Mastering Microbiology educator study documents course redesign to a flipped format at Shoreline Community College


Mastering Microbiology educator study documents course redesign to a flipped format at Shoreline Community College

Key Findings

  • Assessment scores increased after a redesign to a flipped format with Mastering Microbiology to enhance student learning outside the classroom.
  • More students earned As and Bs after the redesign to a flipped classroom.
  • Mastering Microbiology enabled Penn to identify student issues and misconceptions prior to class meetings

School name
Shoreline Community College, Shoreline, WA

Course name

Course format
Winter 2012–Fall 2012: traditional lecture
Winter 2013–Winter 2014: flipped classroom

Course materials
Mastering Microbiology with Microbiology with Diseases by Body System by Bauman

Winter 2012–2014

Judy Meier Penn

Results reported by
Betsy Nixon, Pearson Customer Outcomes Analytics Manager


  • Enrollment: 6,115 with 55 percent attending full time and 45 percent part time
  • Established: 1964; operates under the regulations of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges
  • System: quarters
  • Student profile: 53 percent of students are 17–24 years old
  • Retention: 62 percent for full-time students and 63 percent for part-time students

About the Course

Professor Judy Meier Penn has taught for more than 25 years at Shoreline Community College. Penn has an interest in both teaching a flipped classroom and in promoting online instruction and resources. Penn teaches the Microbiology course, taken primarily by nursing and allied health majors. Students generally are a mix of returning adult students and recent high school graduates, representing a wide range of ages, cultures, skills, and life experiences.

The introductory Microbiology course is a survey of microorganisms with a focus on healthcare applications. The emphasis is on disease process, microbial control and immunology. Laboratory techniques include isolation and identification of bacteria. This is a five-credit lecture and lab course.  At the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Summarize the early history of microbiology, noting especially the major contributors to the development of the germ theory of disease and the problems presented by the belief in the theory of spontaneous generation. Describe the major developments in technology and microscopy leading to our current understanding of the nature of microorganisms and immunology.
  • Demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the structure, growth processes, metabolism and genetics of prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms, as well as viruses. Use this knowledge to explain the mechanisms of action of antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents, as well as the implications of microbial activities in industry and the ecosystem.
  • Understand and demonstrate the techniques involved in the culture of bacteria, including the properties and applications of various media and diagnostic reagents. Demonstrate aseptic technique. Understand the importance of those procedures in prevention of nosocomial diseases in a healthcare setting.
  • Demonstrate a working knowledge of basic biotechnology procedures. Select appropriate, efficient strategies for isolation and identification of an unknown bacterium. Correctly interpret the results of these procedures. Write a scientific report that describes procedures & results and makes appropriate conclusions.
  • Describe how microorganisms cause disease, as well as how the innate and adaptive defense mechanisms of the human body combat disease agents (includes basic principles of immunology, and immunological procedures).
  • Demonstrate basic knowledge of the etiologic agents, methods of transmission, distinguishing signs/symptoms, and treatment strategies for the major diseases of the human body.

Challenges and Goals

Professor Judy Meier Penn reports that in her traditional lecture, she could interact with only a few students. She sought a way to increase student participation in class and ensure that students came to class prepared, to integrate more interactive learning, and to reduce the amount of time she lectured on basic concepts. Thanks to improved lecture-capture technology, Penn also wondered if she could eliminate the face-to-face lecture and free up class time. She had used group activities in the past and noticed that students: 1) seemed to understand the associated material much better after those activities; and 2) seemed able to move to higher levels of learning beyond memorization.

Prior to implementing Mastering, Penn gave a paper-and-pencil pop quiz or other short, in-class assessment to obtain real-time feedback. She started using Mastering™ Microbiology in Fall 2009, class testing the beta version because she believed it provided resources that would facilitate learning, help her understand student comprehension, and identify misconceptions prior to class.


In the Winter 2013 quarter, Penn redesigned her course by flipping the classroom and changing her implementation of Mastering. Assessments included eight quizzes and one comprehensive final exam per quarter. She dropped each student’s lowest quiz score. The remainder of the course components were as follows:

Lecture: Mastering homework assignments plus activities completed in class. Mastering assignments were a combination of end-of-chapter, tutorial, and Penn’s own custom-written questions. These questions were designed to help students learn—she allowed multiple attempts and there was no time limit.

Lab: Pre-lab assignments were completed before each lab session and included:

  • Reading the exercise;
  • Preparing a flow diagram of the procedure and preparing locations for recording results in lab notebooks; and
  • Taking a prelab quiz in Mastering to ensure content mastery.

In addition, Penn offered two optional, not-for-credit Mastering assignments: a practice quiz (objective questions to practice for the graded quiz) and lab study questions (study questions to test understanding of course content and the application of it from lab).

