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Virology Study Aids

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Learning style exercise


Study Guide 1

Choice of book & strategies

Study time

Study Guide 2

Concept mapping

What I do in class

Study Guide 3

Think 3D

Study approach

Scheduled reviews




Learning Skills

[Discussed during 1st week of class.- Please ask me if you have questions or if you want suggestions.]

Consider the following: What is more important in education and learning- getting the information in or getting the information back out? When studying or practicing something new, getting the information into memory seems most important. However, when it comes time for the exam or performance, recall of that information is most important. How often have you struggled to come up with an answer in an exam, knowing it is in there somewhere, only to have it pop up after you leave? If the approach to studying something is focused on improving recall of needed information, then the time spent studying will reap the rewards sought. Even more important is being able to retain the information long term, so that it can be used whenever it is needed.

The best time to figure out the optimal approach to learning a subject is at the beginning, not the night before the first exam. Investing a little time now to explore your options and to organize a study strategy will pay off later, in terms of study time better spent, improved results, and reduced stress. Do the following:

  • Learn a little about your basic learning style by reading this section and by doing the exercise in class.

  • Consider your learning preferences from past experience. What worked? What didn't? You may want to make a list.

  • Diagnose your weak areas in background preparation. Be sure you have appropriate references available. Books from your core courses in biology and chemistry will be very useful. Sharing resources with others can also be helpful.

  • Try out some of the suggestions below under "Choice of study strategies".

  • Organize a study group. Ideally, group members should have some different learning styles and different background strengths. In a mixed group, each individual has unique strengths to contribute and a different viewpoint from the others. Everyone will benefit by gaining a better understanding of the whole. One limitation to consider: available times to meet as a group. Groups may decide to form an on-line discussion group to share information and messages.

  • Explore what is available on-line.
    • Familiarize yourself with this web site and the associated WebCT [click on the "Interactive" link].
    • Check out some other sites from "Links".
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In-class exercise: Discover something about your learning style

  • If this subject interests you, or if you are interested in a future in education, you may want to read some of the books written by Howard Gardner and by Thomas Armstrong. In "Multiple Intelligences", Howard Gardner describes eight basic types of intelligence. Each person has a different mix of which ones are dominant or well developed, and others which are less significant. You can capitalize on your more dominant types of intelligence while learning. At the same time, you can try new approaches which may add additional benefits.














    world view




    internal solution

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Choice of books:

The Wagner book is organized around basic concepts and principles involving viruses. The Ackermann book is organized according to the genomic type of the viruses. These books form the foundation of this course. Other resources, including on-line material, provide the necessary details to build a complete picture. There is latitude for each student to choose among the references to best suit their needs and interests.


Choice of study strategies:

First of all, use more than one approach. The more ways you experience the information, the easier it is to remember and understand. Experiment and use what works best. Some of my suggestions may seem awkward or time-consuming at first, but with practice, they are well worth the effort.

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Concept mapping:

"Messy" vs. "linear"- that is the question. We are taught to make neat outlines, which is OK for many things. But there are limitations. Outlining is great if you're writing, because it is largely linear. But wouldn't you rather have a map than a list of directions when going someplace new? A map can show you alternate routes in case the main route is blocked. Concept mapping allows you to build information maps showing connections between different bits of data and ideas. Besides gaining a better understanding, you can also find your way to details you might otherwise forget.

How you concept map is largely up to you. Some like to start with a huge piece of paper, then let the map grow as the semester progresses. [Some report that they like to hang them on the wall over their bed.] Others like to start with a sheet of paper to map each area they are currently studying. Then they link these smaller maps together in different ways- sort of like a dynamic puzzle. Many use different colors- some freely as the mood strikes; others develop a legend, with each color assigned a meaning. Some add illustrations. Others make diagrams. Still others make lists or tables. Be creative and have fun with it.

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Think 3D vs. 2D:

To really understand interactions at the molecular and cellular levels, you must get out of Flatland! While visualizing, downsize to change your perspective and focus. For example, try taking a walk through the cell instead of just looking at the picture as an abstract cartoon. Build models with anything that's handy. [Playing with your food is OK.]

Use the on-line models and animations to help develop a 3-D view.


Scheduled reviews:

Many students take notes and/or underline texts, but then they don't look at the information again until just before an exam. A much more effective method of review is to schedule frequent short reviews of only a few minutes at a time. Research shows that information is retained at a much higher level and for much longer if there is frequency of exposure. The additional advantages are that "cram sessions" aren't necessary and that the stress level is much reduced.

An ideal review schedule for reviewing lecture notes:

  1. 10 minutes after lecture- Fill in incomplete words or phrases; mark where you have questions or where you know you missed something. Later, follow up by comparing notes with others.

  2. 1 day after lecture- Briefly reread notes. Tie in with reading, if time allows.

  3. 1 week after lecture- Briefly reread notes. Tie in with other lectures by concept mapping.

  4. 1 month after lecture- Another brief review.

Some research has shown a 600% increase in recall after using the above schedule, when compared to a single review session.

