Small World Initiative
Home | People | Laboratory Materials | Teaching Materials | Evaluation | Partners | FAQ | M2M
Welcome to the Web Portal of the Small World Initiative: Crowdsourcing the Discovery of Antibiotics.
** We are excited to host 24 individuals from 24 institutions around the country next week for our Small World Initiative Pilot Training workshop **
The Need for Undergraduate Reserach Courses
Numerous expert panels have recommended expanding research experiences for students at the introductory levels of science. For example, the report from the PCAST report, “Engage to Excel,” and the AAAS/NSF report, Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education, recommended replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses. Recommendations are based on education research demonstrating that students benefit from early research experiences in numerous ways, including persistence in science majors.
Currently, most undergraduates are first exposed to a laboratory when taking an introductory lecture course and perform techniques and experiments with predetermined results. Research must wait until the last two years of college, which is too late to affect students’ decisions about whether to leave science majors. In contrast, the reports suggest that the benefits of an early research experience can be best attained through the research courses which are more appropriate and feasible for most introductory students than research in faculty labs. Thus, we developed an introductory biology course, From Microbes to Molecules (M2M), in which student learning is driven by their engagement in original research.
The Antibiotic Crisis
The antibiotic pipeline has slowed to a trickle because the interests of most pharmaceutical companies have shifted toward lucrative drugs for chronic diseases and away from acute infectious disease. Moreover, many of the antibiotics currently in use are losing efficacy due to the development of widespread antibiotic resistance in pathogens. This health crisis creates a vehicle for drawing students into the practice of research as well as the societal implications of its outcomes. Studies have shown that the relevance of research to human welfare enhances students' motivation and learning, and the effect is particularly strong among women and certain ethnic minority groups, who represent a large talent pool that is underrepresented in scientific majors, in part due to current teaching practices.
Thus, with the driving force of providing an authentic research experience early and a relevant research project that addresses a worldwide health threat, we have created an undergraduate research course designed specifically for freshman and sophomore students. This novel research course, Small World Initiative, teaches students the principles of introductory biology by engaging them actively in a research project that examines antibiotic-producing microbes obtained from soil. About 75% of antibiotics in current use originate from soil bacteria. Thus, the focus on the discovery of new antibiotics produced by soil microbes connects the antibiotic crisis and infectious disease to broad biological principles. It also provides an opportunity for student ownership of research strategies and results, another well-known factor that fosters student learning and retention.
Other research-based undergraduate courses:
Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory (REAL) Course
• Strobel, S.A. & G.A. Strobel. (2007). Plant endophytes as a platform for discovery-based undergraduate science education. Nature Chemical Biology 3, 356 – 359.