Students received the information they needed before each class by reading, viewing a video lecture, and completing a Mastering assignment. During class time, they participated in group activities, such as working on application questions including case studies; pairing up with other students to practice explaining processes; and making models and diagrams that illustrate concepts.

When she moved to a flipped classroom, Penn identified the following best practices:

  • Introduce the format and activities with a positive attitude, and show statistics that illustrate improvements in quiz or course grades. If students understand the change can help them, they are more likely to move out of their comfort zone and fully participate in it.
  • To help students come to class prepared, give them low-stakes Mastering assignments after they have watched the lecture videos and done the readings. Encourage students to complete assignments without looking up answers, so they can truly assess what they understood.

To make the most of group activities, do the following: 

  • Spend part of the first class asking students to brainstorm the qualities that make a good group member and discuss ways to involve all members in discussions.
  • During the 10 instructional weeks of the quarter, change groups only one or two times during the term and have students complete peer reviews.
  • Have students suggest two people they’d like to work with and put them with at least one of those people in subsequent group assignments.
  • When forming groups, include a mix of success levels, genders, and ethnicities, as well as at least one person who has the potential to be an effective leader. Provide an online group page in the school learning management system where they can share and discuss course content.
  • Make sure that group activity assignments are aligned with what students are tested on and how they are tested, e.g., the same level of Bloom’s taxonomy and course objectives.


  • 55% Quizzes (8; the lowest is dropped)
  • 25% Lab
  • 10% Lecture assignments
  • 10% Comprehensive final exam

Results and Data

Penn compared student success rates from the traditional and flipped quarters and discovered that the biggest change was a five-percentage-point increase in As and Bs (figure 1).

Comparison of grade distribution in traditional and flipped classroom

Figure 1. Comparison of Grade Distribution in Traditional and Flipped Classroom, Fall 2012–Winter 2014 (Traditional, Fall 2012–Winter 2012 (n=54); Flipped, Spring, Winter, Fall 2013, Winter 2014 (n=132)

Comparison of average quiz scores in traditional and flipped classroom

Figure 2. Comparison of Average Quiz Scores in Traditional and Flipped Classroom, Fall 2013–Winter 2014; Traditional (n=53); Flipped (n=127); Error Bars = Standard Error; Significance *p<.05; **p<0.01

After redesigning the course to a flipped format, Penn observed the following results:

  • The mean final exam score increased from 73 to 75 percent.
  • The averages of six of eight quizzes and the quiz average increased, three being statistically significant (figure 2).
  • Students performed better on the higher-level quiz questions.

The Student Experience

In an end-of-quarter survey, students were asked to rate Mastering Microbiology assignments and practice items for their effectiveness in helping them to learn course content. The results showed that the majority of students from the winter 2013 through 2014 quarters felt that Mastering assignments helped: on a three point scale with the highest being “significantly” and the lowest being “did not help”, 51 percent said they helped “significantly,” and 43 percent said they helped “somewhat” (n=~65). Penn also asked students for their feedback on the flipped classroom approach.

Student responses included the following:

  • “The flipped class has helped me to not only learn the information, I retain it.” (Winter 2013)
  • “This is the first time I’ve taken a class where the easy parts (reading, viewing lecture) are done at home and the hard parts (learning and understanding) are done in class. It gave me time to interact with my instructor, which definitely benefited me during the quarter.” (Spring 2013)

In the flipped format, Penn found that students shared strategies for reading, test taking, and problem solving and were more likely to form study groups and hold online study sessions. As nearly all of Penn’s students were planning careers in allied health, she believes they benefited from the interpersonal communication gains of these activities.


An April 2014 study looked at 225 published and unpublished studies that compare the results of experiments documenting student performance in courses with at least some active learning versus traditional lecturing. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online, found that the results of these 225 studies “document that active learning leads to increases in examination performance.”1 The results of this study show similar findings.

By using Mastering Microbiology as a platform for learning outside the classroom, Penn has incorporated more active learning in the course, moving from a mostly traditional lecture format to a fully flipped format, and in Fall 2014 she started using Learning Catalytics for some of the class activities. She said that when she entered the classroom after the redesign, students were often already talking about the content that was assigned for the day. She heard things like, “Did you understand…?” or “I think the hardest part was…” It was evident to Penn that students were engaged, working outside the class, and more prepared, which she said has resulted in higher levels of learning and success rates in the course.


1Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics, Scott Freeman, University of Washington, Sarah L. Eddy, University of Washington, Miles McDonough, University of Washington, Michelle K. Smith, University of Maine, Nnadozie Okoroafor, University of Washington, Hannah Jordt, University of Washington, and Mary Pat Wenderoth, University of Washington. Edited by Bruce Alberts, University of California, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1319030111,