Article 2: Hybrid learning for undergraduate students

Title: Designing Blended Inquiry Learning in a Laboratory Context: A Study of Incorporating Hands-On and Virtual Laboratories.

Author: Eva Erdosne Toth, Becky L. Morrow and Lisa R. Ludvico

Journal: Innovative Higher Education

Publication date: 2009

This quarter I have been learning about theories of teaching and learning, and a question that came up was “how would you design your ideal classroom?” With all the technological innovations that I’ve learned about in Internet for Educators, I definitely want to integrate some sort of digital component into my ideal classroom. The paper I’m reviewing today is a case study on the use of virtual laboratories in addition to regular, hands-on laboratory work; I have toyed with the idea of implementing this environment for some time.

Toth, Morrow and Ludvico identify a common problem in teaching biological sciences: experiments are often carried out in order to learn experimental protocols, but do nothing to support student’s “active, inquiry-based discovery”. They define inquiry-based discovery as a learning experience based on building essential scientific skills: asking questions, using evidence to address these questions, connecting the answers to prior knowledge, and communicating the results to the community. The goal of their study was to determine if the combination of hands-on and virtual labs would provide these learning benefits.

It turns out that the virtual lab had students focus on the specific mechanism of the experiment, allowing them to internalize the knowledge without any external variables affecting the core of the process. On the other hand, the hands-on lab allowed the students to refine their manual skills, measuring skills, and practical reasoning through troubleshooting. The students commented that they enjoyed the virtual lab’s ease, speed, and illustrative nature; and they preferred to complete the virtual lab before the hands-on lab.

Hybrid learning is based on many of the NETS standards. The environment helped students explore a real-world issue and improved students’ conceptual understanding of the material (NETS-T 1) thanks to the digital experience of the laboratory (NETS-T 2). The instructor exhibited fluency in digital tools that support student success (NETS-T 3). The instructor improved their own practice, and this study can be used as a model for future classes, so it is contributing to the effectiveness of the teaching profession (NETS-T 6). This article is a perfect example of why a blended environment is ideal for advancing learning in the digital age.


Toth, E., Morrow, B. L., & Ludvico, L. R. (2009). Designing Blended Inquiry Learning in a Laboratory Context: A Study of Incorporating Hands-On and Virtual Laboratories. Innovative Higher Education, 33(5), 333-344.

Article 1: Video and hybrid learning for undergraduate students

Title: Video Lectures through Voice-Over PowerPoint in a Majors-Level Biology Course. 

Author: Nathan H. Lents and Oscar E. Cifuentes

Journal: Journal Of College Science Teaching

Publication date: November-December 2009

The paper I chose to read this week talks about two overlapping learning mediums: video and hybrid learning.

I am currently learning about designing and teaching online courses. I have had doubts about my ability to engage my students in the content from a distance. The web environment places more personal responsibility on the student than on the teacher, as Lents and Cifuentes observe. In addition, my discipline requires laboratory experiences to increase comprehension and connection to the student’s life and future career. Simply replacing these experiences with computer simulations may not be enough. The authors lobby for a “middle ground”: the introduction of web-delivered video lectures to replace a portion of traditional classroom lecturers.

Lents and Cifuentes identify some problems with this approach: there is no record of attendance, students won’t get instant feedback to clear up misunderstandings, the delivery is inherently less engaging, and there is less social interaction (2009). Still, they ran their experiment. They prepared an experimental and a control group of students to take their basic majors Biology course. They would measure student success by their exam results. The software they used for the video lectures was Camtasia.

Student accessing computer for learning

Student accessing computer for learning. Image source:

The students who received the video lectures did poorly in their first exam. The instructor then had a discussion about the process of learning by video lecture. The students who were against the video lectures replied that they had trouble staying focused. However, many students were enjoying the video lectures and found several advantages to them: they could pause frequently to take notes and check their textbooks and they could re-watch the lecture several times. After their discussion session, the grades of the experimental group improved greatly.

Students taking notes at their own pace

Students taking notes at their own pace. Image source:

Before the third exam, the students answered a survey to choose the delivery method for the last portion of the course. They decided that a normal lecture would be delivered AND recorded for web posting, so students could choose the method that worked for them: this was reflected in their high grades. Lents and Cifuentes conclude that the introduction of web-based video instruction can be used successfully.

This project was a digital-age learning experience (NETS-T 2) because the instructor developed a technology-enriched learning environment, and personalized the delivery method to reach different types of learners; plus the researchers used the data from their experiment to improve teaching and learning.  The instructor delivered the lecture by using a digital age medium, demonstrating fluency in the technology (NETS-T 3, Model Digital-Age Work and Learning).  The most important part of the project for me, was that the instructor identified a problem with the delivery method and then discussed it with the students and involved them in the decision to change it.  I think this was in line with NETS-T 4, Promote and Model Digital Citizenship and Responsiblity, specifically “address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources”.


