Microbiology Major Curriculum Innovations

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Title of Abstract: Microbiology Major Curriculum Innovations

Name of Author: Tamara McNealy
Author Company or Institution: Clemson University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biotechnology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, Virology
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development, Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Assessment, Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: curriculum development, active learning, microbiology, laboratory concepts

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: The American Society of Microbiology provides guidelines for degree requirements for microbiology majors. These guidelines align with the recommendations presented in the 2011 Vision and Change document with the addition of a core concept centered on microbes. Additionally, ASM recommends that students receive education in bioethics, bioinformatics, and careers in microbiology. Faculty at Clemson University elected to address these problems through a major curriculum revision that became effective in the 2012/2013 school year. The primary curriculum change was to organize laboratory offerings by streamlining the currently offered nine microbiology labs into a three semester laboratory series. The Advanced Microbiology labs will focus on the five core themes as proposed by the American Society for Microbiology: Interactions and Impacts of Microorganisms with the Environment; Microbial Cell Biology; Microbial Genetics; Interactions and Impact of Microorganisms and Humans; and Integrated Themes. The series will integrate training in bioinformatics, genome analysis, written and oral communication, basic computer skills, and use of multimedia in science. The changes also support and align with the core concepts of the 2011 Vision and Change document. The core competencies of Vision and Change are interwoven throughout the three semester series. The goals of the proposed changes also align with the Vision and Change document as we seek to 1) integrate core competencies across microbiology using reinforcement without redundancy teaching methods; 2) focus on hands on, student centered learning in small class sizes and active learning components; 3) promote a commitment to change where faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate student are involved in the change process and 4) engage campus wide faculty through dissemination of the methods and innovative strategies used here.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Embracing the less is more concept, is the strategy chosen for the proposed curriculum changes. Many microbiology programs offer either laboratories in combination with numerous upper division courses or have cut back on laboratory offerings, sometimes removing them entirely. Hands-on laboratory work is essential for skillset development for future microbiologists, but cost, time and faculty resources have impacted our ability to provide this. The argument for hands on laboratory must be supported by evidence of more bang for the buck. By aligning laboratory courses with the core competencies and core themes students receive higher impact from fewer labs. Currently the microbiology degree programs at Clemson University offer laboratories in combination with nine upper level microbiology courses. While this method provides an excellent training opportunity for our majors there is a degree of redundancy and a lack of flow and cohesiveness from lab to lab. Limited lab space and time also limits the number of students in lecture, preventing non-microbiology majors from participating in some courses. The nine current labs have been analyzed to determine core skills and concepts to be carried over to the new three semester series. Development of laboratory modules with a focus on reinforcement and goal-directed learning will allow us to teach the same amount of material, but more efficiently and with better results in student retention of information. The laboratory facilities are also now located in the newly built Life Sciences Research Building allowing the incorporation of the latest technology for use in these courses. The new lab series will integrate use of iPad technology making the course entirely paperless. The online nature of the resources will allow for more flexibility in updating material as the courses progress.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: We are currently conducting assessments on the ‘old-style’ lab courses in order to have baseline data for future comparative studies. These assessments are analyzing student learning and retention as well as redundancy issues across laboratories. Assessment tools for the new labs are being developed and will be in place prior to the start of the new lab series (Spring 2015). These assessments will include both formative and summative assessments for student learning and teaching effectiveness. We are also conducting vetting by current senior microbiology students on the development of the new labs. These students have assisted in development of the delivery (via Website), analysis of proposed laboratory, and identification of online resources the aid the student in understanding the topic. Surveys of current students regarding current laboratory offerings versus new concept laboratory offerings highly favor the proposed new laboratory series concept.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: A sequenced series of courses will allow for the reduction of redundancy, an increase in efficiency and the ability to build on skills learned in the previous semester. Students will be introduced to a topic, have it reinforced and then use the skills for hands-on experimentation, computer based analyses and communication skill development. Microbiology lecture courses will now encourage more attendance by non-majors who will not be required to attend a laboratory. These changes to our majors program are also aligned with a newly established articulation agreement with the medical technology program at Tri-County Technical College. In 2012, an agreement was created between CU and TCTC to encourage and enable medical technology students to transition from a three year program (Med Tech plus Basic Sciences) to the Microbiology BS degree program at CU. This program allows students to finish their AA and BS in 4.5 years. With their clinical laboratory science AA (including hospital rotation) and the intensive laboratory experiences offered through the Advanced Microbiology series, these students are uniquely trained for the biomedical science work force.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: Challenges include faculty time for assessment tool development; funding for development of online based course materials; faculty buy in of release of labs from their classes; and selling the concept of less is more. Supportive departmental and college level administration have been instrumental in facilitating these changes. Administrators at both levels were excited to see faculty recognizing the need for change and the development of novel ways to implement it. The college has supported faculty efforts through a curriculum development grant. Although work began on this process in 2011, the first class to reach the Advanced Laboratory series will not do so until 2015, allowing faculty sufficient time to development new teaching materials, methodology and assessment. Time is the essential resource in large curriculum changes. Some faculty resistance has been encountered; however, presentation of how the changes benefit not only students but faculty as well helps to overcome this resistance. Ensuring that all faculty are asked for their input also creates a community of commitment and engagement leading to support of these efforts. Creative development of curriculum and curriculum resources is required to ensure adequate training of our students and making the best use of our resources.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: The curriculum changes set in motion through this process are daunting, but exciting. Recently, the biological sciences program within our department also decided to revamp their curriculum. The microbiology concept for integration of Vision and Change and ASM goals was heavily discussed at meetings and used to assist in the development of changes in the Biological Sciences program. In the end, the core structure of the Biological Sciences curriculum became very much like the microbiology curriculum approved in the previous year. We plan to collect data on the implementation and effectiveness of the changes and publish this as an educational article. Eventually, a package will be developed with all necessary tools and guidelines and be made available for other institutions.

Acknowledgements: The author thanks all microbiology faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences for their time and input into the curriculum issues addressed herein. I also thank Dr. Barbara Speziale and Dr. A.P. Wheeler for their support and advice on these issues.