Tag: virtualunknown(TM) microbiology
Students in BIOL 3410 Microbiology this semester are serving as guinea pigs for the beta-testing of the next generation of VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology software. They join scores of students from across the nation in giving a trial run to VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology Internet Edition 2012 (VUMIE 2012). The software is a product of Intuitive Systems, Inc. and has ties to McMurry faculty and alumni. VUMIE 2012 will feature for the first time Mac and Linux compatibility and will sport a new look, new features, and a new lab manual.
VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology software is a self-described “flight simulator” for the microbiology lab, engaging students in the cognitive and manipulative skills required to study bacteria. The software won one of three awards for new software products for medical education at the 2000 Slice of Life/Computers in Health Education Symposium conference in Salt Lake City. Over 60 software packages entered the competition from four continents and around 20 different countries. VUMicro was the only winner not developed at a medical school. Today, the software is in use in colleges and universities across the nation and in a few nations overseas. For more info on what it can do, visit www.virtualunknown.com.
Besides the on-campus students in Micro, there is one student whose work schedule and place of residence make regular participation in lecture and lab at McMurry impossible. She has completed her degree in chemical engineering and is taking the course in preparation for entering pharmacy school, so the pitfalls of distance learning and rigors of the course should not prove impossible to overcome. For her, the use of the software means a virtual lab experience is available on a daily basis even though she cannot regularly join in the lab activities. Practice in streaking plates and microscopy and biochemical tests will be possible on her computer so that the methods and skills others are experiencing on campus do not pass her by. She will be “soloing” from her home an hour’s drive away while others are here on campus.
We will check back in later in the semester to let you in on how this experiment is working. Is the new software everything hoped for? Is our phantom student mastering skills and knowledge from afar at a rate comparable to those on campus?
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.
We’re entering the mid-summer period where the wind-down from the spring semester collides head-on with the spool-up for the fall semester. Things are busy on campus. Here’s a sampling:
- The first SOAR is over and the second one is next week. SOARs are events for incoming students to go through orientation and get their class schedules worked out for the fall. We had 120 students make McMurry their college home a week or so ago. Over 100 more incoming freshmen are scheduled to be on campus next week. They are the smart ones, as waiting for the third SOAR or to register at the beginning of the semester means risking closed classes and schedule conflicts. I mentioned in a comment that roughly 10% of students at the first SOAR signed up for the initial BIMS course. Looks like it will be a great start for Year Two of BIMS.
- Summer research is well underway. Dr. Paul Pyenta has been working with a Welch Summer Research student to clone gfp protein into a plasmid compatible with Bacillus thuringiensis. They’ve been using the new centrifuge mentioned in a recent post, but found the need to spin 250 ml bottles at a high speed than is possible with the swinging bucket rotor we got with it. Another centrifuge and modified procedure will have to suffice until we can purchase another rotor more suitable to the speeds required by the original protocol.
- Dr. Pyenta ordered a new digital gel documentation system today that will allow clear photography of gels for publication and presentation. This is a valuable piece of equipment for helping students build their biological portfolios – artifacts from their hands-on lab work will be collected and saved to document their proficiency.
- Dr. Tom Benoit taught Microbiology in Summer 1 and now is working on a proposal for the lab renovation competition McMurry will hold in August. Science faculty were encouraged to propose innovative spaces for teaching and research for the competition, which will see the winning entry adopted to guide a lab renovation project to take place in Summer 2010. Two labs and support spaces will be renovated to provide a model of future spaces to be seen in the Finch-Gray Science Center. BIMS intends to have the best proposal for consideration.
- Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca has spent time this summer traveling. No word yet whether she will join her husband Mark on a trip to Japan on behalf of their church. One additional task Dr. D will accomplish this summer is purchase of the next important pieces of teaching/research equipment: real-time PCR, Nanodrop spectrophotometer, new tissue culture hoods, and more.
- Dr. Larry Sharp has been busy overseeing applications to health professions schools – medical and dental, mainly. He us also teaching both A&P I and II this summer, all while designing the new Pre-Health Professions Seminar series to be taken by our pre-health students.
- Dr. Gary Wilson has been juggling administrative duties with an overhaul of his microbiology course and some development work for his software package VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology. A new totally online version of the software is in development.
- BIMS faculty plan to hold a retreat this summer to assess what worked this year and what needs “tweaking” as the BIMS program enters its second year. One item for discussion is how we can intentionally link courses together through common projects so that we work together in research as our students learn. We got a great start on that this year, but more can be done.
No doubt, it is a busy summer in Abilene!