UniServe Science News Volume 9 March 1998


Electronic Companion to Beginning Microbiology

Mark O'Brien, School of Life Science, Queensland University of Technology


An Electronic Companion to Beginning Microbiology (ECBM) was developed by three highly respected American microbiology researchers and educators and has been specifically designed as a study guide to complement most introductory microbiology courses irrespective of the teaching strategy used or the textbook recommended. The software package consists of a CD-ROM with multimedia coverage of key concepts in both review and self-test modes together with a hardcopy workbook providing topic summaries, exercises, questions and answers for interactive study. Subject areas covered include: Microbiological methods; Microbial anatomy; growth and metabolism; Genetics; Microbial classification; Microbial diversity; Host defenses; Microbial diseases; Microbial pathogenesis; Disease control; Microbial ecology; and Uses of microorganisms. Technical support is available.

Facilities and capabilities of the package

The workbook, divided into 17 topics, consists of questions and answers arranged in a sequence similar to that of the CD-ROM topics. Each workbook topic also includes a self-assessment section with short answer/essay-type questions. A set of workbook answers is included as is a 12-page glossary. The workbook is predominantly text-based, but includes relevant annotated diagrams, graphs and tables.

Clear, easy-to-follow installation instructions are given on the frontleaf of the package; installation takes only a few minutes. For this review, ECBM was run under Windows 3.1 by using a 486-DX2 50Mhz PC and 8MB RAM. It was also tested under Windows NT4.0 using a Pentium Pro200 with 32MB RAM. The software performed well on both systems with an expected enhanced speed and multimedia capability on the latter system.

The program begins by offering two options: Resume and New Session. The latter option launches the main screen of ECBM which has a cardfile-like interface consisting of three categories or "tabs": Welcome; Review Topics; and Test Yourself. The Welcome page has action buttons enabling the user to access: Main Menu topics; Software instructions; Diagram lists; and so on. An Options button on the Navigation bar provides useful facilities such as: Search; Bookmarks; Notes; Help; and Print Screen. Review screens present concise summaries of key concepts employing animation, interactive diagrams, video clips, photographs, and/or interactive worked examples. Review screens are organised by Topic, Section and Sub-section. Hyperlinks (red) and glossary terms (blue) are colour-coded for ease of access. User notes can be saved electronically or printed.

Facilities for self-testing on single or multiple topics/sections are available. Each new test presents questions in random order. The program automatically compiles scores to measure progress. Testing allows for drag and drop, multiple-choice and user input. In the latter case, three incorrect choices are allowed then the correct answer is revealed. Hints are available on-screen. Detailed (% correct, no. questions skipped and so on) results of scoring are provided.

Ease of use

The program is easy to install and intuitive in its operation. However, extensive on-screen help is available at all levels. The developers assertion that, "We want you to be thinking and learning about Beginning Microbiology, not about how to operate the Companion, so we've done our best to make it easy to use", is fully justified.

Suitability for use in teaching

ECBM is well suited for any student majoring in microbiology at university level to allow for self-paced instruction and interactive learning at the introductory level. Due to its multimedia-based and interactive teaching/learning style, advanced students may find the package a useful tool to refresh their knowledge of fundamental concepts. Similarly, non-majors in microbiology (e.g., nursing and related public health students) may find ECBM useful to gain a better understanding of some relevant topics at the introductory level. It is important to emphasize that ECBM is a teaching/learning aid and should not be viewed as a replacement for a good microbiology textbook. Information contained in the package is scientifically accurate and up-to-date.

Overall evaluation

ECBM is a well designed teaching/learning aid for introductory microbiology. Its coverage of fundamental microbiological concepts in keynote form is excellent and its use of dynamic multimedia styling to enhance the learning process is very impressive.

ECBM is available from:
Oxford University Press
253 Normanby Rd
Sth Melbourne, VIC 3205
Tel: (03) 9934 9123

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UniServe Science News Volume 9 March 1998

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