Bringing Research Infused Experiential Learning (REAL) To Practice: A Model For Incorporating Hands-on Microbiology Experience With The REAL Framework | PUSAT PEMBANGUNAN DAN KECEMERLANGAN KEPEMIMPINAN AKADEMIK
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Bringing Research Infused Experiential Learning (REAL) to Practice: A Model for Incorporating Hands-on Microbiology Experience with the REAL Framework


The Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education recently launched the Experiential Learning and Competency-Based Education Landscape (EXCEL) initiative, which aims to enhance the national tertiary education curriculum through four cores: Industry Driven Experiential  Learning (IDEAL), Community Resilience Experiential Learning (CARE), Research Infused Experiential Learning (REAL), and Personalised Experiential Learning (POISE). At Universiti Putra Malaysia, we welcome  the initiative and are committed to incorporating the EXCEL framework across all of our programs.

The Research Infused Experiential Learning (REAL) approach provides students with meaningful research experiences throughout their academic journey in the university. In the past, students in the old curriculum only had the opportunity to engage in research during their final year project, which limited their exposure and hands-on experience in the field. However, the updated curriculum with the REAL framework allows students to continuously build and apply their knowledge and skills through practical experiences in research and inquiry. The REAL spectrum framework consists of seven levels, which build upon this by offering an incremental approach that enables learners to develop their research competency at different phases (see Figure 1). 


Figure 1: REAL Spectrum. Adapted from Experiential Learning and Competency-Based Education Landscape (EXCEL):
Resilient and Change-Ready Talent (ISBN 978-967-2828-15-0)

This article describes a Volunteer Internship Program in Microbiology that was created and implemented to provide practical opportunities for the  Bachelor of Science in Microbiology with Honours students. Additionally, this article emphasizes the importance of laboratory experience in microbiology education and the significance of incorporating practical experiences into the curriculum, particularly in implementing the Research Infused Experiential Learning (REAL) framework. It  also provides helpful tips for effectively integrating the volunteer internship program into the REAL curriculum.


The Importance of Laboratory Experience in Microbiology Education


Microbiology is a field that requires practical experience in a laboratory setting for students to fully comprehend its concepts and applications. Classroom learning provides students with a theoretical foundation (cognitive), but laboratory work provides a hands-on environment where they can apply what they've learned (psychomotor), develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and learn to work independently. Laboratory experience is particularly important in microbiology because it is a discipline that deals with microorganisms that are often invisible to the naked eye, making it challenging to understand their characteristics and behavior without practical exposure.


Volunteer Internship Program in Microbiology


Recognizing the importance  of hands-on laboratory experience, a Volunteer Internship Program was initiated at the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences  that offers practical opportunities to the second or third-year Bachelor of Science in Microbiology with Honours students . During the semester break, students are invited to join a  research team for a 2 to 4-week attachment at the Enzyme and Microbial Technology Research Center. Since 2017, there have been  11 students participating in this program (on an average of 1-2 students per  academic year). Because the program was not yet part of the bachelor's degree curriculum (it is an independent initiative), it was limited to a small number of students.

Under the mentorship of experienced postgraduate students, participants had the opportunity to observe experimental design, planning, and execution  by their mentors. They were also given the opportunity to conduct the  experiments, operate some advanced equipment, and experience the working culture in the lab. This included learning about laboratory safety protocols, record-keeping, and data analysis techniques commonly used in microbiology research. Throughout the program, students developed practical skills, expanded their knowledge and understanding of the field, and built their research and inquiry skills.


Impact of the Volunteer Internship Program


The internship program has received positive feedback from the  participating students. Students appreciated the hands-on experience in a laboratory setting because it allowed them to apply their knowledge, work independently, and build critical thinking skills to overcome challenges that arose during experiments. Students also valued the ability to conduct experiments on their own and learned new laboratory skills. Additionally, the program provided students with the opportunity to connect and collaborate with postgraduate students and gain insight into future paths in research. .

Another significant advantage of the Voluntary Internship Program is that students are more  confident  in carrying out their final year projects. The program's hands-on experience allows students to become accustomed to  working in a laboratory setting and equips them with the skills and knowledge required to effectively accomplish  their projects. Early laboratory experience can improve a student's comprehension of microbiology concepts and applications, as well as their ability to work independently and troubleshoot problems.

All of the competencies gained through the Volunteer Internship Program, such as practical and research skills, critical thinking skills, and  problem solving skills, align with REAL Spectrum Level 3. This level specifically focuses on developing research and inquiry skills through practical sessions or attachments with mentors in the field.


