How We Started a Local Mini-Teaching Conference at our Annual Branch Meeting

Oct. 28, 2020

Now more than ever, microbiology educators are yearning for connection and opportunities to share teaching strategies. Maybe it’s time to consider starting a local mini-teaching conference like the ASM Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE) with your local ASM Branch meeting. In 2015, the Southern California Branch of the American Society for Microbiology (SCASM) offered their first mini-ASMCUE at their October annual meeting. SCASM is well known for its support of clinical laboratorians with a robust and engaging program. The meeting also included a student session with speakers and posters. Academic sessions were not consistently offered every year. A group of educators who attended the SCASM meetings began to discuss the need for and possible interest in a teaching strategies session modeled after ASMCUE. We wanted to offer educators an opportunity to gather within the structure of the annual meeting, but with a specific focus on advancing teaching strategies and discipline currency. 

So how did we create a mini-ASMCUE before our local branch meeting?  We hope the following tips and guidelines will inspire you to design your own local mini-ASMCUE and help you get started:

Getting Started with Planning a Mini-Teaching Conference

  • Talk to your branch’s leadership and find an ally who understands and will promote/facilitate your ideas. Educators could increase membership!
  • Reach out to ASM and the speaker series/fellows to find presenters for your conference. 
  • Utilize the Branch’s resources/mailing lists to contact the membership in order to increase awareness of and interest in the program.
  • Determine the best time for the session for the group you want to attract. 
  • Design the program. We typically offer two main speakers and 3 microbrews, which are short teaching demos. 
  • Reach out to your network and to other institutions directly so you can expand your audience.
  • Build a team that will help organize, network, look for speakers, set-up and even present themselves.
  • Get a board member on your team or help elect someone on your team to the board of the local branch.
  • Provide continuing education credits (CEUs) for clinical educators who need them to document their professional development. 
  • Work with the Branch’s event organizers for signage, information, communication of your session, set-up, room needs, lunch tables designated for your group, continuing education credits, etc.
  • Send follow-up surveys to attendees to learn why they attended, what worked, what to change and potential future topics of interest.
  • Coordinate with your branch on themes and topics.
  • Ask high interest general session speakers to present a modified talk to your educator group if your session overlaps with their talk. 
  • Include high interest, timely talks like the measles outbreaks, diversity and inclusion in the course content, ASM safety updates and the latest clinical techniques. 
  • Be flexible to revise timing and schedules to optimize attendance. We try not to overlap with popular general sessions that appeal to all attendees.
  • Try new things! We incorporated student poster speed talks a couple of years ago and this has become a favorite.
  • Foster a safe environment for new presenters and faculty to present topics.
  • Incorporate updates from ASMCUE, JMBE and ASM in general. 

The Challenges of Planning a Mini-ASMCUE Conference

  • Non-clinical educators are not motivated by continuing education credits, so appeal to other professional development needs or requirements by asking them what they would like to learn about. 
  • The balance of serving a diverse group of educators like community college educators who typically teach microbiology to allied health pre-majors, university educators who typically teach microbiology to microbiology and/or biology majors, and clinical educators who are teaching microbiology to MLT or CLS students. To tackle the challenge, rotate offerings of the academic talks, clinical talks and educational research talks.
  • Our educator session and student session overlap, which has limited the time that educators are able to view the posters and talk with the presenting students. It has often prevented the students’ advisors from attending our session as well.
  • Building attendance with educators from all institution types.

Adaptations for Planning a Mini-Conference During COVID-19 and the Future

This year, the SCASM Annual Meeting is virtual with sessions over several days. Therefore, our mini-ASMCUE is not part of the streamlined sessions offered to meet the core clinical continuing education audience. Instead, we are planning a virtual session on the transition to online teaching. Some of the adjustments we made are: 
  • Including topics like online labs and assessment, and sharing teaching and learning strategies and solutions. 
  • Have some faculty serve as judges to the student posters to support their session and increase collaboration.
  • Provide faculty access to the posters and to attend the virtual speaker sessions. 
Serendipitously, this combines some ideas we’ve had for the future with a desire to bring the educators and students together, support educators who teach at all levels and foster exchange of ideas between instructors with more diverse experiences. We know that being close to the students will inform our teaching and keep those of us who aren’t involved in academic, clinical or education research, updated on the current needs of students entering our fields. Even though COVID-19 has disrupted our normal mini-ASMCUE, we are excited to pursue a new model that will keep the best of our original model and connect educators with students in impactful new ways. Wish us luck! We wish it for you!

Author: Kelly Burke, M.S.

Kelly Burke, M.S.
Kelly Carrillo Burke is a professor and Microbiology Coordinator in the Biological and Environmental Sciences Department at College of the Canyons, Santa Clarita, Calif.