Here is an example of a syllabus I designed for an upper level microbiology lab course. This course allows students to gain proficiency in a wide range of microbiological techniques by defining clear hypotheses in real-world lab scenarios. For example, one lab recreates an “outbreak” in which students receive samples from an “infected patient” and a variety of potentially contaminated water sources. They are then responsible for identifying the pathogen and the likely source of the outbreak. By giving students real-world research examples they become invested in the material, learn useful techniques, and also gain essential skills in keeping a notebook and communicating their scientific findings. This course is appropriate for students with basic biology and chemistry backgrounds who are interested in pursuing microbiology and or ecology. Thematically the lab topics vary from basic skill-building topics (i.e. staining and microscopy), to sourdough ecology, to antibiotic resistance.
Goals and Learning Objectives
I favor the backwards design approach to course development. In this way I decide what is important for my students to be able to do when they are finished with the course, and then build the content for the course around those objectives. With Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind I aim to include objectives that cover a range of skills from lower-order (remembering and understanding and applying information) to higher-order (analyzing, evaluating and creating information they are acquiring in class). The learning objectives for the course I’ve designed are as follows:
By the end of this course students should be able to:
- Demonstrate an ability to formulate and design experiments based on the scientific method.
- Analyze and interpret results from a variety of microbiological methods, and apply these methods to new situations.
- Effectively communicate fundamental concepts of microbiology.
- Properly prepare and view specimens for examination using microscopy.
- Use aseptic and selective techniques to enrich for and isolate microorganisms.
- Use many different methods to identify bacteria.
- Document and report on experimental protocols, results and conclusions.
- Practice safe microbiology, using appropriate protective and emergency procedures.
- Ask testable questions about microorganisms in the environment around us.
The next step is to make sure that the assessment methods I employ align with my learning objectives and really assess what my students have accomplished towards these goals. With the growing body of research on how people learn I try to incorporate multiple methods of assessment to allow students with different learning styles to have some assignments that seem more comfortable to them and to push them with other assessments. One major goal of mine is to collect information on how the students are doing throughout the semester through a variety of assignments, in this way there should be less anxiety around quizzes because students have interacted with the material in many different ways and will be prepared to demonstrate their knowledge on the subject. This course utilized notebook checks, lab reports, quizzes, journal club, and a series of assignments related to the student’s individual research projects.
Expectations and Policies
This syllabus outlines the expectations I have for the students who take my class. By making these expectations explicit and clear early on in the course students should know what the class dynamic will be like and get a sense of what they need to do in the class to be successful. I’ve also included policies about classroom inclusivity, academic conduct and disabilities. By stating these policies up front I aim to create a welcoming and open environment in which students feel comfortable to learn.
I am currently teaching a course on Environmental Issues, and lab sections for a Cell and Molecular Biology course. I’m also in the process of designing a few courses I would like to teach in the future related to Biogeochemistry and Environmental Microbiology. I would be happy to provide copies of other syllabi I have developed, or to discuss course design, please feel free to get in touch.