This project will create a community of liberal arts microbiology teacher-scholars. Centered around solving problems of common student misconceptions, this community will provide structure, funding, and support for research, writing, and teaching collaboration.
As all of us are the only microbiologists at our institutions, this project provides the opportunity to see through our peers’ eyes, to think beyond our own classrooms, and to share our expertise and creativity to develop better solutions than we could devise individually.
Additionally, this project will enrich the robustness of our research. Due to the student-centered nature of our institutions’ pedagogical approaches, our classes are by design small, and particular subjects are frequently taught only once per school year.
A fairly common criticism of some discipline-based education research studies performed at small colleges is therefore that the sample sizes are too small. Depending on the study design and research question, it can therefore can take years to accumulate a large enough data set to draw robust conclusions.
This project will coordinate the efforts of microbiology researchers at seven liberal arts institutions and provide a large, rich dataset from which we can study student learning.
Reducing institutional costs, demonstrating value of high-quality liberal arts education
Our proposed project’s main goal is to quantifiably improve student learning. The student-centered nature of small liberal arts classrooms already fosters strong learning outcomes, and this project aims to amplify that effect in a systematic and strategic way.
The study of microbiology is fundamental to our understandings of agriculture, ecology, and human health, and an undergraduate course in microbiology is required by most programs in the health professions.
Liberal arts colleges send proportionally far more students to graduate, professional, and medical schools than our PhD-granting counterparts, and projects such as this one can contribute to student success in those programs, potentially bolstering our reputation as providers of high-value undergraduate degrees.
Additionally, the evidence-based toolkit we will build can bring ACM schools the attention of the national microbiology community. The American Society of Microbiology (ASM), the oldest and largest professional society in the United States, has already committed to disseminating this toolkit through society-sponsored meetings, publications, databases, and communications to the global microbial sciences community
Being known in our field as institutions where faculty can do innovative teaching and discipline-based education research can help us recruit future faculty.
Advancing goals and priorities of participating campuses
Our institutions are committed to liberal arts education and to preparing students to be active, informed citizens. This project aims to resolve student misconceptions about important biological concepts, and this work can improve long-term science engagement and understanding.
Our institutions also recognize that faculty professional development benefits individuals, institutions, and our broader scientific disciplines, and this project will develop long-term collaborative relationships.
This project also aligns well with two of Beloit College’s academic strategic priorities: 1) engaging in evidence-based faculty and staff development that promotes high-impact learning experiences and mentoring relationships, and 2) promoting the above practices in rewarding and manageable ways through individual and collaborative experimentation.