Well, a surprise for this year is the first edition of the McMurry Fantasy Microbiology League competition for high school students. Last spring, I met with two of the specialists at the Region 14 Education Service Center to discuss my lament that there is no regional science fair for the students in the 44 school districts of our area (For those from outside Texas, our state is divided into regions and a service center is provided for each region to facilitate enrichment and support for public education). In our conversation, we came up with the idea of providing an alternate enrichment opportunity based on a software simulation used for teaching microbiology. What if we set up a fantasy league of teams composed of high school students who competed to identify simulated bacteria? What if we came up with some amazing prizes to give to competitors and their teachers/coaches and their schools? We are proud to announce that this is officially a “go” and teams will be able to sign up later this month to represent their schools and win big prizes.
Intuitive Systems Inc. agreed to provide the software for the competition. VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology (VUMIE) is used in colleges, nursing schools, and even dental and medical programs around the world to provide students with a reasonable substitute for working with bacteria in a wet lab to allow for practice in developing microbiology skills. Fantasy Microbiology League competitors will get unknown bacteria weekly and will work to submit an ID that is fast, accurate, and efficient. Points are earned for these three premiums and lost when they are not achieved. Each week, a team plays defense by prohibiting the use of a test of their choosing by their opponent. And each week, The Commissioner will announce a “Hail Mary” twist that will earn bonus points if successfully completed. Winners from head-to-head competition will advance to the playoffs along with wildcard teams based on total points earned. The VUMIE Bowl will be held on McMurry’s campus on February 10, 2017. Prizes will include scholarships for winners, GoPro cameras/Fitbits and other prizes for final teams and coaches, scientific equipment and the VUMIE trophy for the winning school, and plenty of Swag for all participants. Thank you sponsors for making this happen!
I tell my students all the time, if your science classes aren’t fun, something’s wrong. The subject matter is fascinating and exciting and awe-inspiring. And if we are clever in how we approach it, we can make it more “game” than “work”. Students in this competition will learn valuable lessons about aseptic technique, critical reasoning in choosing tests and interpreting results, and will see how being careful and thoughtful and precise in their work can lead to big rewards. But I’ll bet the way they describe it all is “fun”.
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?