The First Ever SoftChalk User Conference

1 Oct IMG_0208.JPG

Hello from Baltimore. I managed to convince both my dean and my distance ed director to stake my trip to the SoftChalk User Conference. So far, I’ve managed to learn a few useful items, had some nice beer, and scored a free dinner, a coffee mug, and a T-shirt.
In the first session, by Richard Smith and Greg Priebe of Harford Community College, I learned a thing or two about making accessible content in web pages. Here are the most important:
1. Don’t use bullets when you can use numbers. Screen readers, used by visually impaired individuals, can’t make sense of bullets, but numbers are helpful for reference and review.
2. Make simple tables (of course, SoftChalk makes tables that can be read by screen-reading software) rather than elaborately formatted tables.
3. There is a code referred to as a ‘skip link’ that allows screen readers to skip over headers that repeat from page to page. I never thought about that, but if the screen reader has to read the entire page, and the top of each page is a lengthy table of contents (or other header), then that probably gets old in a hurry to your visually impaired students. If you can’t embed a skip link, then just skip the fancy headers.
4. If you can find out where, on your campus, the screen reader is located (it’s probably Jaws) then try out your web pages using the screen reader. With a blindfold on, so you can really experience how well you’ve made your pages accessible.
5. If you include embedded or linked videos, precede the link with the video title, along with the approximate length of the video. (This came as a handy tip from the audience.)
And, of course, I already knew to use closed-captioned videos – although it’s probably a good idea to preview those captions to make sure they are useful, rather than just assuming they are!

I’m not going to go into the useful attributes of SoftChalk here, but if you are interested, you can find them at http://www.softchalk.com, where you can check out the repository of lessons at SoftChalk Share. I will add this to my list, started last week, of repositories useful to the teaching of A&P.

The meeting continues tomorrow, all day, and I promise to pass on any useful information next Wednesday. Until then…

Betsy Ott
President-Elect

HAPSweb 4: The HAPS EDucator

28 Sep
Members of HAPS have access to a peer-reviewed quarterly publication called the HAPS EDucator.

Members of HAPS have access to a peer-reviewed quarterly publication called the HAPS EDucator.

Last week we posted about how HAPS members have access to the journal from the American Association of Anatomists. But did you also know that as a HAPS member you have free access to our very own quarterly publication, which gives you great resources such as new teaching techniques, original lesson plans, and labs activities?  The HAPS EDucator gives you access to this and more.  This quarterly, peer-reviewed publication accepts articles on new teaching techniques, trending topics in Anatomy and Physiology, and summaries of conferences you may have missed. There is even a special issue published after the Annual Conference to highlight the excellent speakers that always participate. The conference edition of the HAPS EDucator also features abstracts for the many interesting and insightful posters and workshops that are presented at the conference. This publication can help you keep up with what is going on in the HAPS world even if you cannot make it to any of the conferences during the year.

The current issue of the HAPS EDucator is the one dedicated to the Annual Conference that was held in May 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida.  It features interesting overviews of the speakers’ talks including a great talk by Dr. Timothy Wilson about using images in lectures, and the ability of our brains to learn information.  It also has a link to an article written by Dr. Wilson as well as links to his references if you want to learn more about the topic.

Also in this issue are summaries and graphs from the posters that were presented at the conference, including an interesting poster about Accidents and Injuries in the Human A&P Laboratory from a survey conducted by the HAPS Safety Committee.

Non-conference issues of the HAPS EDucator feature articles such as The Emerging Interface of Entomotoxicology, Forensic Entomology and Decomposition in Modern Crime Scene Investigation by Allison Gaines and Sarah Cooper (Spring 2014 edition), or Yoga, Anatomy and the Fitness Explosion on Campus by Sarah Cooper, Spencer Lalk, Susan White Phillips, and Jennifer Wood, PhD (Winter 2014).  Then again perhaps an article like Pedagogical Diversity in Introductory Human Anatomy and Physiology Class in a Small College Setting by Tarig B. Higaz (Winter 2014) would be something you might find interesting and helpful in the classroom.

