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Published May 19, 2013 | Nursing

Learning About Microbes in an Active Learning Classroom

I have been working with Joan Kearvell and Isabelle Menard, who are biology teachers like myself giving anatomy, physiology and microbiology courses as part of the Nursing program at Champlain College. We have been developing a series of activities that mimic microbial-related infections, so that nursing students get to apply their conceptual knowledge to real life situations. Although two of us teach at Champlain College’s Saint Lambert campus and the third at the Lennoxville campus, we have been working together on a SALTISE (a chantier 3 project) mini-grant.

Obviously with age, interests and the way you learn changes as you bring more life experience into your learning.

Analyzing the Situation

We wanted to reach out to nursing students because they are so atypical from regular science students, yet are required to take a course in Microbiology and Immunology. Regular science students are generally young adults in cegep shortly after graduating high school. Because this is the first year that we have been offering the nursing program at Champlain Saint-Lambert, however, our first cohort is extremely heterogeneous. We have students who are already mothers or even grandmothers, in addition to the 17-18 year olds just finishing high school. Obviously with age, interests and the way you learn changes as you bring more life experience into your learning.

Experimenting for Improvement

We therefore decided that maybe a way to engage our students was to share activity development with a goal of creating a fun learning environment, bringing the healthcare setting into what is an often difficult topic for nursing students. We wanted to use situational cases to grab student interest and to follow these through, tying each new subject into these existing activities and building upon previously acquired knowledge.

We also wanted to profit from the active learning (AL) resources on our two campuses. Champlain College St. Lambert has 2 AL classrooms plus a Biology Lab which has an AL section in the brand new wing-extension partially funded through the Entente Canada-Quebec’s volet immobilization. Joan was able to use these facilities for the first 2 activities carried out with her group. Champlain Lennoxville has had an active learning classroom since the fall of 2012. Isabelle was assigned the facility for this cohort of students in fall 2012 (and it was a great success), but couldn’t use it for the microbiology course in winter 2013 due to scheduling conflicts. Having had that first experience, however, she was able to apply active learning strategies to her teaching within a regular classroom, moving chairs and tables around to facilitate work in groups.We wanted to use the flipped classroom approach by assigning readings about a topic in advance and then trying to engage students using situational case studies based on this. We also wanted to tie each new subject presented into existing activities therefore building upon previously acquired knowledge. You can read a document prepared for SALTISE that explains the resulting methodology. The case studies used by Joan and Isabelle were similar, although some questions were varied to fit into individual teaching styles and topics covered. We used a case study approach for certain topics throughout the course in a class by class basis; in class activities, assignments and even tests. We feel this approach was very effective for the nursing students, who have the challenge of dealing with increasingly worrisome issues related to the topic of microbiology.

We feel this approach was very effective for the nursing students, who have the challenge of dealing with increasingly worrisome issues related to the topic of microbiology.

Our initial idea was to do two different series of case studies related to a particular type of infection. After this experiment, Joan Kearvell, wanted to get students to think more profoundly about the questions she would ask. In a reprise of the first activity, she attempted a flipped approach with guided questions. When they came into class, she formed them into six groups assigning each group one of six different case studies. In one case study the infection under study was bacterial, another one had a viral origin, another one was fungal. As before, students completed an information sheet essentially focusing on virulence and the life cycle of that organism. What was the infection pattern that it had? What would you do if you were in the hospital and you had to basically prevent this type of infection? As nurses they had to take their knowledge from the theoretical to the practical application.

Consolidating Successes

At the end of these sessions, students are reformed into different groups and asked to generate "Rap Sheets" (we used the term to make a fun comparison between some of these pathogenic microbes and a criminal "rap" sheet) based on the information gathered by the other groups. Each group was required to respond to a series of questions or points related a new case study. The idea is to use the information that they got from the information sheets made in their first groups.

Students consolidating their information

Students consolidating their information

Although not everyone in the class learned the same information, the rap sheets made up for some of these differences. Everyone takes home the principal skills of the exercise which include a general approach for discovering microbial infections and treating them as well as dealing with these situations in the hospital environment.

I found that the collaborative work that we did was an effective way to both encourage and challenge each other. I think we both wished to integrate our classes more, but time and inexperience with this class were limiting factors. However, I anticipate that the coming year will bring a greater level of collaboration.

How are you preparing for the arrival of active learning classrooms in your school? Your IT Rep is a treasure trove of useful information on this topic.

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