Ancillary fee anxiety

AnxietyCat Ancillary

Anxiety cat is anxious about ancillary fees

I had originally planned to write (and actually wrote a draft of) a post to explore my questions and concerns about asking students to pay for access to a web-based classroom response system (WBCRS henceforth), like Lecture Tools (now integrated into Echo 360), Top Hat, or Learning Catalytics. My major concern? These tools are basically ways to teach huge classes better, to bring in the interactivity and communication aspects difficult to achieve in the large class setting – kind of a “large class tax” on students. (I’ve used Lecture Tools for several terms – see my previous posts here, here, and here.)


I’d hoped to gain some clarity,  maybe spark some conversation with colleagues about the issues relating to using a WBCRS at a cost to students. As part of my thinking, I considered some of the other ancillary items we routinely ask students to purchase (i.e., not usually included in their tuition, but required for a course). I was originally thinking that a teaching tool is really different from a required textbook, dissection kit, safety glasses, or a lab coat. Now I’m not only concerned about the ethics/fairness of asking students to purchase licenses for a WBCRS, but also requiring textbooks and disposable lab coats! Read the rest of this entry »

Pervasive, persistent, problematic “prokaryote”

There are reasons to avoid using “prokaryote” in biology teaching.  So, why are so many biologists resistant to the idea?

Why not use “prokaryote”?  Norman Pace published a one-page piece in Nature, “Time for a change” that raised concern about use of “prokaryote” (in education), and the common biology textbook paradigm of splitting organisms up into prokaryotes vs. eukaryotes. Pace highlighted many of the differences between archaea and bacteria, discussed evolutionary relationships/history, and made a case for avoiding use of the term prokaryote with students.  (Check out the 2005 article by Jan Sapp discussing the history behind the prokaryote-eukaryote dichotomy, too.) Pace expanded on this with a lengthier educational piece in 2008.

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Possible topics for upcoming #microhangouts

After returning from a week away, and (almost) catching up on emails, I wanted to just share a few of the things that came up in our first #microhangout. There are a number of topics that (at least some) microbiology educators appear to be interested in discussing, including: best practises for teaching certain microbiology topics/concepts/techniques; how to foster integration of concepts (within microbiology, but also across other areas);  teaching evolution when students come from a variety of educational backgrounds/exposure to biology; aspects surrounding lecture capture (including privacy); effective use of class time; student attendance in classes (& posting of lecture slides in advance); use of clickers (personal or student response systems); case studies (e.g., see the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science website);  the idea of a microbiology education (virtual) journal club; and sharing educational resources. When I get a bit more organized, I’ll see about setting up a poll for choosing a topic for the next #microhangout to be held in the near future. (Let me know if there are other topics that might be of interest!)

I would also appreciate a chance to chat with some microbiology undergrads and grad students about microbiology (concepts, learning), from the undergrad/grad student point of view. Again, I need to sort through some things, but if you are (or know) an undergraduate or graduate student in microbiology who might be interested in this type of discussion, I’d love to hear from you!

When technology works (our first #microhangout)

We had our first #microhangout today! I really enjoyed getting to chat with other microbiologists (all of whom were hundreds or thousands of kilometers away from me, geographically). A huge thanks to the folks who participated!

I’ll likely post on some of the stuff we discussed (and topics for possible future discussions) soon. More generally, I just found myself reflecting on all the technologies we used in setting up and having our chat … Some early musings posted on Twitter to see who might be interested in a virtual meeting, a Doodle poll to find a suitable day/time, and Google+ Hangouts for the actual conversation (with some documents shared on Google Drive relating to our topic). It wasn’t all seamless – I’ve now learned that I must check and double-check time zones in Doodle, and there were some hurdles using Google+ Hangouts.  Still, within a few minutes of our start time, we had folks interested in microbiology education from Canada, the U.S.A., and the U.K. all having a conversation in real time.

When the technology works, and allows us to make these kinds of connections, communicate, and collaborate, it’s awesome.

CORRECTION: Microbiology Educator Hangout – July 31, noon (EDT) (which is 5 PM BST)

Apologies for my confusion – my Doodle time zone settings were off

Thanks to all the folks who participated in the Doodle poll (now closed) for our first #microbiologyhangout! Wednesday, July 31 from noon-1 PM (EDT)* was the only time slot chosen by all who weighed in.

I’ll post info about Google+ Hangouts once I’ve had a chance to learn (and play!) more …!

*Update – here are the times in various zones – let me know if I missed anyone!:

Windsor (Canada - Ontario)                     Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 12:00:00 Noon EDT UTC-4 hours 
Newcastle upon Tyne (United Kingdom - England) Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 5:00:00 PM    BST UTC+1 hour  
Edinburgh (United Kingdom - Scotland)          Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 5:00:00 PM    BST UTC+1 hour  
Montreal (Canada - Quebec)                     Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 12:00:00 Noon EDT UTC-4 hours 
Raleigh (U.S.A. - North Carolina)              Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 12:00:00 Noon EDT UTC-4 hours 
Hamilton (Canada - Ontario)                    Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 12:00:00 Noon EDT UTC-4 hours 
Glasgow (United Kingdom - Scotland)            Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 5:00:00 PM    BST UTC+1 hour  
Corresponding UTC (GMT)                        Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 16:00:00

Doodle poll now up for first microbiology hangout!

If you’re interested in chatting (online) about introductory microbiology concepts (including common misconceptions, troublesome knowledge, threshold concepts), please participate in the Doodle poll to decide on a day/time next week (July 31, Aug. 1 or Aug. 2):

Oh, and if anyone would like to help me test-drive the Google+ Hangout system earlier in the week, please let me know! 🙂

Microbiology misconceptions, troublesome knowledge & threshold concepts

As mentioned in the previous post, I’m hoping to start some online conversations with other microbiology educators soon. As I work on materials for my fall intro micro courses, I’d really appreciate the chance to talk about threshold concepts and misconceptions in microbiology. Here I’ve included some information about what these are, and what I’ve pulled together so far about introductory microbiology concepts.

Threshold with Giant Microbes

A threshold, if not a threshold concept.

I’ve been seeing more published evidence and increasing attention to the need for addressing student prior knowledge/misconceptions for effective learning, and the idea that there are key threshold concepts that must be mastered in order to proceed past the “threshold” to subsequent concepts in a discipline.  Threshold concepts have a number of characteristics, including that such concepts are considered troublesome, transformative, irreversible, integrative, and bounded. (Check out the references below, especially those from Meyer and Land, if you’d like to know more about threshold concepts.)

Some work has been done in a number of domains to identify threshold concepts and common misconceptions (TC/MC henceforth). (An interesting workshop “Troublesome concepts ACROSS the sciences” was offered earlier in the month at the Western Conference on Science Education by researchers at Dalhousie: ) A number of people are working to identify TC/MC in biology – see Modell et al 2005, Taylor 2006, Ross et al. 2010, Smith 2012 for just a few examples. However, there is not a lot available (at least, that I have found) in microbiology, with the exception of interesting work by Marbach-Ad et al on host-pathogen interactions (e.g., see 2009 paper and others from this group).

The ASM has published a curriculum guidelines for introductory microbiology ( ; see Merkel 2012) which I found incredibly helpful in identifying what students should be learning. Identification of TC/MC could help us (as instructors) develop effective learning activities so that we can better help students progress through the curriculum.

So far, I’ve been collecting some TC/MC that I think are worth focusing on in course development. I’d really appreciate the input of other microbiology educators to expand/clarify this list … and, ultimately, share ideas of how to best address these items in our classes.  Below are my notes, such as they are (i.e., probably with many gaps/omissions).

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