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A Research-Based Practical Course Involving Virtual and Real Interactions with Southern African Students and Scientists

Project Directors

Christopher Cullis

Francis Hobart Herrick Professor and Chair of Biology

Joseph Koonce

Professor of Biology

International Collaborators

Professor Karl Kunert, University of Pretoria
Dr. J. Vorster, University of Pretoria
Dr. C. van der Vyver, University of Stellenbosh
Dr. P. Chimwamarombe, University of Namibia
Mutsa Takwunda, University of Namibia
Emanuel Nepolo, University of Namibia

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

The project provided students in the laboratory course BIOL 301, “Biotechnology Laboratory: Genes and Genetic Engineering,” with opportunities to interact with faculty and students in Africa who will be utilizing the results of their experiments. The course focused on the development of new molecular markers for the under-utilized marama bean crop. The goals of the project were to engage students in discussing current food security problems in sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, students were to develop new molecular resources that can be directly applied to the crops by African researchers and their students.

PROJECT OUTCOMES

There were many positive outcomes from this project. The first was the transfer of successful modern molecular biology courses developed at CWRU to three African universities, and the strengthening of the relationship between CWRU and those universities. Students held videoconferences with faculty and students in Southern Africa, which allowed all parties to engage in meaningful research activities. More frequent interactions, enhanced with personal visits to the class, provided an even more engaging and culturally collaborative environment. Students gained a better appreciation for the difficulties faced by researchers with limited resource availability. Perhaps the most profound outcome was that CWRU students’ work significantly advanced the development of marama bean research as it addressed global food security problems.

Students are now informed of opportunities to visit and work at these universities and encouraged to apply for Fulbright and other travel grants to support such visits. Meanwhile, the course has become an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum, reaffirming the importance of fostering students’ active engagement and interest.

The Kirkhouse Trust continues to support the Namibian collaborator so that visiting participants can be integrated into the course. In addition, the success of the WLE project has leveraged the support of other granting agencies.

In the future, the project may seek to reduce costs by using Skype rather than videoconferencing. Skype may also make it easier to cope with the time difference between North America and Africa—a manageable but difficult task in the project’s first phase.

FACT SHEET

Total funding: $6,100

The grant funded the videoconferencing equipment and software as well as initial laboratory costs. The grant also provided partial support for project researchers—one from CWRU and one from Namibia—to visit each other’s countries to organize the student-faculty interactions and research projects.

Professor of Biology, Joseph Koonce, sponsored a second $15,000 WLE grant, A Mobile Videoconferencing Facility for Incorporating International Connections in Biology Courses, for a mobile videoconferencing unit and other equipment to expand international collaboration into additional biology laboratory courses. These include BIOL 343, “Microbiology,” and BIOL 344, “Microbiology Laboratory.” Both of these courses focus on water quality. Video links will be made with microbiologists involved in water quality issues and testing in South Africa to provide students with an international perspective on this topic.

Christopher Cullis

Christopher Cullis

Francis Hobart Herrick Professor and Chair of Biology
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Joseph Koonce

Joseph Koonce

Professor of Biology
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