The undergraduate microbiology lab serves an important role in establishing a foundation of best practices in aseptic technique and infection control for pre-medical, pre-nursing, pre-pharmacy, or pre-allied health students. The high incidence of hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) in the US and evidence in the literature of less effective implementation of proper aseptic technique among apprentice doctors and nursing students suggests that more effective transfer of learning could improve implementation of these procedures in the clinical setting. The research described in this study aimed to assess learning transfer as it applied to aseptic techniques and infection control skills learned in the undergraduate microbiology lab from pre- and post-lab formative assessments to midterm and lab practical summative assessments. Assisting students in building connections between the aseptic techniques learned in general microbiology and their application in the clinical setting through pre-lab formative assessments and reflective practices may lead to improvements in use of aseptic techniques and infection control measures as they progress into clinical careers and may ultimately reduce infection rates and mortality rates due to HAIs. The first major aim of this study was to explore the experiences of students with respect to learning transfer through qualitative analysis of student responses to post-lab free-response questions regarding difficulties faced in the lab and the relevance of microbiology to students' future careers. The second major aim of this study was to determine if the implementation of an in-class pre-lab formative assessment facilitates learning transfer as evidenced by significant improvements on summative lab midterm and final lab practical exam scores. Qualitative analysis of student responses to open-ended reflection questions indicated evidence of predominantly low-road transfer with respect to transfer of automaticity. Additionally, qualitative analysis of student responses indicated evidence of lateral transfer regarding transfer of complexity. Finally, there was evidence of an evolution from near to far transfer of context indicating that students were able to perceive the application of the knowledge gained in the microbiology lab in contexts similar to the lab as well as contexts outside of the lab. Evidence from student responses suggested that primarily students intending to pursue careers in healthcare fields were able to perceive specific applications of the microbiology lab to their future careers. Further, evidence from student responses suggested that students predominantly had difficulties with procedures, interpretation of results, manual dexterity with microbiological equipment and materials, and expressed the need to practice these procedures and techniques. Statistical analyses provided quantifiable evidence that the implementation of pre-lab quizzes had both a statistically significantly positive impact and a practically positive impact on lab practical final scores in both of the semesters studied as compared to historical control groups with a large effect size. The statistically and practically significant impact of the pre-lab quizzes on lab practical final exams is an important finding and will add to the current literature on the importance of formative assessment in undergraduate microbiology education.


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Graduation Date





Butler, Malcolm


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Education and Human Performance

Degree Program

Education; Science Education









Release Date

August 2018

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)