Lents, N. H., & Cifuentes, O. E. (2009). Web-Based Learning Enhancements: Video Lectures through Voice-Over PowerPoint in a Majors-Level Biology Course. Journal Of College Science Teaching39(2), 38-46.

Article 2: Social networking for undergraduate students

Title: Twitter as a teaching practice to enhance active and informal learning in higher education: The case of sustainable tweets

Author: Eva Kassens-Noor

Journal: Active Learning in Higher Education

Publication date: February 28, 2012

A study by sociologists at the University of Alabama examined multitasking with social activities while doing schoolwork, and discovered that using facebook and texting negatively affected student GPAs.  Educators have confiscated cell phones for years and warned students about the dangers of oversharing information in social media sites. Now, as the net generation becomes the teachers and the principals, we are beginning to see a shift in these attitudes.  Proponents of the shift offer a very simple solution: give students something to do that’s class-related on those same platforms, which then become a powerful teaching tool instead of a distraction.

President Obama tweeting

Even the president tweets!

In her study, Kassens-Noor proposes exactly that. She offered groups of students the choice of a) using twitter in an assignment as their only communication mechanism, b) doing one in-class discussion and keeping diaries, or c) writing a 5000 word essay (thankfully, no one chose the last option). The twitter group had strict criteria to meet  to get credit for the assignment (e.g., tweet daily, each answer to a tweet must add on to or refute previous data, must turn in a printout of all tweets, etc.) She found that twitter fostered communication and prolonged engagement in the learning process. The students found and shared more data than the traditional group, but they had slightly less knowledge retension. Another limitation she found was the character limit- which might have constrained critical thinking and self-reflection. Kassens-Noor ‘s study showcases several NETS standards. She inspired student learning and creativity by engaging with her students in a virtual environment, following NETS-T 1 (d).  She also adapted the learning experience to a digital tool, as described in NETS-T 2 (a). Her students demonstrated a good understanding of the technology (NETS-S 6), and used it appropriately for collaboration (NETS-S 2).

I do not have twitter at the moment, but I’m up to trying it out in my classroom. I would use it as an instant feedback tool for student-teacher communication. I think it would foster a feeling of community and openness much faster than class interaction alone. The disadvantages of using twitter really seem to depend on the content. If critical, in-depth thinking is required from the students, twitter is probably an unsuitable tool.


Junco, R., Cotten, S. (2012). No A 4 U: The relationship between multitasking and academic performance. Computers & Education, 59(2),  pp. 505-514.

Kassens-Noor, E. (2012). Twitter as a teaching practice to enhance active and informal learning in higher education: The case of sustainable tweets. Active Learning in Higher Education, 13(1), pp. 9-21 doi: 10.1177/1469787411429190

Article 1: Social networking for undergraduate students

Title: Social media and microbiology education

Author: Vincent R. Racaniello

Journal: PLoS Pathogens

Publication date: October 2010

Social media is unavoidable on college campuses. Students are constantly looking for the latest news from their peers and the world through the use of facebook, twitter, blogs and internet portals. A quick look at Alexa’s top 25 sites on the web gives us Facebook as the most popular site in the world (no. 2 in the US), followed by YouTube, Yahoo!, Twitter and LinkedIn a little further down, as well as Blogspot and WordPress. The analytics reveal that many users access these websites at school.

Alexa's entry for Facebook

The most popular site in the world is primarily accessed at schools.

In his paper, Vincent Racaniello proposes to use these digital tools to facilitate learning. He talks about his experiences with blogging and podcasting- which are very similar to the model we’re following in this class. Racaniello wished to reach a large number of students of Microbiology, and so he began writing a blog covering news stories about viruses, as well as the results of his research. The social aspect of the blog was in the comments- visitors often developed a dialogue inspired by Racaniello’s posts. Later, he added weekly podcasts with expert hosts to the mix to further support student learning. His approach was consistent with many NETS standard. He inspired learning and creativity by engaging with students (high school, college, graduate and medical, colleagues and the general public in a virtual environment (NETS-T 1 (d). He also adapted the learning experience to a digital tool to promote student learning, reaching NETS-T 2 (a). He demonstrated fluency in digital technologies and communicated effectively using two different digital formats, which covers NETS-T 3 (a) and (c). Finally, he was a leader in building his digital learning community, which covers NETS-T 5 (b).

Although Racaniello used blogging and podcasting primarily for the benefit of the general public, instructors could certainly follow his example when designing their own course.


Racaniello, V. (2010). Social media and microbiology education. PloS Pathogens, 6(10): e1001095. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1001095

Article 2: Project-based learning for undergraduate students

Title: Increasing awareness about antibiotic use and resistance: a hands-on project for high school students

Author: Maria João Fonseca, Catarina L. Santos, Patrício Costa, Leonor Lencastre, Fernando Tavares

Journal: PLoS One

Publication date: September 12, 2012

Theme for Weeks 4 and 5: Project-based learning for undergraduate students

Antibiotic resistance has become such a hot topic in Biology and Healthcare, that there is an incredible amount of resources available to educate both the general public and specialized students. I chose this project, “Microbiology recipes: antibiotics a la carte”, because it includes a mix of interactive lectures and laboratory activities that covers all the bases in a practical, engaging way.

