General Microbiology

Janelle Barbier, Biology
Skyline College


This is an introductory microbiology course that covers morphology, taxonomy, ecology, and physiology of microorganisms; with emphasis on bacteria. Laboratory techniques on culture and identification of bacteria are used to augment lecture content. This course is recommended for agriculture, biochemistry, nursing, pre-medical and pre-dental, biotechnology engineering, and other life science majors

Course URL: []
Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with one prerequisite; completion of a college laboratory course. It is a required course for students entering allied health fields such as nursing, and is also often required for fields in biotechnology and environmental science. Typically, most of the students are pre-nursing majors (~90%.) This is a very demanding course and is difficult to succeed in without a moderate background in basic biology and chemistry.

Course Content:

This course gives an overview of several topics that pertain to microorganisms such as: cell structure, metabolism, molecular processes, biotechnology, applied and industrial topics, and an overview of human and microorganism interactions. The course has a focus on clinal aspects as most students are interested in allied health. The course does explore topics in environmental microbiology in both lecture and lab, including water and food testing and water treatment. Genetic engineering is also discussed and looked at in a transformation lab.

Course Goals:

Currently, students learn a great deal about the clinical aspects of microbiology in this course. I am working on expanding the environmental aspects of microbiology as they pertain to sustainability in the future. One topic I have incorporated more of is biofuels. For this topic:
  1. Students will be able to describe fuel sources created by living organisms (biofuels.)
  2. Students will be able to explain the benefits of using renewable resources as opposed to using nonrenewable resources.
  3. Students will integrate data from a graph on biofuel production and use those data to predict the optimal environment for biofuel production.
  4. Students will be able to design the basic structure of a bioreactor designed to sustain living organisms producing fuel sources.

Course Features:

All topics in the course center around active learning. For the goals in the 'biofuel' unit, several strategies are used to assist students in reaching these goals.
  1. Challenge statements are used as before an after discussions throughout the course. Here, the statement, "Fuel sources are always man made," is given to the students before the unit on biofuels. They are directed to write about whether they agree or disagree with the statement and explain why. They then discuss their ideas with a partner and take turns sharing with the entire class. A lecture is then delivered by the professor on the topic, and after the lecture, the same statement is analyzed.
  2. Journal Article: The instructor assigns a journal article on biofuel production for students to read before class. During class, students work in small groups to analyze the data presented in the paper, as well as discuss the experimental design used. The class then comes together for a large group discussion to cover these topics. Link to article:
  3. Metabolism - This is a precursor topic needed to understand optimal environments for growing organisms in bioreactors. Students have several lecture and lab exercises around this topic, discussions on results obtained from lab, and worksheets done during lecture to help organize the contents of metabolic pathways.

Course Philosophy:

This course was designed to center around active learning strategies that incorporate student equity after I completed an intensive 3 day workshop on active learning, equity, and assessment. Peer interactions and instructor-student interactions dominate the instructional time. A focus on obtaining participation from ALL members of the course is carried throughout the semester by utilizing discussions, small group projects, and research presentations. The lab portion of the course centers around group learning as well.

The course must cover topics that center around human health. However, I have recently moved to cover more topics involving sustainability and the environment. I feel I am successful at presenting information and fostering discussions around renewable resources and genetically engineering organisms that can benefit the environment. I feel I do not have the experience or knowledge to promote action in these areas as much as I would like, which is why I am seeking help from colleagues and institutes to increase my effectiveness in these areas.


Assessments for the 'biofuel' unit take place in several ways.
1. Challenge Statements: This allows the instructor to analyze thoughts by students before and after a topic is presented and gives insight into any misconceptions students may come in to class with. Blue books are kept by every student with these statements and turned in to the instructor for analysis.

2. Small Group Discussions: This allows the instructor to observe discussion on data analysis and assess if students understand the underlying result of the data.

3. Exams: The topics are tested on exams after the active learning process

Overall, assessment takes on many forms throughout the semester. Four exams are administered on lecture and lab content that consist of multiple choice, short answer, and data analysis questions. Online assessments are given individually to assess learning periodically. Students are asked to write several papers that center on scientific literacy and data analysis. Before submitting final papers, instruction and practice exercises are given in locating credible resources and interpreting graphs from scientific literature. Students also work in pairs at the end of the semester to present information on a specific disease.


Syllabus for General Microbiology (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 179kB Oct11 17)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

"Microbiology: An Introduction" Tortora and Case
I also provide chapters from free online sources (Open Resources) that I feel bridge the gap in equity that arises from high textbook costs. As an example, here is a link to the chapter on 'Environmental Microbiology' that I provide: