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Discovery of the Collaborative Nature of Science with Undergraduate Science Majors and Non-Science Majors through the Identification of Microorganisms Enriched in Winogradsky Columns

    Authors: Jasmine Ramirez1, Catalina Arango Pinedo1, Brian M. Forster2,*
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA 19131; 2: College of Arts & Sciences, Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA 19131
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Supplemental materials available at http://jmbe.asm.org
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: 5600 City Avenue, 112 Connelly Hall, Philadelphia, PA 19131. Phone: 610-660-3188. E-mail: bforster@sju.edu.
    • ©2015 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2015 vol. 16 no. 2 211-216. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.926
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    Abstract:

    Today’s science classrooms are addressing the need for non-scientists to become scientifically literate. A key aspect includes the recognition of science as a process for discovery. This process relies upon interdisciplinary collaboration. We designed a semester-long collaborative exercise that allows science majors taking a general microbiology course and non-science majors taking an introductory environmental science course to experience collaboration in science by combining their differing skill sets to identify microorganisms enriched in Winogradsky columns. These columns are self-sufficient ecosystems that allow researchers to study bacterial populations under specified environmental conditions. Non-science majors identified phototrophic bacteria enriched in the column by analyzing the signature chlorophyll absorption spectra whereas science majors used 16S rRNA gene sequencing to identify the general bacterial diversity. Students then compiled their results and worked together to generate lab reports with their final conclusions identifying the microorganisms present in their column. Surveys and lab reports were utilized to evaluate the learning objectives of this activity. In pre-surveys, nonmajors’ and majors’ answers diverged considerably, with majors providing responses that were more accurate and more in line with the working definition of collaboration. In post-surveys, the answers between majors and nonmajors converged, with both groups providing accurate responses. Lab reports showed that students were able to successfully identify bacteria present in the columns. These results demonstrate that laboratory exercises designed to group students across disciplinary lines can be an important tool in promoting science education across disciplines.

References & Citations

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2. Anderson DC, Hairston R1999The Winogradsky column and biofilms: models for teaching nutrient cycling and succession in an ecosystemAm Biol Teach6145345910.2307/4450728 http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/4450728
3. Boomer S, Shipley K2005A laboratory class exploring and classifying anoxygenic phototrophic bacteria using culture-based approaches, microscopy and pigment analysisAmerican Society of Microbiology MicrobeLibrary
4. Bruffee KA1994The art of collaborative learning: making the most of knowledgeable peersChange26394410.1080/00091383.1994.9940647 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00091383.1994.9940647
5. Hobson A2001Teaching relevant science for scientific literacy: adding cultural context to the sciencesJ Coll Sci Teach30238243
6. Holt CE, Abramoff P, Wilcox LVJr, Abell DL1969Investigative laboratory programs in biology: a position paper of the commission on undergraduate education in the biological sciencesBioScience191104110710.2307/1294868 http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1294868
7. National Research Council1999Transforming undergraduate education in science, mathematics, engineering, and technologyThe National Academies PressWashington, DC
8. Rutherford FJ, Ahlgren A1991Science for all Americans – AAAS project 2061Oxford University PressNew York, NY
9. Springer L, Stanne ME, Donovan SS1999Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: a meta-analysisRev Educ Res69215110.3102/00346543069001021 http://dx.doi.org/10.3102/00346543069001021
10. Sundberg MD, Dini ML1993Science majors vs non majors: is there a difference?J Coll Sci Teach22299304
11. Woodin T, Carter V, Fletcher L2010Vision and change in biology undergraduate education, a call for action—initial responsesCBE Life Sci Educ9717310.1187/cbe.10-03-0044205163502879380 http://dx.doi.org/10.1187/cbe.10-03-0044
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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.926
2015-12-01
2017-11-18

Abstract:

Today’s science classrooms are addressing the need for non-scientists to become scientifically literate. A key aspect includes the recognition of science as a process for discovery. This process relies upon interdisciplinary collaboration. We designed a semester-long collaborative exercise that allows science majors taking a general microbiology course and non-science majors taking an introductory environmental science course to experience collaboration in science by combining their differing skill sets to identify microorganisms enriched in Winogradsky columns. These columns are self-sufficient ecosystems that allow researchers to study bacterial populations under specified environmental conditions. Non-science majors identified phototrophic bacteria enriched in the column by analyzing the signature chlorophyll absorption spectra whereas science majors used 16S rRNA gene sequencing to identify the general bacterial diversity. Students then compiled their results and worked together to generate lab reports with their final conclusions identifying the microorganisms present in their column. Surveys and lab reports were utilized to evaluate the learning objectives of this activity. In pre-surveys, nonmajors’ and majors’ answers diverged considerably, with majors providing responses that were more accurate and more in line with the working definition of collaboration. In post-surveys, the answers between majors and nonmajors converged, with both groups providing accurate responses. Lab reports showed that students were able to successfully identify bacteria present in the columns. These results demonstrate that laboratory exercises designed to group students across disciplinary lines can be an important tool in promoting science education across disciplines.

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Figures

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FIGURE 1

Example of data collected during the experiment. Soil collected at 1 cm below the surface of the Winogradsky column was evenly divided. (a) An absorbance spectrum of chlorophyll extracted from the soil indicates the presence of chlorophyll . (b) Extraction of DNA from the soil sample and subsequent PCR indicates successful amplification of the 16S rRNA gene. Lane 1 = DNA ladder, Lane 2 = negative control sample where soil extracted DNA was not included in the reaction, Lane 3 = soil sample from 1 cm. DNA = deoxyribonucleic acid; PCR = polymerase chain reaction; rRNA = ribosomal ribonucleic acid.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2015 vol. 16 no. 2 211-216. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.926
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Image of FIGURE 2

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FIGURE 2

Assessment of learning objectives 1 and 2. Surveys were used to determine whether learning objectives 1 and 2 were met. Students were asked to (a) define scientific collaboration and (b) list methods of identifying bacteria. Results show percentage of students, by major, providing correct answers. Gray bars indicate pre-survey responses. Black bars indicate post-survey responses. *indicates a significant increase.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. December 2015 vol. 16 no. 2 211-216. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.926
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