Dr. Tammy Tobin, Professor of Biology, Susquehanna University

A 2016 SENCER Model

SENCER Model Course Logo

Virology at Susquehanna University is a 2-credit interdisciplinary biology course that typically enrolls up to 24 3rd and 4th year biology and biochemistry majors and minors. In this course, students learn virology and epidemiology concepts through weekly case studies of current disease outbreaks and by immersion in a semester long outbreak activity. Class sessions are designed to introduce basic aspects of viral biology or epidemiology while also illustrating one or more social issues that impact disease outbreak and spread: war, poverty, religion, politics, prejudice, etc. Through these activities viral disease outbreaks and their solutions become more than scientific novelties to the students, but are seen as scientific problems with serious consequences for humans, which motivate the students and drive their desire to learn.

Instructor’s Goals:
My goals for this course are to help students understand not only the basic biology of viruses and their replication, but also the ways in which viral disease outbreaks are integrally involved with societal issues. Poverty, wealth, prejudice, religious practices, politics, global climate change, war and education can have as big an effect on the impact of a viral disease as the biology of the virus itself. This is as true in the United States as it is in the poorest of developing nations. My hope is that my students will come to understand these issues in a way that does not foster further prejudice, but rather instills a desire to help prevent disease and its spread through whatever manner(s) are appropriate given their various life goals.

Student Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the basic structures and replication strategies of the major classes of human viral pathogens;
  2. Explore and analyze the political, social, economic and biological factors that impact the outbreak and spread of viral diseases;
  3. Demonstrate familiarity with the specialized vocabularies and fundamental concepts of the various disciplines involved in the epidemiological analysis of viral disease outbreaks;
  4. Show an appreciation of how different disciplines can supplement and reinforce one another in the study of viral disease outbreaks and their causes;
  5. Articulate an understanding of the complexities and ambiguities inherent in explaining epidemiological issues from within the frameworks of a variety of disciplines, including biology, sociology, political science and economics.
  6. Deliberately use the disciplines under study for advanced analysis of viral disease outbreaks in a way that is not normally available to each discipline alone.

Linking Science and Social Issues

Causes of emergence and spread of viral diseases taught through wealth and poverty, religious differences, prejudice, climate change

Ebola virus biology and control taught through poverty and prejudice, impacts of cultural differences

Vaccine Development taught through influenza virus vaccine development,
individual rights vs. societal rights

Development of new antivirals taught through legal and economic barriers to new antimicrobial discovery, antimicrobial resistance

Rotavirus biology taught through impact of poverty on disease outbreaks

Poliovirus biology, eradication taught through impact of war, politics and fear on spread of viral disease

The Course

Outbreak Cozumel

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Syllabus and Schedule: Virology, Fall 2014
Online at: Assignments:
  1. Where do emerging pathogens come from?
  2. Emerging infectious diseases; controversies, causes and control
  3. Emergence of Zaire Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea — Preliminary Report
  4. Conflict and Emerging Infectious Diseases
  5. Global Aspects of Emerging and Potential Zoonoses: a WHO Perspective
  6. Global Climate Change and Infectious Diseases
  7. Urbanisation and infectious diseases in a globalised world
  8. Communicating the Threat of Emerging Infections to the Public
  9. Excerpts from: Ebola, Culture and Politics: The Anthropology of an Emerging Disease.
  10. Infection Mechanism of Genus Ebola virus
  11. A new player in the puzzle of filovirus entry: Nature Reviews Immunology v. 7, 2007 p. 556-567
  12. How Ebola and Marburg viruses battle the immune system: Nature Reviews Microbiology v. 10 2012 p.317-321
  13. What is Zmapp, the ebola syrum?”
  14. Bio-high-tech treatment for Ebola may have saved two US citizens
  15. Reviving the Pipeline of Life-Saving Antibiotics: Exploring Solutions to Spur Innovation
  16. Platforms for Antibiotic Discovery
  17. CDC Detect and Protect: Information about antibiotic resistance
  18. Information about the ADAPT legislation
  19. Information about the GAIN legislation

Class Handouts

  1. Ebola Worksheet
  2. Class 1 Handout: Introduction to Virology
  3. Class 2 Worksheet: Emerging Infectious Diseases, Causes and Solutions
  4. Class 3 Worksheet: Ebola, Fear, Tradition and Prejudice
  5. Class 4 Notes: Overview of Virus Replication
  6. Ebola Replication and Pathogenicity
  7. Class 5 Notes: Double-Stranded DNA Viruses
  8. Class 6 Notes: Vaccines and Vaccine Development
  9. Class 7: Dr. Bonnie Bassler Class Discussion Questions
  10. Class 8 Notes: Double-Stranded RNA Viruses
  11. Class 9 Notes: + Strand RNA Viruses
  12. Class 10 Notes: Influenza
  13. Class 11 Notes: Hepadnaviruses
  14. Outbreak Paper Instructions and Rubric

Mini Case Studies

  1. Mini Case Study 1 and answer key
  2. Mini Case Study 2 and answer key
  3. Mini Case Study 3 and answer key
  4. Mini Case Study 4 and answer key
  5. Mini Case Study 5 and answer key

Evaluating Learning

Assessment and Evaluation Strategies: student attainment of learning goals are assessed using three semester exams, case study and discussion questions, and a final outbreak paper that tests not only the students’ comprehension of the outbreak and the techniques used to solve it, but also the ways in which interdisciplinary knowledge has been critical to the outbreak solution.

Background and Context

The biology major at Susquehanna University is broad-based, requiring that students take one introductory and at least one upper level course in each of three foundational areas: cell and molecular biology, ecology and evolution and organismal biology. Students then typically choose upper level elective biology courses from their primary area of interest. However, these electives are not required. In this structure, it is theoretically possible for students to graduate as biology majors without really examining any subject in great depth. In order to address this void, we recently developed 2 credit “Explorations” courses that are taught in the faculty member’s area of expertise and that delve deeply into focused topics. Examples of courses include cancer biology, parasitology, and virology. Students are now required to take at least two of these courses as part of their major coursework.

Institutional Context

Virology is an interdisciplinary course in the Susquehanna University central curriculum (general education courses). Each student is required to take at least 4 credits of interdisciplinary coursework during their undergraduate career. These courses ask students to demonstrate their ability to bring the knowledge and vocabularies of at least two academic disciplines to bear in the critical analysis of a single issue or problem. By way of example, Virology asks students to control an epidemic using biological, political, economic, social and religious knowledge. Because this analysis presumes basic knowledge in multiple disciplines, first year students may not enroll in interdisciplinary courses. In fact, most of the students in virology are juniors and seniors who have not only completed most of their central curriculum coursework, but have also studied abroad. Thus they can being these varied experiences to bear in this course.

The epidemic also forces students to confront their own prejudices and preconceptions. In the case provided with this course, “Outbreak! Cozumel” the students invariably assume that the epidemic has originated from contaminated food brought on board in Cozumel, where the ship is docked. Even when it becomes apparent that the timing is all off, students will still try to ‘force’ the source to be there (where everything, ‘of course’ is less sanitary). In reality, this epidemic starts when an oyster farmer in Louisiana ignores a warning after a hurricane, and harvests oysters that have become contaminated with sewage. He and his friends and family become sick when they eat the oysters, and his brother is still shedding virus when he goes to work in the kitchen of the cruise ship SS Mickey Morgue.

Related Resources

This course was featured in a recent article in . Waldrop MM (2015). Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right. Nature 523(7560):272-274.