Let me get this out of the way: the authors intended this project to be carried out by high school students aged 15-17, but I believe that it will have similar benefits in undergraduate students aged 17-20. The main reason they decided to target this to high school students was to help them transition to more sophisticated conceptualizations of bacteria and antibiotics, which might be challenging due to their abstract nature. This level of instruction is ideal for a lower-level undergraduate Biology course.

The project began with an overview of the activities to be performed and basic laboratory safety training. Subsequent lectures provided the background for the wet lab activities, and introduced students to the use of bioinformatics for finding genes that code for antibiotic resistance. Students also analyzed scientific articles to learn about the format for reporting data within the scientific community. The wet labs consisted of acquainting students with basic techniques used for manipulating microorganisms (something I would probably cover at the beginning of my course), and then assaying antibiotic resistance using commercial and natural antibiotics.

The researchers assessed the effectiveness of their project through the use of surveys (pre- and post-project questionnaires), direct observation, and evaluation of artifacts produced by the students. They found that students improved their laboratory skills, refined their knowledge of antibiotic resistance and were eager to share their experience with relatives and friends.

The project facilitated and inspired student learning (NETS-T 1) because students were engaged in a real-world issue, and used digital resources to learn about the science behind antibiotic resistance. Because of the inclusion of bioinformatics tools, I would say it was a digital age learning experience (NETS-T 2). Students developed research and information fluency (NETS-S 3) as they had to evaluate scientific literature to learn about how to use and organize their experimental results .

As an educator, I have covered this topic before, but never in such an encompassing fashion. This article gives me great guidelines to follow when preparing my own antibiotic resistance module.

Fonseca M.J., Santos C.L., Costa P., Lencastre L., Tavares F. (2012). Increasing awareness about antibiotic use and resistance: A hands-on project for high school students. PLoS ONE, 7(9): e44699. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044699

Article 1: Project-based learning for undergraduate students

Title: An open-ended, inquiry-based approach to environmental microbiology

Author: Frank Caccavo, Jr.

Journal: The American Biology Teacher

Publication date: November-December 2011

Theme for Weeks 4 and 5: Project-based learning for undergraduate students

As an undergraduate student of Microbiology, most of my classes had a similar format: in addition to lectures, we had laboratories at least once a week where we explored techniques related to the weekly topics. These were self-contained (“cookbook”) lab exercises which were only meant to facilitate skill acquisition and familiarize us with the principles behind the science. This approach shifted when I became a graduate student and we began to tackle collaborative semester-long projects. Caccavo proposes that we follow this model when we teach undergraduate students, and gives a detailed report of his experience implementing this approach.

Student teams were encouraged to pick their own research topics. When they picked wastewater treatment, the instructor covered the content and took the students on a fieldtrip to the local plant: this gave students enough knowledge to be able to narrow down their research topic.

Students were introduced to the scientific method and basic laboratory techniques. Then, they collected literature on the topic so that they could get an idea of what has been done within the field, and think of which angles to pursue experimentally. Their next step was to submit a research proposal in order for them to “organize their thoughts, focus their efforts, and provide a structural framework for the execution of their experiment” (Caccavo, 2011).

At this point, students could finally begin their lab work! This was my favorite part of the learning experience, because undergraduate students often don’t realize that scientific work involves hours of work outside of the laboratory. In the end, as with any research project, they had to present their results to an audience via posters.

Students completing a lab experiment

Image source: University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, from

The project applies many of the NETS standards to the learning experience. Firstly, it facilitated and inspired student learning (NETS-T 1) because the instructor promoted a creative, collaborative environment that had students solving real-world problems. Students demonstrated they could explore a complex issue to produce original research (NETS-S 1, Creativity and Innovation). They developed research and information fluency (NETS-S 3) as they had to gather, evaluate and use scientific literature to plan their project. They improved their critical thinking, problem solving and decision making skills (NETS-S 4) since they were in charge of identifying the problem, developing appropriate questions, and planning and performing all experiments. This is all tied together by communication and collaboration (NETS-S 2).

Two more things make this project stand out for me. The first one is that the instructor is a supporter and not a director- the students are in charge of their own learning.  The second one is that the project helped students decide whether science was something they wanted to pursue as a career or not. As Caccavo puts it, “the best way to learn science is by doing science” (2011), and students should get the chance to experience a real research environment firsthand.



Caccavo, F. (2011). An open-ended, inquiry-based approach to environmental microbiology. The American Biology Teacher73(9), 521-525. doi: 10.1525/abt.2011.73.9.4

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