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.