Office of Distance Education Instructor Spotlight: Madhura Pradhan

October 11, 2023

Office of Distance Education Instructor Spotlight: Madhura Pradhan

madhura pradhan

Earlier this academic year, ASC Office of Distance Education Instructional Designer Sarah Dove had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Madhura Pradhan, Professor of Teaching of Microbiology, to discuss her experiences teaching online courses, instructional methods that she has found to be especially effective, and the evolving landscape of distance learning in higher education.  

Dr. Madhura Pradhan is a Professor of Teaching in the Department of Microbiology and has been teaching at the Ohio State University for more than 20 years. She teaches microbiology, immunology, and microbial pathogenesis courses and has been instrumental in improving the microbiology curriculum by designing and developing several new courses. She developed the first online-hybrid course in the department in 2016 using Backward Design principles. In her teaching practices, she routinely embeds active learning strategies and integrates pedagogical methods based in educational research or evidence-based teaching.

The two pillars of her teaching philosophy are rooted in student metacognition and fostering independent thinking. Her teaching practices have been recognized and selected for publication and presentation by professional organizations such as American Society of Microbiology (ASM) and Society for Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER). She has authored several digital resources including adaptive online learning tool in immunology and interactive student response tool for team-based learning in microbiology. She serves on the curriculum committee of the department of Microbiology and is a chair of the departmental Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee. She is also actively involved in the curriculum committee of the Arts and Sciences College (ASC). Outside her classrooms, she remains actively engaged in student life by serving as a faculty advisor for OSU student organizations and engages in public outreach by mentoring middle-school and high-school students for their science projects.

Moving Toward Distance Learning  

In her role as an Instructor for Microbiology, Madhura has been teaching several courses for both majors and non-majors, including 4000.01, 4000.02, 4110, 4140, and 5122.  She successfully designed and developed the first hybrid online course in the department as 4000.02 Basic and Practical Microbiology and has been teaching it since 2018, expanding enrollment each year. Dr. Pradhan continues to design and develop new courses as well as working to improve and expand her pedagogical toolbox. She was instrumental to developing Microbiology 4000.01 and collaborated on the creation of the course Microbiology 4140 Molecular Microbiology Laboratory. Madhura helped in re-developing Microbiology 4110 Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunobiology, a required core course for Microbiology-majors, and has been teaching it while aligning immunology content offered in several other courses across the curriculum. While her academic credentials and knowledge in Microbiology are impressive, what makes her stand out is her compassionate and student-centered approach, which combines significant support of student learning, a flexible instructional model and rigorous academic standards. 

“Every time you work with a new population of students, you also grow as an instructor because you can better anticipate where things might go wrong or where you need to provide more direction., So, it is not only student’s being taught, but instructors are also being taught by those experiences.” – Dr. Madhura Pradhan 

For Dr. Pradhan, the move toward teaching in online spaces was one born of recognizing the needs of her students. Having taught at Ohio State since 2000, she has long been interested in meeting the diverse needs of her students. She came to see teaching online as a means to broaden access to her students, many of which were juggling many commitments outside of their studies. While moving in the direction of a flipped classroom model already, with recorded lectures and the scheduled class time focused on application activities and discussion, she realized how students were benefiting from having course material available in multiple formats online. This intersection between wishing to meet student needs for a more flexible learning experience and working to make best instructional use of evolving technologies pushed her to develop a fully online version of the Basic and Practical Microbiology course and continues to motivate her to improve her knowledge of teaching and learning online.  

“I developed this online course, before the pandemic, because of what I saw in the classroom. I used to teach a night class, to accommodate diverse populations of students. I had several students, who had children, or who had a job, and could not come to the class. And I wondered why they were not interested (in the class). That is until I built the online class and I learned, it is not that they are not interested, it was because they were unable to because of the challenges outside their education. The more we become aware of the challenges our students face outside the classroom, the better the instructor can be in helping students learn. So, that is where I got the idea: what can I do to accommodate the struggles of these students and still provide them the course content they need to be successful?” – Dr. Madhura Pradhan 

Active Learning and Metacognitive Practices 

Dr. Pradhan employs a variety of instructional strategies and pedagogical frameworks when designing and delivering her online courses but, when talking to her about her teaching, two pillars emerge as especially valuable parts of her instructional approach, active learning and metacognitive practices. Over time, she has come to see these sets of principles as integral to her success in teaching online and has continued to develop her classes around keeping students actively engaged and encouraging them to reflect on their own learning.  

