Microbiology is a very visual subject and necessitates students visualising and working with living microorganisms. For full understanding of concepts and application of knowledge students require hands-on practical experience. Difficulty is often encountered in obtaining clinical material and students are at risk of exposure to potentially pathogenic microorganisms. These risks are even more pronounced when courses are taught externally, especially when providing practical experience for unsupervised students completing microbiology units at home.
This paper describes the development of the theoretical and practical program, the problems encountered and the health, safety and legal issues faced in developing Introductory Microbiology 1A through Open Learning Australia (OLA). The unit with its home-based practical kit is the first of its kind developed for the distance teaching of microbiology in Australia.
Open Learning Australia which was established in 1992 is now providing University accredited units to all Australians and international students who wish to participate. Fees charged are equivalent to the HECS contribution paid by traditional university students.
Of the many units now offered through Open Learning Australia, most are print-based but there are audio and video supplements as well as broadcast television components in some areas. All units offered until the end of 1994 were non-science and theoretically based. Introductory Microbiology 1A, offered in the first study period of 1995 by OLA became the first science unit with a hands-on practical component which the students could perform at home.
Microbiology is a very visual subject and requires opportunities for students to view and experiment with living organisms. Practical experience is essential for the understanding of concepts and applications of knowledge to the clinical laboratory and other related areas. The laboratory sessions involve considerable repetitive practical work and difficulty is experienced in the provision of clinical material essential for these practical classes especially with increased potential hazard to students from diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis. The problems are even more pronounced when microbiology courses are taught at a distance.
Laboratory based distance education courses usually have a requirement for student attendance at "residentials". However because of the large size of Australia, students can incur large travel costs as well as be incovenienced by the need to take leave from employment and family. When considering the provision of this essential experience for Introductory Microbiology 1A we were faced with the additional problem that this practical component would need to be completed at home.
Since 1990, distance education students taking microbiology in the degree nursing program have been able to complete a practically orientated science unit without the need to come onto campus. This was facilitated by our development of the first tertiary accredited telecourse in Australia (Fox & Edwards, 1990). The difficulties of providing a safe and pertinent program for this unit were overcome by students attending a two day work-experience session at the nearest accredited microbiology laboratory.
Further developments have included:
This paper will discuss some of the issues that had to be faced in the development and adaptation of every day materials and equipment for the unit as well as the health and safety issues.
The choices for delivery were:
The University of Southern Queensland had previously developed an external microbiology course without hands-on practical work which incorporated audio-tapes and photographs. However, we found this style of delivery did not satisfy our objectives. After much debate we eventually decided to use a print-based medium revolving around a very good commercial text for the delivery of the theoretical component.
On further consideration, we decided to reinvestigate the possibility of developing a home experimental kit with many of the materials being available from the local supermarket and which would have direct relevance to the home environment.
Five practicals are now offered in the unit:
The manual is accompanied by the practical kit which was designed around materials students could find in the home or buy at their local shop it contains minimal equipment and no microorganisms. The kit is contained in a small insulated cooler containing one cold brick. To date it has stood the test of the first mail out through hot weather and to students as far afield as Saudi Arabia.
The content of the practical manual was discussed with numbers of academics and the teenage children of staff members perused it for areas that needed possible further explanation or clarification. There are explicit directions for performing each practical, the handling of materials and cultures and the disposal of materials. We have spent considerable time running each practical under conditions present in the home. Our major headache has been disposal of potentially pathogenic material. We have conducted many in-use tests, using a variety of household disinfectants and chemicals. At all times we have needed to use standardised tests for these procedures and maintain impeccable logs always bearing in mind future legal repercussions.
The fungal practical, in particular, posed many ethical questions as to spore dispersion and possible risk of infection. We eventually designed a wet chamber from a two litre soft drink container which would permit observation of the growing moulds without risk to the student and which could be discarded in the garbage at the end of the experiment.
To date, we have not run into any problems. We remain in close contact with the students through telephone and written evaluations of each practical.
For the first time in Australia external students are able to complete actual hands-on practical components of microbiology at home without risk to themselves, family and friends.
Courntey, D. & Edwards, P. (1993). Testy bugs and testing nurses. In Herrmann, A. & Latchem, C. (Eds.), Sharing quality practice. Bentley: Teaching Learning Group, Curtin University.
Edwards, P. & Fox, R. (1993a). Interactive tutorials in clinical microbiology for nursing students. In Herrmann, A. & Latchem, C. (Eds.), Sharing quality practice. Bentley: Teaching Learning Group, Curtin University.
Edwards, P & Fox, R. (1993b). Enhancing the quality of teaching and learning through alternative teaching methods? A computer-assisted-learning case study. In M. S. Parer (Ed.), Academia under pressure. Theory and practice for the 21st century. Churchill: Higher Education and Development Society of Australia.
Fox, R. & Edwards, P. (1990). Microbes and the media: A telecourse for nurses. In R. J. Atkinson & U. C. McBeath (Eds.), Open learning and new technology: Conference proceedings (pp.147-153). Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology WA Chapter. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/gen/aset/confs/olnt90/fox.html
Gawthorne, J. (1990). Is distance education out-moded? National Distance Education Conference (roneo).
|Please cite as: Edwards, P. (1995). Wogs, bugs and grubs: Hands-on microbiology at home - an Open Learning Australia experience. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p73-78. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/edwards.html|