A New Microbiology Curriculum Based on Vision & Change

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Title of Abstract: A New Microbiology Curriculum Based on Vision & Change

Name of Author: Ann Stevens
Author Company or Institution: Virginia Tech
Author Title: Professor
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Microbiology, Virology
Course Levels: Across the Curriculum, Faculty Development, Introductory Course(s), Upper Division Course(s)
Approaches: Mixed Approach
Keywords: General Microbiology, curricular guidelines, learning outcomes, backward design, professional society network

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Sue Merkel, Cornell University Amy Chang, American Society for Microbiology

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: Meaningful reform must come from many venues, including faculty and professional societies. In particular, professional societies play a critical and unique role as they have national stature, deep networks and resources, and respect from a wide range of faculty. In 2010, the AAAS and the NSF released the report Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action. In light of these recommendations, the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) revised its curriculum guidelines for introductory microbiology courses to emphasize deep understanding of core concepts, critical thinking and essential laboratory skills. In 2011, the ASM appointed a task force to develop a curriculum that would be relevant to both biology majors and allied health students. Early on, the task force adopted the five overarching concepts presented in Vision and Change. A sixth concept based on the potential applications of microbiology was added. The final list of core concepts is: evolution, cell structure and function, metabolic pathways, information flow and genetics, microbial systems and the impact of microorganisms.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: Task force members affirmed the process outlined by Vision and Change and adopted the framework of ‘backwards design’ (Wiggins and McTighe), in which curricula are designed around learning goals and assessments. Initially, they examined curricula from a variety of introductory microbiology courses and created a list of 24 ‘fundamental statements.’ Each fundamental statement is linked to one core concept and identifies an essential concept in microbiology. For example, a fundamental statement under the core concept of ‘Metabolic Pathways’ is ‘The growth of microorganisms can be controlled by physical, chemical, mechanical, or biological means.’ Each statement is purposefully broad, with the intention that educators use the statements to develop learning goals and assessments particular to their courses. The task force further embraced development of student skills, including understanding the process of science, communication and collaboration skills, quantitative competency, and the ability to interpret data. They added key laboratory skills which are critical for microbiology. Knowing it was vital to engage the educator community, the task force solicited feedback from ASM members on three occasions. The first was via an online survey that asked respondents to rate each fundamental statement and suggest ideas for additional ones. Based on feedback from more than 165 educators, the task force produced a second draft and subsequently solicited feedback from participants at the 2011 ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE). Over 140 educators participated, providing critical feedback. The third draft was published in the Society’s monthly magazine for members (nearly 40,000 readers) as well as on the ASM website (www.asm.org). Comments were collected from the community, which led to the final version. Feedback indicates a consensus on the fundamental knowledge that students should obtain in microbiology.

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 working to identify educators who have adopted the curriculum to document its implementation. In addition, because this represents a significant change in how many educators teach, we are engaging the community in discussions about how to use the guidelines and developing resources to encourage adoption. We will work with educators at a variety of different institutions to assess the impact of this new approach through surveys and questionnaires.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Our hope is that as they adopt this curriculum, educators will also adopt the process of backward design. Our first step is to help educators learn how to write learning objectives, which guide students to understand the fundamental statements. To that end, ASM sponsored a plenary working session at the 2013 ASMCUE helping the participants to write learning outcomes that are mapped to the ASM curriculum guidelines. An ASM Task Committee is being formed to shepherd this work through a consensus-building process.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: The new curriculum is asking most educators to change how they teach, from being content based to being focused on skills and learning. To ensure community acceptance of the ASM guidelines, the necessary scaffolding for faculty to implement guidelines and change practices is paramount. The plan is to develop a clearinghouse of practical, user-friendly resources during 2013-2014 (e.g. learning outcomes mapped to core concepts and accompanied by active learning activities) and a virtual community of practitioners involved in classroom improvements to help microbiology faculty adopt the guidelines. Finally, the ASM is engaging textbook writers and publishers to work together to advance the curriculum.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: This community-driven, consensus-building approach ensures that microbiology educators will incorporate the ASM recommended guidelines in future activities, presentations, classes, courses and programs. The national framework of concepts, statements, assessments and learning goals enable educators to more easily adapt the guidelines to their teaching needs. The ASM Task Committee will match teaching resources with learning goals, providing a range of activities that illustrate each fundamental statement in numerous ways for diverse student audiences. The resources and approaches enable students to build an enduring understanding of core microbiology concepts, as was called for in Vision and Change. Ultimately, the guidelines and supporting material have been developed by, with and for microbiologists. The ASM approach of engaging a leading disciplinary society in developing, implementing and advancing curriculum guidelines is a model for other societies.

Acknowledgements: NA