD assessment tool in our own curriculum. 


Spring 2011: David Popham and I completed human subjects training and I submitted the IRB approval paperwork.  The pre- and post-surveys were administered in two courses, two sections of sophomore-level General Microbiology (BIOL 2604) and our upper-level Microbial Physiology course (BIOL 4634) involving three VT faculty/instructors.  Group meetings were held twice, after the pre- and post-surveys. 


June 2011: I attended the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Conference for Undergraduate Educators Meeting at Baltimore, UMD to learn more about effective teaching strategies.  I met with Ann Smith and Gili Marbach-Ad from UMD to review the VT spring data with them.  Upon returning to VT, I gave a presentation to our Microbiology Group to share some of the findings and explain the data analysis process.  We also modified one question of the survey to work through the question design process. 


Fall 2011: The pre- and post-surveys were administered in three courses, two sections of the sophomore-level General Microbiology course (BIOL 2604) and our upper-level Microbial Genetics (BIOL 4624) and Pathogenic Bacteriology (BIOL 4674) courses, involving four VT faculty/instructors. 


Nov. 2011: VT hosted the Virginia Branch ASM conference and several UMD faculty ran an educational panel.  After the conference a joint meeting of the UMD and VT faculty was held to discuss the survey data and decide the future focus of our educational study.  We plan to analyze the student explanations for their choice of incorrect distractors to see if there is a correlation of their misconceptions between our two campuses and develop strategies to more effectively teach certain key concepts.  We plan to develop a manuscript describing this work for an educational journal.   


Spring 2012: The study has IRB re-approval and the pre-survey is running in the same classes as last spring.  

(3) Professional development goal:

Since joining the faculty at VT, I have been heavily engaged in both molecular microbiology research and classroom teaching.  I would now like to become more proficient at educational research so that I may contribute scholarship in that area in the future.  I desire to remain research active, in the laboratory and/or the classroom, until the end of my career and I see investing in educational research as a path to successfully achieving this goal. 


Shortly after joining the faculty at VT I was awarded a NSF CAREER award, this enabled me to leverage my personal interest in investing more time in teaching against the department’s expectations for a typical assistant professor.  Thus I revised the Microbiology Option curriculum and developed a new required Microbial Physiology course for it.  In 2003, I had accepted a new graduate student into my group, Candace Walker, who had previously been a secondary school science teacher.  We developed an educational research project for her with the help of George Glasson from our education department and Art Buikema, a dedicated teaching scholar in my department.  We implemented an inquiry-based learning activity into our General Microbiology course to improve the quality of the learning experience for students (~700/year at that time). Quantitative and qualitative assessment data confirmed the value of inquiry-base learning.  There is only limited information about these strategies at the undergraduate level and these efforts helped to fill a gap in the educational research in this area.  The study involved more than 400 students at VT.  The findings were presented at two national conferences (ABLE and ASM) and are published (Walker et al. 2008. Implementing inquiry-based learning in teaching serial dilutions. J. College Science Teaching. 37:56-61).  


In 2007, I became the Microbiology Group coordinator responsible for oversight of the Microbiology Option curriculum and teaching laboratories.  Working with others, I led an effort to modernize the lab manual for the course, which had not been changed since 1989.  I applied for, and was awarded, two internal VT CEUT grants in support of this initiative.  Usage of the new manual was implemented during the fall of 2011. I have served on the department’s Academic Assessment Committee since 2007 and presented an invited poster of our efforts at a 2009 AAAS/NSF sponsored educational conference.  In 2010, I also became a member of the ad hoc Curriculum Review Committee in my department.  Throughout my tenure at VT I have been heavily involved in a number of workshops/conference to learn more about assessment of student learning and more effective teaching strategies.  Thus, when the University of Maryland-College Park approached us with the project detailed above , it seemed a very logical next step to take. 


I have obtained some training in student assessment strategies, I have been a part of designing one previous educational research project that was published and I am fully engaged in a second educational research project.  My current limitation is my lack of familiarity with the education literature and thereby the appropriate approach to utilize when preparing an educational research manuscript for publication.  The 2012 Biology Scholars Research Residency would provide the opportunity and support systems to move from science education research to publication. 

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