Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Hands-On Mini-Case Studies Promote Integration of Microbiological Concepts

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

Hands-On Mini-Case Studies Promote Integration of Microbiological Concepts

Article excerpt

Many science educators have been incorporating the use of case studies into their teaching. Numerous reports (e.g., Bonney, 2015; Dori, Tal, & Tsaushu, 2003; Dupuis & Persky, 2008; Grunwald & Hartman, 2010) have shown that case studies increase student engagement and motivation, as well as enhance their ability to think critically about the subject material. Case studies have been developed for many subdisciplines in biology, including microbiology (Chess, 2015; Cody, 2001). They take a variety of forms: discussion based, flipped classroom, and so forth, and vary in scope and length. An advantage of using minicase studies is that they can be used at any time throughout the semester to reinforce important topics covered without having to sacrifice a large amount of class time. For example, Cundell (2000) designed 47 microbiology mini-case histories in which students are asked to answer questions based on background information provided as text as well as some supplementary images.

Active learning is a well-established pedagogical tool that has been shown to improve student engagement (Freeman et al., 2014; Prince, 2004). It is often incorporated into a lecture in the form of case studies (Anderson & Young, 2012; Pommerville, 2009); in addition, science courses can also include active learning in a laboratory setting. However, there are few examples where physical materials from the laboratory are used in combination with case studies to reinforce material that is learned in both the laboratory and the lecture. We decided to use the case study format in conjunction with physical laboratory materials to apply a hands-on approach to answering questions about real-world clinical scenarios.

In this article, we present a series of 10 mini-case studies that have been incorporated into the laboratory portion of our microbiology course (three are included in this paper; the remaining seven can be found in Appendix 1, available at http://www. We designed the case studies to (a) allow students to synthesize several individual topics that had been covered throughout the semester, (b) encourage them to link information they received in lecture with procedures they learned in lab, and (c) assist them in reviewing material for the comprehensive lab practical exam. We decided to use very short case studies so that students could complete several during the course of a single lab period, allowing us to include a wide range of material from both lecture and laboratory. We collected student responses for one case study for assessment purposes. Our case studies provided an overview for the course at the end of the year, allowing students to synthesize information from multiple components of the course.


Course description

At Queensborough Community College (City University of New York), Principles of Microbiology is a one-semester course intended primarily for Nursing and Allied Health students. Because most of our students are planning on careers in nursing or other health care fields, the course (and our case studies) emphasize the causes, symptomologies, diagnoses, treatment, and prevention of various infectious diseases.

Case study format

Each mini-case study consists of a one-paragraph written case history accompanied by materials used during the laboratory over the course of the semester, including prepared slides (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and vectors), metabolic tests, and selective and differential media. The questions accompanying each case study cover many levels of Bloom's taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001), ranging from remembering a slide they had previously looked at to analyzing material from the lecture and/or multiple laboratory exercises. Common themes in the case study questions include simple identifications, the correlation of physical materials from lab (e.g., slides of microorganisms, media from metabolic assays, etc. …

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