Tag: aseptic technique
This fall at universities around the world, some students will engage in a two-pronged approach to learning the knowledge and skills of microbiology lab technique. They will learn the conventional way, loop and burner and tubes and plates, and they will expand their opportunity to think like a microbiologist and simulate their lab work using their computers with software developed by Dr. Gary Wilson and his partners at Intuitive Systems, Inc. The software, VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology, is now over a decade old, and this summer marks the end of a two year-long development program to create a new, more versatile version. Dr. Wilson’s son, Marcus Wilson, has been the Java-developer making it all happen.
The original VU Microbiology was developed with particular goals in mind: solid microbiology instruction, true-to-life simulation requiring knowledge of aseptic technique, opportunities for students to make mistakes with consequences, detailed reporting in the Virtual Lab Report of all errors in technique and judgment – all in a game-like atmosphere. Judging by the popularity of the software with allied health programs, it scores on all points. But the leaps in technology over the past ten years have necessitated parallel improvements in the software. Whereas the original product was PC-exclusively and largely stand-alone, the new version will be “platform neutral” and Web-based. Testing on Mac, Linux, and Windows have all gone well, meaning any student with any computer will soon have equal access to this tool. VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology Web Edition (VUWEB) will be “Micro Anywhere!” incarnate.
To make that happen, Dr. Wilson has spent the summer taking care of the content and support components, while Marcus has been polishing the look, feel, and action of the software. Several tests were replaced with updated versions. New Help files had to be created that accounted for the current state of computer skills in average students, rather than on the average computer skills of 1998. A new lab activities manual was written, entitled Micro Digital Media(TM), along with an instructor’s key. MDM gets right to the nuts and bolts of microbiology and spends its 100 pages helping students learn how lab skills are used in a health setting. There is even an exercise to help students learn how to make fancy research posters to display their work.
What’s left? The Help files are text- and graphic-centered, but will also have extensive videos still in production. And there’s extensive beta testing to come. Anticipated product release will be Spring 2012.
Today the Microbiology students took their lab skills test. I give them two opportunities to show their proficiency in streaking plates, performing aseptic transfers, pipetting, using a spectrophotometer, reading biochemical test results and indentifying bacteria, describing colonies, doing Gram stains, finding and describing cells under the microscope, cleaning up bacterial spills, designing experiments, and writing Materials & Methods. Those who did not perform up to expectations will have another chance in about a week. After all, my goal is not to see what they’ve learned by Thanksgiving – it is to insure they have the skills mastered by the time the course is completed. What is more important than when.
None of these skills were taught independently in this course. All were learned as students did research projects, using a “just-in-time” approach to teaching. Aseptic technique was taught when we needed to inoculate tubes and plates for purification and identification. Smears and staining were taught when we needed to determine which biochemical tests to inoculate and rapid ID panels to use. Spectroscopy and dilution methods and pipetting were taught when we needed to conduct pour plate counts to follow survival of cells following exposure to radiation. In every instance, there was a reason and connectedness between what we were doing and a clear goal we were trying to achieve. Techniques were not islands unto themselves but instead means used to discover the truth at the end of the journey.
We believe students learn better, retain better, and are more engaged in their work when this approach is taken. That is why the BIMS program is skills driven, research-rich, and product-oriented.
Students in my Microbiology class this fall have a treat in store. Instead of disconnected labs to teach the main principles of aseptic technique and identifying bacteria, students in this course are going to learn by doing research. I have planned five research projects the student research teams will undertake: conducting an air quality survey of campus buildings, screen fresh vegetables and fruits for E. coli, search for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) on campus, isolate endospore-formers and their bacteriophage from nature, and have groups design and conduct a research study of their own using the knowledge and skills learned.
One of these represents a first for our students – the MRSA study. Our plan is to obtain nasal swabs from around 100 students on campus and compare the frequency of Staphylococcus aureus (SA) and MRSA among groups and with previous reports nationally. Student research groups will collect nasal swabs and screen for SA and MRSA, identifying the most interesting isolates using our BD Crystal(TM) Rapid ID system. They will analyze the data from a survey of participants and the results from the lab to see if on-campus residents differ in SA/MRSA occurence from off-campus residents, athletes vs. non-athletes, etc. The results should be interesting!
Because we will be doing research involving human subjects, special approval is required from the campus oversight group: the Institutional Review Board, or IRB. Their job is to review proposed campus research to make sure it is ethical, responsible, and conforms to national standards for acceptable scientific research. It is a first for me, since my lab research is typically environmentally-focused (bacteria don’t have to give informed consent!). The “homework” required for the IRB is extensive – several federal reports and statutes to review, an online course through NIH for certification of training (yes, I missed a question!), and then a form that asks all the hard questions needed to insure the research is well-thought, useful, and safe for all. Reading the prescribed materials, thinking through how the project was structured in light of the training, going through the NIH course, and filling out the form took me the better part of three days.
This bunny trail has been educational and informative, so much so that I’ll have all the Microbiology students go through the online training before they start the study in late September. To know the trouble our scientific community goes through to protect the rights and dignity of its individuals is eye-opening and reassuring. Sometimes things of great educational benefit are not on the main thoroughfares of our courses. Oh, and ask those college sophomores you know whether they’ve done anything as exciting as this in their science classes!