Student motivation in class is extremely important because it may lead to a successful learning experience, followed by academic accomplishment. As a strategy to motivate undergraduate students in a microbiology course, we established an awards system named the “Gold, Silver, and Bronze Petri Dish Awards in Microbiology.” The awards system was either offered or not to a group of students (N = 34 for both cohorts). Students who had the opportunity to receive an award obtained higher grades than those for whom the awards system was not implemented (P < 0.01). Course evaluations for the teachers who used the awards system were also higher. The awards system fostered learning of microbiology by undergraduate students.

Introduction

Granting academic recognition to students during their education is an effective way to stimulate learning while simultaneously fostering interest in the study of different subjects (Jalava et al., 2015). Teachers and academic institutions have the most important role in acknowledging the learning progress of their students from the beginning of their education. This recognition may be presented through nonfinancial incentives or through financial support in the way of scholarships.

The Petri dish and the inoculation loop are representative and distinctive tools of microbiologists. In order to boost academic performance in the classroom, undergraduate students in a microbiology course could be eligible to receive symbolic awards known as “Gold, Silver, and Bronze Petri Dish Awards.” These awards are prepared by students, thereby increasing enthusiasm. The students who receive the awards are those whose grades remain among the top three in their class throughout the semester.

Procedure

Students construct the awards with the following recycled materials: black velvet, illustration board (13.7 × 11.0 inches), glue, a wooden stick (4.7 × 0.15 inches), a galvanized wire (caliber 18, diameter 1.22 mm, length 5.5 inches), hot silica gel, acrylic paints, and three plastic Petri dishes (60 × 15 mm). The award base is made of illustration board and covered with velvet. The next step consists of decorating each of the three plastic Petri dishes with either gold, silver, or bronze paint. The Petri dish's base includes a sign stating first, second, or third place. The inoculation loop is made by winding the galvanized wire in one end of the wooden stick and folding the opposite end of the wire to form a circle. Lastly, the Petri dish's base and cap are attached to the upper part of the award, while the bottom contains the inoculation loop (Figure 1). The awards ceremony should take place in the classroom. The prize may be complemented with a set of books and/or candies (Figure 2).

Figure 1.

Gold Petri Dish award with the legend “1er lugar” (Spanish for “1st place”) and homemade inoculation loop.

Figure 1.

Gold Petri Dish award with the legend “1er lugar” (Spanish for “1st place”) and homemade inoculation loop.

Figure 2.

Awards ceremony, 2014: Gold, Silver, and Bronze Petri Dish awards are held by the three most outstanding students in the microbiology course. From left to right: Mr. Eduardo Gómez (Gold), Ms. María Cruz (Silver), Dr. Javier Gutiérrez (microbiology instructor), and Mr. Jesús Balcázar (Bronze).

Figure 2.

Awards ceremony, 2014: Gold, Silver, and Bronze Petri Dish awards are held by the three most outstanding students in the microbiology course. From left to right: Mr. Eduardo Gómez (Gold), Ms. María Cruz (Silver), Dr. Javier Gutiérrez (microbiology instructor), and Mr. Jesús Balcázar (Bronze).

Conclusion

Since 2014, this awards ceremony has been implemented at the Instituto de Ciencias Biológicas de la Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas in the general microbiology course attended by 34 students (all biology majors). As an integral part of their academic curriculum, all biology students should take this course. The average grade (7.8) obtained by the students was significantly higher (P < 0.01) than that obtained by the students who were not involved in the awards system (7.22). At the end of the semester, students evaluated their teachers in the following areas: educational performance, educational planning, and teacher's attitude. The group of students who were eligible for the awards graded their instructor with higher scores than students who did not take part in the awards system. Besides this observed trend, the differences between the evaluations were not statistically significant (Table 1).

Table 1.
Student grades and teacher evaluations at the end of the semester for classes that did or did not have the “Gold, Silver, and Bronze Petri Dish Awards in Microbiology.”
Students Mean gradea SD 
Did not have the award system 34 7.22 0.7198 0.001241* 
Had the award system 34 7.84 0.8008  
Teachers N Mean gradea SD P 
Did not use the award system 82.3 11.00203 0.270 
Used the award system 90.8 3.37569  
Students Mean gradea SD 
Did not have the award system 34 7.22 0.7198 0.001241* 
Had the award system 34 7.84 0.8008  
Teachers N Mean gradea SD P 
Did not use the award system 82.3 11.00203 0.270 
Used the award system 90.8 3.37569  

aScale of 1–10 for student performance, with 10 being the highest grade; scale of 10–100% for teacher performance, with 100% being the highest score (Student's t-test, *P < 0.05).

The awards system appears to be effective for obtaining higher academic achievements, as exemplified by an overall increase in grades. Furthermore, the teacher using this awards system obtained a better teaching evaluation from students. This awards system also has the potential to be adapted to other courses (e.g., a diagram of a synapse and a test tube for physiology; an illustration of a microscope and a diagram of a tissue sample for histology).

The authors thank Mrs. Rocío del Carmen Niño Moreno for her enthusiastic support in helping prepare the Petri dishes and inoculation loops, and for her valuable advice on improving the awards. We thank Ms. Maneesha Chitanvis, Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, for critical reading of the manuscript and suggestions.

Reference

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