Teaching of Megan Dobro - Hampshire College Professor, Founder of the Collaborative Modeling Center and the Plasmodium Consortium

Teaching

I am enthusiastic about learning the latest pedagogical research and building my courses on theories of active learning, flipped classrooms, and problem-based inquiry. In this information era, faculty are no longer keepers of information but must guide students to think critically and find answers for themselves. I emphasize experiential exercises that scaffold toward my learning objectives so students can practice the skills they’ll need to be successful after graduation.

Highlights

Plasmodium Consortium of Hampshire College and the Collaborative Modeling Center featuring Yellow Slime Mold

Plasmodium Consortium

Designed with Hampshire’s mission at its core, the Plasmodium Consortium is a non-partisan policy think tank at Hampshire College. The Consortium brings staff, students, and faculty from diverse disciplines together to collaborate with “non-human scholars-in-residence” Physarum polycephalum (yellow slime mold) as they seek to engage with pressing global issues from new perspectives.

Vox Article - Trump doesn’t have a science adviser. This slime mold is available. New Scientist article - Slime Moulds May Rule Us Fast Company article - Let’s Just Replace Our Government With Slime Molds (No, Really)
Big Think article - Slime molds crack 3 of the biggest issues in the U.S. WNPR article - Slime: From Spontaneous Generation To Internet Sensation NEPR article - Should We Model Human Behavior On A Brainless, Single-Cell Amoeba?

Gallery

HIV in Thailand

HIV in Thailand – Project

In order to connect what students learned in my HIV/AIDS course with the real world challenges, we travel to northern Thailand to work with Warm Heart Worldwide and other advocacy groups. In Chiang Mai, we meet with advocacy groups, tour research and medical facilities, and learn about Thai culture, language, and history. Students facilitate a weeklong camp for teenagers at Warm Heart in the second week, which aims to provide scientifically accurate information in fun, interactive ways. The curriculum covers anatomy, puberty, relationships, sex, sexual orientation, gender, and consent.

Collaborative Modeling Center

Collaborative Modeling Center (CMC)

I co-founded the CMC with four other faculty members who all work with models. Our goals are to: build a research collaboration from a range of disciplines; provide an inclusive, dynamic and creative space; to develop innovative science and modeling curricula; and increase the visibility and importance of quantitative skills.

Hampshire College

Hampshire College

What started as an experiment by Amherst College, UMass Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith College has remained the most radical, self-directed approach to education in the country. Hampshire College continues to experiment with education and push the limits of active and experiential learning. I can’t imagine a better academic home.

Courses

NS 124: HIV/AIDS: 35 Years Later

I believe the only way to make significant progress toward eradication of HIV is to tackle both the sociopolitical challenges and the scientific roadblocks equally, so this class covers both fields 50/50. My goal is to engage students who have never taken a science class as well as encourage science students to look beyond the laboratory. The content includes the mechanisms of the virus; the immune response; origin of the virus; the methods of transmission; current tools in research; treatment methods; opportunistic infections; factors in susceptibility; the social/political factors involved; and the history of the pandemic in the U.S., Africa, and Southeast Asia.

One main activity of the semester is a role-play exercise called “The Thailand Summit,” in which we use the complicated history of HIV in Thailand for a series of mock committee meetings. Students play stakeholders (Thai Minister of Health, Buddhist monk, sex worker, pharmaceutical CEO, research scientist, economist, etc.) and decide how to allocate $5 billion toward the HIV epidemic in Thailand. By playing roles other than themselves, they can feel free to express ideas without judgment. They learn how quickly money gets spent, how difficult HIV eradication is, how important long term thinking is, how each decision they make can drastically change the culture of a region or have a negative domino effect, and that these major decisions require very thorough research. The student feedback indicates that they more deeply connect with the complexities of the intersection of science and culture than they could have if I just lectured about it.

NS 239S: HIV and Sexual Health in Northern Thailand

In order to connect what students learned in my HIV/AIDS course with the real world challenges, we travel to northern Thailand to work with Warm Heart Worldwide and other advocacy groups. In Chiang Mai, we meet with advocacy groups, tour research and medical facilities, and learn about Thai culture, language, and history. Students facilitate a weeklong camp for teenagers at Warm Heart in the second week, which aims to provide scientifically accurate information in fun, interactive ways. The curriculum covers anatomy, puberty, relationships, sex, sexual orientation, gender, and consent. The Thai teenagers then run their favorite workshops in their own schools with our support, solidifying their roles as ambassadors of the program.

