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Published: 26 April 2016

Threshold learning outcomes for a microbiology major

C Burke A B, H Cain N Coleman A, D Grando A, M Hughes A, P Johanesen A, J Lategan A, M Lloyd A, J Markham A, M Mohideen A, K Waller A and J Wang A



A EdSIG working party with representatives from University of Tasmania, The University of Sydney, RMIT University, Monash University, Macquarie University, The University of Western Australia, University of Western Sydney, The University of Melbourne and The University of Queensland
B Corresponding author. Email: c.burke@utas.edu.au


The concept of National Guidelines for Microbiology Curricula was workshopped at the inaugural meeting of EduCon (the ASM Microbiology Educators’ Conference) in 2014. Subsequently, an ad hoc special working group was formed at the 2015 EduCon to formulate National Guidelines for the threshold learning outcomes of Australian undergraduate microbiology curricula. The group, through discussion and several iterations, developed draft threshold learning outcomes for microbiology majors based on the Science Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement1 and informed by the curricular guidelines of the American Society for Microbiology2.

In this context, microbiology is taken to mean study of any or all microorganisms. Collectively, the group agreed that a major in microbiology should demonstrate significant learning of the key concepts of microbiology (see Merkel et al.2) at an advanced undergraduate level and recognised that there are diverse course structures that could enable this outcome. Commonly, the course structure would require completion of four units of microbiology at years 3 (single degree) or 3 and 4 (double degree) depending on the degree undertaken; however, one of these units could be replaced with a complementary science unit. A capstone unit of microbiology in which students demonstrate critical evaluation and synthesis of a microbiological topic should be included. These standards would necessitate that assessment tasks be linked to each of the learning outcomes and should show progressive development throughout the major. To help Australian academics validate that their students have reached these threshold learning outcomes, each subcategory will be progressively linked to curriculum learning resources that will be available with these guidelines at an EdSIG website hosted by the ASM. Additionally, a list of some current microbiology majors at Australian universities will provide examples of what subjects might be included in a microbiology major (Table 1).

The draft threshold learning outcomes were discussed and supported by the National Examinations and Qualifications Board of the ASM at their December, 2015 meeting and subsequently by National Council in February 2016. The draft threshold learning outcomes were then circulated to the state branches and to all members of EdSIG for comment. The threshold learning outcomes for a microbiology major presented here are the outcomes from these discussions. It is not the intent of EdSIG that ASM would accredit microbiology majors nor to exactly define curricula, but rather to give guidance to Australian academics on what ASM considers that a microbiology graduate should able to do whilst working professionally as a microbiologist.

Introduction to microbiology major threshold learning outcomes

A major in microbiology should demonstrate significant learning of the key concepts of microbiology (see Merkel et al.2) at an advanced undergraduate level. In this context, microbiology is taken to mean study of any or all microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. There are diverse student pathways that can enable this outcome, but commonly, the course structure includes four units of microbiology at year 3 (single degree) or years 3 and 4 (double degree) depending on the degree undertaken. One of these advanced units may be replaced with a complementary science unit. A capstone unit in which students demonstrate critical evaluation and synthesis of a microbiological topic addressing the course learning outcomes should be included. These standards necessitate that assessment tasks be linked to each of the learning outcomes and should show progressive development throughout the major. The threshold learning outcomes for microbiology majors are based on the Science Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement1 and informed by the curricular guidelines of the American Society for Microbiology2.

Threshold Learning Outcomes for Majors in Microbiology

Understanding microbiology

1. Demonstrate a coherent understanding of microbiology and its applications by:

1.1 Demonstrating a broad knowledge of, and applying the principles and concepts of microbiology.

1.2 Articulating and applying the scientific method of hypothesis testing to the field of microbiology.

1.3 Articulating and competently applying analytical methods to advance their understanding of microbiology.

1.4 Recognising and explaining the manifold roles and relevance of microbiology to society.

Knowledge of and practical skills to study microbes, their interactions and their applications

2. Exhibit depth and breadth of knowledge by:

2.1 Demonstrating well-developed knowledge of microbiology.

2.2 Demonstrating competency in core microbiological skills and techniques.

2.3 Articulating the interactions of microbes with their environment and applications.

Inquiry and problem solving

3. Critically analyse and solve specific microbiological problems both individually and in teams by:

3.1 Gathering, analysing and synthesising both quantitative and qualitative data /information from a range of sources relevant to the issue at hand.

3.2 Designing and planning a safe and efficient investigation or experiment.

3.3 Selecting and correctly applying relevant and appropriate practical and/or theoretical techniques or tools in order to carry out an experiment or investigation.

3.4 Collecting, accurately recording, interpreting and drawing conclusions from scientific data.

Communication

4. Be effective communicators by:

4.1 Using appropriate written and oral forms to communicate understanding of microbiology to a broad range of stakeholders.

4.2 Working collaboratively in teams.

4.3 Effectively advocating for a rational understanding of microbiological issues.

Personal and professional responsibility

5. Be accountable for their own learning and work by:

5.1 Working effectively, responsibly and safely with microorganisms.

5.2 Being independent and self-directed learners.

5.3 Demonstrating knowledge of the legal and regulatory frameworks relevant to microbiology.

5.4 Practicing ethical conduct in science.

Table 1. Example course structures of microbiology majors in Australia. The list includes examples of microbiology majors taught at some Australian Universities. The information is current as of January 2016. The listed majors show minimum requirements and only a single version. Some universities allow different prerequisites for example.

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