Active Learning 

Active Learning has long been an essential aspect of Dr. Pradhan’s instructional approach. Her Microbiology lectures, in-person or recorded online, strive to engage students with the course content and with each other, calling for students to unpack complex concepts or apply new information to previously studied subjects through discussion and ongoing checks for understanding. For example, in one of her classes, students are assigned a cell type and they are encouraged to think of each week’s topic throughout the term from the perspective of that cell type. By donning the perspective of a specific type of immune cell, students must think of the implications of each week’s topics as well as uncover the lines of connection between seemingly disparate concepts in microbiology. 

“We do a lot of active learning in our in-person classes, because we know our audience is not going to be with us the entire hour, and it is the same thing with online learning. We need to engage our audience by having something interactive, not just passively listening to a recorded lecture, or passively attending a zoom class.” – Dr. Madhura Pradhan 


Our office first engaged with Dr. Pradhan when searching for panelists for our Teaching Forum event focused on Transparency and Metacognition in Online Courses. When you talk with Dr. Pradhan about her teaching practice, it is evident that she cares about her students and equally clear that she sees her role as engaging her students with the concepts of microbiology and facilitating an active and present awareness in students about the relevance of microbiology to their lives and the ways in which the course opens up new pathways for discovering the wonder of science.  

“We are trying to prompt our students to think of themselves as learners, and make themselves the architects of their own learning.” – Dr. Madhura Pradhan

In Dr. Pradhan’s Basic and Practical Microbiology course at the very beginning of the term, she asks students to complete a brief survey that encourages them to reflect on their preparedness for the course and how they have been successful learners in the past. The survey prompts students to make plans for when and how frequently they intend to engage with the course in CarmenCanvas (the Learning Management System at The Ohio State University) as well as to plan how they will successfully engage with the course content. Student responses get students thinking about their own learning and provides insights to Madhura about how she might adjust the course to meet the needs of this specific group of students.  

Part of Dr. Pradhan’s experimentation with her class has included moving some assessments from high stakes exams to group projects, such as concept maps, which push students away from simple memorization and toward a higher-level understanding of the concepts taught in the microbiology course and the complex relationships between those concepts. This concept mapping project culminates with students producing analysis in which concepts introduced in the course are found in the diverse real-world experiences and interests of her students. Her ultimate goals with this kind of change are to ensure that the learning students are doing has more lasting, formative impact, and becomes something that they carry with them beyond the boundaries of that discreet learning environment.  

A final and still evolving metacognitive practice that Dr. Pradhan is utilizing in her online course involves the collaborative project of student created study guides. We asked Dr. Pradhan to tell us about this assignment and how it connects to her other teaching practices in an interview we include in ASC ODE’s Guided Course Creation program:  


ASC ODE Instructor Spotlight: Dr. Madhura Pradhan Video Transcript22.28 KB


As Dr. Pradhan notes, the value of this exercise can be found in its ability to illuminate prominent bottlenecks to student learning while also foregrounding student agency in cultivating individualized approaches to their own learning.

Looking To the Future  

When Dr. Pradhan discusses the development of her current thinking, and current teaching practices, related to distance learning, it is evident she sees this as a journey of experimentation. She describes her course as one in which she is always making small tweaks and slight adjustments to improve the course in specific areas. When asked about advice for other instructors developing online courses, she emphasized the need for experimentation and patience.  

“You are not going to have a perfect online class on your first try because the interface is very different than your in-person classes. You will learn along the way how to do things more efficiently and effectively..... allow yourself some freedom to learn and grow, and then move forward.” – Dr. Madhura Pradhan 

The pandemic has accelerated many trends in distance education and altered the expectations of students regarding access to online learning materials. Dr. Pradhan mentioned that she is often thinking about new methods and strategies to make her classes more engaging and interactive. She believes that we should invest in the trend toward more interactive learning experiences, in which students can access a full range of multimodal interactions with instructors and peers and receive real-time feedback on their learning. As the quality of learning tools improves, these dynamic interactions will become more fluid and seamless, providing ever broadening access to higher education for diverse learning communities.   

The ASC Office of Distance Education is grateful to Dr. Pradhan for taking the time to share her views and experiences with our team. We look forward to seeing what she will do next to make her microbiology courses accessible, engaging, and highly effective.  


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