Microbiology at UNE Online: BIOL 1020

Post Baccalaureate Microbiology at UNE Online: BIOL 1020 Microbiology for Health Professions (BIOL 1020) is an online course taken by many post-grad students looking to fill a gap in their transcript.

We spoke with course designer and instructor Dr. Marta Frisardi about the course standards, the types of schools that accept this UNE Online microbiology course as a prerequisite, and about some of the labs that students will be required to conduct.

Can you tell me a little bit about the microbiology course?

This is the sixth year we have offered microbiology at UNE Online. Initially, the course used a virtual lab, but we have since moved to a hands-on style of lab format. We’ve found that for this particular course it helps the students grasp the concepts more deeply. Manipulating the actual lab equipment also teaches students industry-standard lab skills and how to correctly use the same lab equipment that they would find in an on-campus microbiology lab course.

Students are able to rapidly progress through the material and master the course content because, although microbiology is self-paced and designed to be completed in 16 weeks, many students choose to complete the course far more quickly in order to meet application deadlines for their graduate programs.

It’s important to note that this course requires the student to grow microbes – and growing microbes takes time. The absolute minimum time needed to complete the labs has been found to be 6 full weeks. Most students take longer. And if the student has an issue with their microbe and needs to grow another culture, the time of completion will be longer than 6 weeks.

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Can you give me an example of one of the new labs?

Each lab is designed both to meet the learning objectives of the lesson and also to meet the overall learning objectives of the course. The course teaches a series of techniques and an appreciation for the fact that microbes are ubiquitous.

Students work with three different microbes – two bacterial species and one eukaryotic yeast species – and they take these through a series of selected biochemical tests and differential media. They look at the microbes’ characteristics and they will grow them under different conditions, test them for whether they are motile, test to see whether they ferment particular carbohydrates, and they will also test them for sensitivity to a particular antibiotic.

Students conduct these manipulations and biochemical tests right in their homes and then interpret and analyze their results. It’s a very robust lab that touches upon all of the basic learning objectives that are expected to be covered in a microbiology course for the health sciences.

Can you Google the lab answers?

No, that won’t help at all. Students have to do the experiments. That’s the point. The lab is designed not to simply have students analyze the content and learn the basic background behind each of the tests they will be carrying out or the characteristics they will be studying of these microorganisms. The lab is designed to actually have the students carry out the experiments, generate data, and extrapolate conclusions from their results.

For example, sometimes students will experience contamination because they haven’t followed the proper aseptic technique – and that’s all part and parcel of the learning process, so it’s ok if that happens. But students have to document their results as well. They have to take photos of their cultures and label the specimens properly. They have to indicate in a tabular format what their results are, and then come to a conclusion about what the results are telling them. In their submitted lab report, students must independently research and use correct citations for all of their reference materials as well.

In the laboratory final exam, students are tested on questions that pertain to the basis of the background of the labs. Because each lab experiment has been carried out by UNE already, there is a series of photographs of results, many of which are in the lab final exam. Some of the questions ask the student to evaluate a photograph of one of the stages of a lab and extrapolate their conclusion based on the result. The images from the final should be very similar to the images the student-generated on their own – or at the very least what they should understand, even if their experiment was not successful.

Can you give some examples of experiments that students will be required to perform?

One particular lab looks at food safety and commercial milk products. A student will open a container of milk and keep it in the refrigerator for a week, and then they culture that milk and compare it with a freshly-opened container of milk. Among other learning outcomes, this simple experiment demonstrates in a practical way that pasteurization does not eliminate bacteria.

Another common food we test is lettuce. Students culture unwashed lettuce directly from the store, then they wash the lettuce and culture whatever bacteria remains on the surface. This serves as a practical demonstration of the significant difference between “pre-washed” lettuce from the store, and the lettuce they’ve washed at home.

One lab requires students to swab a variety of surfaces in their own home environment including the keyboard of their computer, their cell phone, and the handle on the refrigerator, to see for themselves what types of microbes can be cultured.

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What do students who take this microbiology lab course generally move on to?

Students completing this course move on to various types of graduate schools and programs, with most students moving on into some type of healthcare or animal care program.

Students’ backgrounds vary broadly. Some are in sports medicine, some have a degree in biology, some work in psychology, some have a baccalaureate in athletic training, and so on. So they may have taken a variety of other science courses, but not microbiology.

Dozens of graduate schools refer their applicants directly to UNE Online if the student needs a class or two to qualify for admission into their health science program.

Are your students generally undergraduate-level, or graduate-level?

This is intended to be a post-baccalaureate class, so most students take this class after they have earned their bachelor’s degree. Many students find themselves in need of a lab science course in order to get into Physician’s Assistant school, dental school, medical school, a nursing program, pharmacy school, veterinary school or other graduate programs. Some other professions that might require this course are the fields of nutrition, neuroscience, food science, psychology, forensics, water quality testing, and genetic counseling.

Students, however, don’t strictly need to have an undergraduate degree to take this course. There are many undergraduates enrolled right now who are using the course to fill a gap in their transcript in order to complete their undergraduate degree.

Many people who take this course are students who have had diverse life experiences between the time they earned their undergraduate degree and their decision to go on to a grad school. We also have a lot of students who are changing their majors, and a lot of students realizing they really like a field that they stumbled upon and they are now a technician or an assistant or a volunteer. We also have a lot of older students who are in the midst of a career change and need to complete a science prerequisite.

By what standard was this course designed?

This online microbiology course was designed according to the standards of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). Their website lists a series of learning objectives that should be sought after in any college-level introductory microbiology course. The ASM guidelines are where we started with our course design, and that is important because when the ASM publishes learning objectives like that, textbook publishers follow.

The guidelines ensure that once you take BIOL 1020, Microbiology for Health Professions, you have been exposed to a body of knowledge curated by industry professionals and agreed upon by major universities, learning institutions and professional programs. Successfully completing the course signifies that you have an understanding of these learning objectives.

Does this course prepare you for the MCAT?

This course is not a review class, but it is helpful in conjunction with a self-study or review course for the MCAT topics.

Is this online microbiology course accepted by most universities?

The answer is yes. At this point, we have been offering BIOL 1020 for more than six years, and it’s pretty well known around higher education circles. Most health science graduate programs understand the quality of this microbiology course that we offer here at UNE Online – and we are committed to continually improving it and continuing to exceed national educational standards.

I have one or two students each month email me with this question. I refer them to the website where they can read more information about the course, including a list of topics covered in the lectures and labs and a link to request the syllabus. And, of course, I’m always happy to speak directly with program directors and deans – and I have, in the past.

Thank you to Dr. Frisardi for taking the time to answer these questions about UNE’s online microbiology course.

Click here for Dr. Marta Frisardi’s official University of New England bio – or to read a little more about her teaching style, read her Faculty Spotlight right here on the Vision Blog.

If you are interested in the online Science Prerequisites for the Health Professions course offerings or if you would like more information, please don’t hesitate to reach out to an enrollment counselor via email at prehealth@une.edu or by phone by calling (855) 325-0894 if you were to have any questions.

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