Integrating Volunteer Internship Programs into REAL Curriculum


The Volunteer Internship Program provides a valuable model for readers  who are looking to incorporate practical and research experiences into their curriculum, specifically towards the implementation of REAL. To ensure success, it is recommended that others consider the following tips:

  1. Encourage Second Year students to undergo this short internship program as Level 3  REAL should be achieved in the second year of a program.
  2. Assign experienced postgraduate students as mentors, as they can provide valuable guidance and support to the students.
  3. Ensure that the program aligns with the level of the students' understanding, and that they are exposed to equipment and techniques that are appropriate for their level of knowledge.
  4. Incorporate regular assessments and evaluations to gauge the students' understanding and provide feedback for improvement. For instance, students can be asked to present their work experience or organize a progress meeting to discuss their findings, challenges faced, and areas where they need further assistance. These assessments and evaluations will help identify gaps in their learning and allow for targeted feedback and support to improve their skills and knowledge.

In conclusion, the Volunteer Internship Program in Microbiology is a good model for incorporating hands-on microbiology experience with the REAL framework. By actively participating in the program, students could increase their confidence in conducting experiments and become better prepared to achieve a higher level of the REAL spectrum. Completing this program also provides students with a valuable addition to their resume and enhances their competitiveness in the job market. Meaningful research experiences could  help students develop  the skills and knowledge necessary for success in their future careers. The success of this program demonstrates the importance of practical experience in microbiology and highlights the benefits of the REAL framework in enhancing the national curriculum. With the recent announcement of the EXCEL initiative, it is clear that there is a need for more programs that provide hands-on research experiences for students.


Prepared by:

Dr. Suriana Sabri is an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the Faculty of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences. Her expertise lies in the fields of molecular biology, microbial technology and metabolic engineering. Along with her research, she is dedicated to the growth and development of her students, striving to create meaningful learning experiences that inspire them to reach their full potential. Dr. Suriana is the driving force behind the innovative Volunteer Internship Program in Microbiology, providing students with practical research opportunities to enhance their research skills and knowledge before embarking on their final year projects. Dr. Suriana's Volunteer Internship Program in Microbiology has gained popularity among students, with many expressing their interest to join her lab for this unique program.

Dr. Suriana is also the Deputy Director of the Centre for Academic Development and Leadership Excellence (CADe-Lead), UPM. She is leading the Teaching and Learning Development section which is responsible for various initiatives related to the development and review of academic program curricula, including the integration of the EXCEL framework. Her team manages the Research Incentive Grants in Teaching and Learning (GIPP), Service Learning Malaysia (SULAM) initiative, Online Exit Survey, and Shared Academic Course and Experience (SCALE@UA) program.




Dr. Chia Suet Lin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia specialising in the field of cancer virotherapy. His passion and innovation in teaching and learning was recognised and received with several awards such as UPM Innovation in Teaching and Learning, K-novasi Teaching & Learning, The best Innocreative in Immersive Learning Experience, and Putra InnoCreative Competition. He was shortlisted as one of the finalists for the Anugerah Fellowship Naib Canselor award in 2018. He has been actively involved in several projects as a task force member under the Ministry of Higher Education such as Transdisciplinary Makerspace, Experiential Learning and Competency-Based Education Landscape (EXCEL) – Research-infused Experiential Learning (REAL), and Study on the Academic Program relevance based on the National Workforce.




Dr. Wan Zuhainis Saad is an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia. She was the former Director of Academic Excellence Division, Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia from 2018 to 2022. She is an educational technology enthusiast. A strong advocate of empowering learners in experiential learning. She developed innovative project based learning with her students including The Awesome Microbes Carnival, 2015 & 2018, Virtual Microbes, 2016-2017, Microbes Innovation, Invention and Ideation Challenge (MINIC) 2017-2018 & 2023. She has been awarded Creative and Interactive E-Learning Award, International University Carnival on E-Learning (IUCEL) 2016; Best Trend Setter Award in IUCEL 2017; Winner of the Reimagining and Redesigning Higher Education (Virtual Immersive Learning Experience Category) 2017 and Winner of the National Academic Award (Teaching Award – Pure Science Cluster) 2018.


She has spearheaded innovative academic excellence initiatives while working as the Director at the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia, including Experiential Learning and Competency Based Education Landscape (EXCEL), Service Learning Malaysia University for Society (SULAM), Future Workforce Engagement Series (ForcES), Inclusive Open Educational Resources (iOER),  MoHE Immersive Learning Spaces (MILeS), MyDigital Educators and Apprenticeship Degree Program.



Tarikh Input: 05/05/2023 | Kemaskini: 16/05/2023 | azryadeny


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