This program is called YESS! (Youth Empowerment through Safer Sexuality) − a play on enthusiastic consent, and includes a Western Mass and Hampshire campus branch.

NS 247: Cell Biology with Lab

The class is designed with the flipped classroom model, in which students complete content-rich preparatory work outside of class and then participate in practical applications of the material in class. Using class time for active work and application of the material keeps students engaged, emphasizes the practical skills rather than information, builds community, and gives me an opportunity to correct misconceptions. Topics include biological molecules, cell structure and function, cell communication and signaling, the cell cycle, and disease at the cellular level. We also discuss the implications of these topics on the meaning and origin of life, randomness, consciousness, free will, and altruism.

The lab helps students gain intuition about how scientists create new knowledge in cell biology. I scaffold the skills across the semester so that students can work at their own pace and learn new skills and techniques. The goal is to develop curious students who are capable and confident in the lab. Students learn the techniques of tissue culture, microscopy, and fixing and staining cells, and if they have time, run DNA extractions, polymerase chain reactions, gel electrophoresis, and Western blots. In an effort to develop students’ problem solving skills, I give each small group a dish of cells that I say came from a victim who has been poisoned. They must use all the lab skills and class content to figure out what the poison was so they can prescribe a counteracting medicine and save the patient.

I am a member of the American Society for Cell Biology and served on the Education Committee for 4 years, which helped to design my curriculum in line with the national goals and current research.

NS 277: Pathogens: The Microbes Making Us Sick

This course is designed to explore a range of medically important microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Example topics include nanoweapons inside bacteria, how epidemics emerge, antibiotic resistance, diagnostic technology, social and political factors that contribute to human vulnerability, bioterrorism, and public misinformation. Students adopt pet pathogens and prepare interactive class presentations with help from the Transformative Speaking Program, which provides support for building confidence and delivering polished presentations. Students discuss popular science books and news about pathogens throughout the semester. This course is ideal for students who want to take a deeper dive into medical microbiology but also care about the social factors of disease.

NS 346/146: Microscopy and Modeling

In this project-based course, I capitalize on the beauty of biological structures to motivate students to want to explore the micro-world themselves. Using tools I’ve acquired through grants (fluorescence microsope, 3D printer, Wacom tablet, and powerful computers and software), students design their own research questions and work independently while learning about microscope theory, image analysis, and modeling techniques. Students can design their own project, work on one of mine, or join the Plasmodium Consortium using slime mold as a modeling tool. At the end of this course, successful learners will be able to use scientific literature for foundational knowledge, identify what makes a scientific question good or interesting, design an experiment of appropriate scope, effectively manage a group project and individual project, work confidently with tools in the lab and Collaborative Modeling Center, and communicate results to a non-science audience.

Other Courses Taught

NS 350. Structure and Function: Microscopy Research Methods
NS 347. Mathematical Biology: Infectious Diseases
NS 345. Virology
NS 298. Natural Science Division II Seminar
NS 252. Modern Disease and Culture
NS 155. Molecular Metaphor
NS 121. Human Biology

Bacteria, HIV, DNA and other micriobiological strucures

Contact Me

Have some questions about my research? Looking to book a speaking engagement? Looking to collaborate? Want to join the Plasmodium Consortium? Please send me a message and I'll get back to you ASAP. Thanks.

Twitter Feed

4 weeks ago
Giving tonight's #SciTechCafe talk at Union Station in Northampton at 6pm! https://t.co/SxB9vgSmVM
4 weeks ago
Tune in to The Bill Newman Show on WHMP 107.5 at 9:30am ET today to hear me talking about my work! #CryoEM #bacteria #slimemold https://t.co/0SktbNeWLp
1 month ago
Trump telling Kavanaugh he was "proven innocent" makes me wish he had a better science or philosophy education. Actually, that would have solved a lot of our problems. #soangry #sciencefornonmajors
2 months ago
Imagine being able to share your 3D microscopy data this way. That's a poster session I'd want to attend! #3D #holograms https://t.co/aAf6mieXrq micro_megan photo