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Perhaps reading in some courses can be limited to a single reading through the material. This is not true for things molecular and cellular, such as virology. Once is not enough! I strongly recommend a quick pre-read of the assigned material before the lecture, along with taking a look at the lecture outline. This accomplishes at least two things. It gives you a general idea of the intended focus and of the key terminology. It also allows you to participate in discussions during class. Following lecture, read the appropriate sections in depth. At this point, underline, if you find that to be effective for you, or take notes.

Review your underlining or notes on a schedule similar to reviewing lecture notes. Incorporate material from your reading into the concept maps.


Study time:

  • Try to keep study sessions limited to 20-30 minutes per time block, with 5-10 minute breaks in-between. You will be able to maintain better focus while studying. You will be able to maintain your energy level longer, especially with light snacks during some breaks. You will retain more information. This is true for any study activity, whether it be reading, concept mapping, problem solving, or working on the computer. I personally like 25 minute sessions, with 5 minute breaks. Experiment to find what timing sequence works best for you.

  • Try to study the same general time of day that the class meets. If you have a morning class, set aside at least some time on other mornings to study for that class. The same advice holds for afternoon and evening classes. If time is limited or if you feel tired, use that time for quick reviews.

  • For the bulk of your study time, find out when you are at your best for specific activities. For example, I'm a morning person by nature. I find that I'm much better at analytical tasks and writing in the morning. In the afternoon and evening, I can organize, edit, and read.

  • For some, music helps. This usually doesn't mean playing the latest hit to which you would rather sing or dance than read or write. Some research shows that music which is largo [60 beats/minute] works well. Some like to use a variety of selections composed by Mozart, but there are many other choices as well.

  • A simple study trick that helps in recall is to change your study location for different sections of material. For example, read one chapter at your desk, then read another in a comfortable chair, on your bed, or outside. The idea is that your "body memory" will help in recalling blocks of information. Another body/kinesthetic memory trick a former student told me he liked was to listen to lecture tapes while working out or jogging.
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What I do in class to help:

The organization of this course is designed to support most learning styles. Pre-reading on your part is important for both lectures and discussion sections.

  • For each lecture, a brief outline is presented, along with what to expect for the next lecture period. [Logic/organization]

  • At the beginning of most lectures, there is a quick quiz which lasts five minutes or less. [Intrapersonal] Don't worry- these are not collected or graded.

  • Lecture presentations include a variety of illustration styles and include interactive discussion. [Linguistic/Spatial/Interpersonal] Since active participation improves learning, I strongly encourage students to ask questions. I frequently ask for input and questions.

  • Periodically, I will break the class into small groups for a discussion or an activity. [Kinesthetic] Sometimes I'll ask for participation at the board or in the form of short presentations. If you are a kinesthetic learner, and sitting for a whole lecture bugs you, feel free to stand up and move around a bit. Just take others into consideration and don't block their view.

  • I'll make a point of showing how things fit together and I encourage you to do the same as you use the study guides. [Naturalist]

  • The one thing I don't do in this class is include music. You'll have to do that yourself, selecting what you like and using it at times you find beneficial.
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Study approach for maximum benefit from this class: 

  1. Browse appropriate sections before lecture. A brief overview is sufficient. Following lecture, read appropriate sections.

  2. The lectures will emphasize and highlight the information. Information not mentioned may still be important for understanding, so therefore do the reading. Areas to be stressed will be noted.

  3. For self-quiz prep, study the basics of the material covered first. After taking the quiz, check your answers. If you have a problem with a quiz, bring it up during Discussion- you are probably not alone.

  4. Make an organizational chart or concept maps. The structure is up to your personal choice and style. (This will not be graded.) It should contain "family" groups with their characteristics. Fill in with significant details; for example, genomic type, reproductive strategies, host type, expression regulation, mechanisms of transmission and pathogensis. For summarizing key concepts, include examples to illustrate.

  5. For exam prep, review steps 1-4 and use the study guides. The study guides will contain questions and exercises. Grading on the exam will be either "picky", "moderate", or "easy". An example of "picky" grading would be on a question which is directly from the study guide. An example of "moderate" grading would be on a question derived from the study guide. An example of "easy" grading would be on a situational question which requires fresh input and for which there is some allowable latitude based on multiple possible answers. NOTE: The third study guide only covers material covered after the second midterm. It does not review the semester for you.

  6. Wondering how to manage the workload? Feel insecure about your molecular prowess? Want some company? Form a study group! Groups of 3-5 work well. Quiz each other on parts of the study guide. Make concept maps together or build a group organizational chart. Share what you find on the Web. You can reserve a room in the library to work, or you can use an empty classroom. Or you can make creative stories about Pico and Levi in the wild West searching for a Corona.

  7. Pursue your personal areas of interest. These can be developed in preparing the journal presentation, computer searches, and to a certain extent in working through "The Great Paper Chase".

  8. Diagnose your personal weak areas. Review pertinent background material. Seek advise early- Level those molehills before they grow into mountains.

  9. Cooperate with your fellow students. This class is structured such that if all A's have been earned, all A's will be given.

  10. The last point is also the first point: ASK QUESTIONS!!!


Outcome at the end of this course and beyond:

What you should know: You should have a basic understanding of virology and know how it fits into the big picture of Life.

What you should be able to do: You should be able to find answers to questions, follow new ideas, and continue learning on your own or with others.


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