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Reading Reflections

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I have many different questions about educating students in science, and microbiology in particular. From the assigned readings, I realize that my questions are very broad in scope. I need to choose something for an initial focus and narrow the scope to a project that will be more accessible. However, I’ve used this reflection as an opportunity to do some brainstorming to think both big and a little smaller.  

The discussion of what really constitutes understanding in the Bass article really struck a chord with me. I am involved in defining the goals and objectives for the microbiology major at Penn State and it really has me thinking about how learning the discipline is significantly different now compared to when I was a student. Although I am not sure that these questions actually fall under a ‘research problem’, I think that they can, as a hybrid of the what is and what is possible categories from the Hutchings article. Given the ready accessibility of information, can students become masters in the field by helping them learn how to access and work with information with far less emphasis on content? How do we as teachers decide what the essential content is that should be taught/students should learn to provide a solid foundation in the field? 

Many of the rest of my questions focus on the what works category. I liked the meta-reflective activity in the Bass article. I can see using something like that in my work to try to examine how students approach science and how they are transferring what we hope we are teaching them about the scientific method to other learning activities, situations, and other classes. 

The last article in particular emphasizes a smaller classroom based approach. As I discussed above, I am concerned that my interests are very broad and would like help identifying a smaller scale question that would still interest me.   


Questions of interest to be developed into research problems: 

Does taking an inquiry-based approach to learning aid in (1) student retention of information, (2) ability of students to apply information, (3) problem solving skills, ability to critically evaluate scientific ideas in other settings (i.e. an newspaper article)? 

Having taken a course with an inquiry-based format (students design experiments, collect the information they need to understand the experiment, and critically analyze their data), are students applying this approach and the associated critical thinking skills to learning in other classes, even if those classes are taught in a rote memorization format? 

Does integrating public policy and bioethics with the science lead to a deeper understanding of the science? 

Does an active inquiry-based approach to teaching science improve retention of “at-risk” students? Does it improve learning gains of these students? 

Both the inquiry-based sections of the introductory lab course and the standard sections use similar methods. However, the inquiry-based section uses methods as a means to gain information about the microbial world, while the standard sections use the methods as an end in themselves in a single experiment. With the inquiry approach do students have a better grasp of 1) the science behind the method and 2) how the method is used by microbiologists?  

In the inquiry-based lab course, core concepts such as interactions between microbes, other organisms, and the environment are covered from several different angles. Does this approach lead to a “deeper” understanding of the influences of microbes on the world and the influence of the world on microbes than the standard lecture and “cookbook” lab-based approach? 

What exactly should a student in microbiology master during the course of a BS degree? 

What constitutes “understanding” in microbiology?  

How can recall vs high-order thinking and application skills be balanced and assessed? 

With ready access to information, what should we teach students about microbiology- i.e. should the focus shift to science as it is practiced and away from a BS degree being about building vocabulary? What, if any, is the merit to having a vocabulary based approach to introductory classes? 



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