Field of Science

Preparing for Eukaryotic Microbiology Class

For the second year in a row, my advanced microbiology course, Eukaryotic Microbiology, is up and running. Technically this is the 11th iteration of the course, but the second year I'm going to try and blog about the course concomitantly. So the website is went live to students today and has a bunch of business related things about the course and a the first few weeks of modules available.

Before we met, in just under two weeks, there is an online quiz and a number of introductory papers for the course as a primer for the students. The papers are:
Figure 1 from the Hug paper

I ask the students to read the Burki paper first, which is a great overview of the current eukaryotic tree and how it was established. The Koonin and McInerney next, followed by the Williams and Forterre papers. There's a fair bit of overlap among the Koonin, McInerney, and Williams papers that I suggest they skim through. Once those are done, I ask that they read through the Hug paper, which is the only primary research paper of the list. Finally,  the Cavalier-Smith paper on what is a eukaryotic cell in some detail.

I particularly like the two papers by Williams and Forterre as they basically argue different things. This allows me to introduce ambiguity into the course from the beginning, which I think is important. One of my goals is to teach students to think critically about the science they read. This is quite difficult as I think the students have been taught that if it's written in a textbook or scientific paper, it must be correct. Here, I am giving the students two papers, written the same year, that argue two different points of view. Logically they cannot both be correct. It will be interesting to see if this helps students get over the hurdle of being able to question authority or not. 


Rosie Redfield said...

One really good way to start students questioning what they read is to give them some BAD papers. This means starting with garbage papers from journals you would never usually stoop to read. It's especially fun if you don't read the paper yourself, as if you were the Editor of the journal and they were the peer reviewers.

The Lorax said...

I like that idea and we do use some less than ideal papers during the semester, but I like to start off with what I think are generally high quality papers with analyzable data (i.e. not omics-type papers). I want to avoid teaching students to find easy/obvious discrepancies or shoddy results at the beginning of the semester.

I may try to integrate the peer review/editor system later in the semester though.

Unknown said...

The ambiguity issue is so important (as is the published garbage). This is why I so highly recommend your course. I think it does something for undergraduates that they don't normally get until graduate school (if they go) and if they don't go to graduate school....they may never get it.

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