High-Impact Practices in Microbiology Education

June 22, 2017

The LEAP Initiative identifies 10 evidence-based, high-impact educational practices that support the success of undergraduate students. They are: 

  • First-year seminars and experiences.
  • Common intellectual experiences.
  • Learning communities.
  • Writing-intensive courses.
  • Collaborative assignments and projects.
  • Undergraduate research.
  • Diversity/global learning.
  • Service/community-based learning.
  • Internships.
  • Capstone courses and projects.

At ASM Microbe 2017, several faculty members shared their LEAP-influenced best practices for improving student outcomes.

Dr. Linnea Fletcher spoke about high-impact internships. Her motto is to “act local, think global.” At Austin Community College (ACC), her two-year, high school, and postbaccalaureate students participate in internships at startup companies, four-year colleges and universities, or internally at ACC. She emphasizes that one of the keys to her biotechnology program’s success is figuring out where industry is heading and then changing the program’s practices and curriculum to align. The ACC program also includes faculty training in how to prepare students for the workforce, training for internship mentors, and training in “soft” skills like communication, resume writing, and interviewing for students. Graduates of her program have a 90% success rate in finding employment.

Dr. Avery August spoke about mentoring as a tool to foster graduate student recruitment and retention. He has found that recruitment, particularly of students from underrepresented populations in science, is fostered by partnerships with minority-serving institutions, a coordinated presence at national conferences, and personal connections with institutions that support diverse undergraduate students.

Once students are recruited, Dr. August’s BEST Program provides professional development in the form of career awareness events, opportunities to develop transferrable skills via internships, and a layered approach to mentoring – including the student’s advisor, other faculty members, external mentors, and peer mentoring. He noted that other factors influencing student success include a identifying with a community of scholars and participating in strong learning communities.

Finally, Dr. Michael Schmidt spoke about assessing student learning, which is central to measuring the success of programs employing high-impact practices, and about the importance of 21st century skills like critical thinking, complex problem solving, collaboration, and multimedia communication. He emphasized the importance of having measurable, focused learning objectives. In addition, concept inventories (like those published by ASM) are a valuable tool in measuring what students know. “Students must develop a sense of agency,” he added.

All speakers noted that even when high-impact practices are known, it can be a challenge to implement them. These practices can be expensive to maintain. The most effective internships pay students, freeing them from having to work elsewhere at the same time. Programs like the ones described above often have extensive funding from federal and other sources. But Dr. August emphasizes that there are best practices that can be employed even without much funding; these include community-building activities like mentoring lunches. In the end, finding a way to implement at least some high-impact practices helps diverse students be more successful and persist in science. 

Author: Bethany Adamec

Bethany Adamec
Bethany Adamec is a Science Education Specialist at ASM, where she communicates about ASM’s work in student and faculty professional development, supports the ASM Education Board, and works with colleagues to promote evidence-based education reform.