Learning Geomicrobiology as a Team Using Microbial Mats, a Multidisciplinary Approach
Microbial mats are one of the best suited laminar organo-sedimentary ecosystems for students from different educational backgrounds to visualize the direct relationship between microbes and minerals. We have used tropical hypersaline microbial mats from Puerto Rico as educational tools to promote active learning of geomicrobiology introductory concepts for undergraduate students organized in multidisciplinary teams with biological and geological backgrounds. Besides field trips and independent research projects focused on microbial mats, four intensive workshops and one capstone activity were designed to expose students to the different geomicrobiology subdisciplines (microbiology, molecular biology, geology, and geochemistry). The teaching-learning process was assessed using pre- and posttests, group discussions, activities including Gallery Walks and exquisite cadaver’s, case studies, and focal interviews. While the posttest showed a significant difference in conceptual understanding, the Gallery Walk and the capstone activities demonstrated increase in the depth, coherence, and thoughtfulness in answering questions, including a clear integration of the different subdisciplines during their presentations. Finally, the main themes described by the students as important outcomes of their participation in the Research at Undergraduate Institutions: Microbial Observatory (RUI-MO) program were: (i) the opportunity to study and learn new and different science disciplines, (ii) the microbial mats were excellent tools to learn from and integrate different science disciplines, and (iii) working in multidisciplinary teams gave them the opportunity to learn from their peers’ discipline backgrounds. To our knowledge this is the first educational initiative that uses tropical hypersaline microbial mats to teach geomicrobiology in a multidisciplinary fashion.
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