Field of Science

First Class in the Books

The state fair is over indicating the end of summer and the beginning of a new semester. I taught my first class today, which of course means I basically met the students and introduced them to the course. In other words, we went over the syllabus…kind of. The course I am talking about is Eukaryotic Microbiology, an upper division course that focuses/uses the primary literature to teach students about eukaryotic microbes, scientific thinking, argument, etc.

The third slide in this lecture is the following (from here with slight modification)
This slide gets used throughout the course but I use it in the Introduction lecture to highlight how little almost all students are familiarized with the diversity in the eukarya. Basically students are familiar with green plants at 12:05, fungi (except for the microsporidia) at 3:15, and the animals, including sponges, at 4:00. Other than the Opisthokonts (in blue) and a minor fraction of Archeaoplastids (in green), the vast vast diversity of the eukaryotic lineages are basically ignored in biology courses. Admittedly there is lip service played to Plasmodium falciparum (the primary agent of malaria) over in the Alveolates. But just look at how little is brought up! Of the eight major eukaryotic lineages, only two are routinely discussed, think of all the biology out there we know so little about! This, in my opinion, is incredibly exciting.

Aspects of this problem were recently brought up by Larry Moran and PZ Myers (by way of   Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra). Again all that diversity noted above falls into the choice C.

Now that I hopefully have instilled some small sense of awe or at least lighted a candle of interest in my students, we deal with the syllabus and some course specific issues. I do want to point out this course is writing intensive, which means a bunch of things but basically we do a fair amount of writing (surprising huh?).

There are two things we did today I want to mention. First, I asked them what their goals are in relation to the course. (Other than getting an A.) So I had them spend a couple of minutes writing down their thoughts and then we discussed them. This represents one easy way to get the students talking in a relatively stress free environment. Open discussions are an integral part of the course and the sooner I get students comfortable speaking up the better. My goals were: 1, to give the students a broad sense of that importance of eukaryotic microbiology; 2, to increase their fluency with the scientific literature; 3, to hone their critical thinking skills. I won't divulge the students' goals.

Second, we discussed plagiarism as it is a writing intensive course. I have found that students know what plagiarism is, but if you ask 20 students for a definition, you'll get 12 - 15 different variants. I also have the students write down what they think the consequence for plagiarism should be. This leads to yet another relatively stress free discussion and serves develop a sense of student ownership for the course. Once the discussion is complete, we agree to a definition and consequences that is posted onto the course website. This year we came up with:
The 4161W class of 2014 has agreed to define plagiarism as not giving credit for others' work, including words and ideas, that is not common knowledge.
and the penalty:
Students who are found to have plagiarized will receive an F on the assignment and be reported to the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity for the 1st offense. A subsequent offense will result in an F for the course and another report to the Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.
As normal for the first lecture, I did not get through everything. Luckily Friday allows time to finish up going over the course and to discuss our first paper. This discussion allows me to demonstrate what I expect of the students when they do presentations and gets the students started reading papers. The paper we discuss on Friday is:
Complementary adhesin function in C. albicans biofilm formation. Nobile CJ, Schneider HA, Nett JE, Sheppard DC, Filler SG, Andes DR, Mitchell AP.Curr Biol. 2008 Jul 22;18(14):1017-24. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.06.034.