Designing Cancer-Killing Artificial Viruses to Improve Student Understanding of Microbiology
Our objective was to assess the effectiveness of a “learning by designing” group project used in a lower-division Microbiology course. Students used knowledge gained from the course to design an artificial virus that would kill cancer cells. The assignment required groups to integrate the individual course topics into a unified, complex understanding of the field of microbiology. Throughout the course, students and the instructor collaborated in creating a rubric to evaluate the groups’ final presentations. This paper reports the results of an assessment of the project by comparing the instructor’s and the students’ scores for the presentations. Students’ and the instructor’s scores were correlated; the Pearson coefficient of 0.52 was statistically significant. The results indicate that students gained sufficient knowledge to accurately evaluate proposed designs. Additionally, the overall course grade distribution improved compared to the semester before the project was introduced. Finally, in order to engage students in thinking about their own learning process, they completed a reflection assignment that required them to discuss the changes in their understanding of microbiology over the course of the semester. Our assessment indicates that a design project can serve as an effective and useful learning technique in undergraduate Microbiology courses, though modifications are suggested.
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