Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thoughts from My Class on Small Things Considered!

Here is a quick post, while I am trying to learn some bioinformatics at Argonne National Lab.  

My thoughts about teaching microbiology at a small liberal arts institution, and what some of my students thought about microbiology, appeared today in the ASM sponsored microbiology blog, "Small Things Considered."  I hope that the post gives a flavor of the kind of classroom I try to create, and the experiences my students hopefully gain.

You can read the essay here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

An Inspirational Note Worth Reading: Grace in Teaching!

Teaching has its ups and downs, like any other profession.  It's a great feeling when a struggling student does well in class, and shows the excitement we try to teach regarding a theme or concept.  It can be sad when course evaluations suggest that the class isn't "getting" what you had intended and we need to retool our approaches (leaving aside the less-mature commentary that happens from time to time).  And, recent magazine articles to the contrary, most educators work quite hard to do the best job we can for our students (there was quite a bit of bemusement and a bit of sarcasm regarding the silly article in Forbes, such as here and here).  Doing a good job for our students remains a moving target, even for the best of educators.  We tell ourselves that that it matters, that it is worth it.  And many of us---yours truly, for example---find it to be very much worth the time-equity investment.

But it is always good to read something inspirational about teaching, that presents new approaches, and perhaps more importantly, a new outlook.  

A colleague of my wife's, Dr. Francis Su of Harvey Mudd College, was just presented the Haimo Teaching Award at the Joint Math Meetings of the Mathematics Association of America last week.  It is a great honor to receive a Haimo Award (full disclosure:  my wife won this award several years ago...and yes, I married up).  Dr. Su's acceptance speech was remarkable.  It deeply moved my wife, and she sent me a link to the speech.  I could see what she meant!  

Dr. Su posted the acceptance speech on Facebook, and I share it with you here:

Click here to read Dr. Su's wonderful acceptance speech.

Note:  Apparently, Facebook took down Dr. Su's post as spam(!).  No matter; Dr. Su kindly created a website with his talk for us all to appreciate.  I changed the link above so that it will take you to his new website.  Apologies for Facebook's, um, attention to spam.

If you are an educator, or a student, or interested in teaching or learning, please read this speech.  It is on the subject of "grace" in teaching, learning, and growing.

Richly deserved applause to Dr. Su...and not simply for the prestigious Haimo Award.  But for being willing to share his outlook and positivity with all of us.  

His students must be very, very lucky!

Educators and students:  consider the grace in your life.  And increase it with others.

Friday, January 4, 2013

More about Microbial Literacy!

Just a quick post.  I have long believed that microbiology needs to be presented in the Biology curriculum, earlier and in more detail.  It's fundamental. And I find that the typical media (as opposed to science journalists and bloggers) in particular can really confuse things revolving around microbiology, and that isn't good for education or the public at large. 

A student from last semester's microbiology course sent me a link to this video, a promotional spot about Boise State University, shown during a football game.  

I was delighted to hear the young woman mention that Boise State, to her, could mean "quorum sensing."  Fantastic!

But then, I read the press release that mentions that spot, and its "shout out" to Microbial Goodness.  I put my head in my hands:

"Quorum sensing is a system of stimulus and response correlated to population density.  The Department of Chemistry uses it to study bacteria such as the West Nile virus in its research work on viral vaccines."

Oh, my.  West Nile virus, of course, is emphatically not a bacterium.  So I went to my good friend Google.

I believe that the promotional spot is referring to Dr. Kenneth Cornell at Boise State University.  His research covers quite a bit of ground, but he does study quorum sensing in some of his research, and also is involved in working on a West Nile vaccine.  Somehow, these two items became linked by the PR department?

It's common to read, in everyday media, the confusion between "bacteria" and "viruses."  So it is important to push for "Microbial Literacy."  This is a good example:  the well-intentioned effort to promote science was laudable, but the details were incorrect.

So I urge public relations offices producing these kind of spots to check their work carefully, so that their hard work will have the intended effect:  helping the public to see the value of science in their everyday lives.