Microbiology Society's 2023 Teaching Symposium: A Journey of Engagement and Innovation

Posted on November 8, 2023   by Dr Monika Gostic

Dr Monika Gostic takes us behind the scenes of their latest publication 'Reflections on the Teaching Symposium at the Microbiology Society Annual Conference 2023' published in Access Microbiology.

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In the realm of science education and outreach, the Microbiology Society's Teaching Symposium is a yearly pilgrimage for those passionate about microbiology. This year's Symposium, held in the heart of the bustling Microbiology Society Annual Conference, was nothing short of an exhilarating journey into the world of teaching and engagement.

Setting the Stage: Engaging with Gen Z

As the Symposium curtains rose, attendees were greeted by a dynamic opening act led by Tina Joshi, a microbiologist with a flair for captivating her audience. She understood that the Gen Z generation, those born between 1996 and 2010, craved content that resonated with their fast-paced, digital lives. Tina's secret weapon? The hit reality TV show, "Love Island," which she skilfully weaved into discussions on potential disease transmission. It was a brilliant reminder that relevance and authenticity can be the keys to unlocking the minds of the Instagram generation.

But Tina's insights were just the beginning. Alison Cottell took the stage, navigating the tricky waters of teaching epidemiology during a global pandemic. She encouraged educators to embrace the real-world experience their students had gained. She championed the use of authentic assessments, such as debunking fake news on Instagram, as a way to keep students engaged despite the "epidemiology fatigue" that had gripped the world.

Interactive Learning: Where Science Comes Alive

The morning session unfolded with a spotlight on active learning. Nicholas Harmer showcased the art of providing students with individual datasets for assessments, a practice that not only makes learning authentic but also benefits from automated marking. Gemma Wattret introduced specialized employability software, “Shortlist Me”, as a tool to bridge the gap between academia and the real world.

Jerry Reen's session took a delightful twist. He began teaching students how to construct representations of plasmids with physical jigsaw puzzles before plunging them into the realm of virtual reality. The lesson was clear: repetition and multiple teaching modalities can be a potent combination.

Game-based learning, a recurring theme from previous years, made a resounding return. David Negus won accolades for his board game illustrating the antibiotic development pipeline, a creative way to educate students about the challenges in developing new antibiotics. And Maitreyi Shivkumar turned science outreach into an interactive escape room adventure, showcasing antiviral drug discovery in a way that was both entertaining and educational.

Art Meets Science: A Symphony of Creativity

In the afternoon, the Symposium explored the power of partnerships outside microbiology. Joanna Verran shared a remarkable citizen science project centred around kombucha, uniting professionals from diverse fields. Chloe James, in turn, highlighted the magic that happens when artists collaborate with scientists to create immersive installations of video, sound, and sculpture.

But perhaps the most striking collaboration came from Briony Thomas and Morgan Herod, who brought designers and scientists together to co-create physical and virtual virus models (Figure 1). Their work proved that science can be both beautiful and effective when seen through the lens of art.

Reaching Beyond Academia: Impacting Young Minds

Linda Oyama's awe-inspiring journey took her to over 2,600 primary school children in Northern Ireland, even during the challenging times of the pandemic. Her dedication and innovation shone brightly as she delivered authentic outreach activities that left a lasting impression.

Diane Ashiru-Oredope shared a treasure trove of public engagement resources, spanning from primary school children to healthcare workers. Two standouts were e-Bug, an online repository of activities to educate children about antibiotic resistance, and the Antibiotic Guardian scheme, an invitation for the public and professionals to pledge actions for better antibiotic use.

Reflections: Building a Community

As the Symposium drew to a close, it was clear that this wasn't just an event - it was a community. Attendees reflected on the Symposium's friendly and inclusive atmosphere, where knowledge was shared, networks were forged, and inspiration ran free.

The Symposium organizers went the extra mile to foster inclusivity, using an anonymous online platform for questions and setting up cabaret-style seating to encourage interaction. The diversity in presentation formats and durations kept the audience engaged throughout the day.

A Promising Future

The Teaching Symposium had a broader goal: to increase the visibility and accessibility of pedagogy and outreach research within the microbiology community. With sponsorship from Access Microbiology, it provided an implied pathway to publication. Presenters were encouraged to share their research as peer-reviewed publications, a move well-received by the audience.

In conclusion, the Teaching Symposium was a resounding success. Delegates expressed a clear desire to see it retained as a parallel session in future conferences. This journey into the world of microbiology education and outreach left attendees inspired and eager to implement new ideas in their teaching and outreach efforts. It's a testament to the power of bringing together educators, scientists, and enthusiasts to create a supportive and impactful community. The Symposium has set its course for a promising future, where education and outreach in microbiology continue to shine brightly.

Image: Briony Thomas presenting her collaborative research on art in science with tactile models in the foreground. Photographs are owned by the Microbiology Society and were taken during the Teaching Symposium at the Microbiology Society Annual Conference 2023. Permission for the photographs to be used has been granted from the individuals depicted.