The HAPS EDucator has a variety of articles available so everyone should be able to find something they are interested in and/or something helpful in the classroom in this publication.  It is a reference that you do not want to miss out on utilizing so check it out today.   Issues of the HAPS EDucator are published and archived online dating back to October of 1987.  So join HAPS and take advantage of this amazing resource today.

Repositories, Reviewed

24 Sep Lens refraction

Over the last two weeks, I’ve describe my online resources, and voiced a concern that my assets may not have a permanent home. This concern led me to explore online repositories specific to biology. What, I wondered, is already out there?  The answer is, quite a lot!  In only a few minutes of searching, I hit on a couple of sites with more resources than I had time to explore.

If you subscribe to HAPS-L, the list serve for HAPS, then you’re already aware of the LifeSciTRC (previously the Archive of Teaching Resources, http://www.lifescitrc.org/),  a wonderful service hosted by APS, the American Physiological Society (http://www.the-aps.org/).  In fact, APS is currently offering a program for undergraduate educators (the deadline has been extended!). You can check it out, and apply to be a LifeSciTRCScholar, at http://www.the-aps.org/LifeSciTRCScholars.  The repository at LifeSciTRC maintains a moderated list of links to online resources that are hosted by various other organizations.  The resources are organized into collections, a feature that will facilitate searching for just the right animation or case study for your  course.  There is also a wealth of metadata, including user comments, associated with these collections.  And, this is the home of the HAPS Institute course projects, which includes my product of the cadaver course a few years back. You can find a link to my project, along with a few comments, at http://www.lifescitrc.org/resource.cfm?submissionID=2938.

While the TRC repository jump-started this blog entry, I didn’t want to stop there. I found a wonderful resource at  www.hippocampus.org.  This site is hosted as part of the NROC project (http://theNROCproject.org).  This project is non-profit, funded in part by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and supported by members. You can get on their email list through a link on the website.  While a lot of the assets there currently are not for A&P, perhaps HAPS members can contribute resources to change that!

Finally, I found a lovely list of links at the Learning Objects Repository at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi (https://iol.tamucc.edu/repositories.html ).  The first link on the page is Merlot, which is one I was vaguely familiar with, but hadn’t visited much in the past.  I could get lost exploring animations of how mosquitoes sense their meals!  You can check out the biology resources of Merlot at http://biology.merlot.org/materials.html.  Membership is free, and once a member, you can create your own resources.  I hope to find more time to explore this soon!

Other links at the TAMU-CC site include the National Science Digital Library and MIT’s Open Courseware. This list is not specific to biology, but it wasn’t difficult to find sites I wanted to visit.

So, this week, I leave you with this: what online repositories do you use? Whether you are uploading or downloading, please share!

(Featured image courtesy Pam Gregory; image of Dr. Lynn Gray and Dr. Betsy Ott, as seen inverted through fresh lenses dissected from cow eyes)

-Dr. Betsy Ott
President-elect

HAPSweb 3: Anatomical Sciences Education (ASE)

21 Sep

AAA_journalDid you know that HAPS members have free access to the bimonthly publication from the American Association of Anatomists?

Anatomical Sciences Education is published in cooperation with the American Association of Clinical Anatomists and the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society. Their website describes the journal as providing “…an international forum for the exchange of ideas, opinions, innovations and research on topics related to education in the anatomical sciences of gross anatomy, embryology, histology, and neurosciences at all levels of anatomical sciences education including, undergraduate, graduate, post-graduate, allied health, medical (both allopathic and osteopathic), and dental.”

There are some directions HAPS members must follow to access this journal online.  These steps are described on the HAPS website.  First, click on the “Resources” menu on hapsweb.org and select “Teaching Resources.”  Here you’ll see a giant list of things available to members and non-members and if you scroll down to the very bottom, you’ll see a  handful of outside HAPS-related resources.  One of these is a link to the Life Science Teaching Resource Community, which was discussed on this blog during spring 2014.  But the next item on the list is a link to ASE.

Now, you have to be a member and enter your login information before you can access the next page, but if you are a member, you will be taken to a website with clear instructions for how to take advantage of your free online access to ASE.

So have you accessed ASE through HAPS?  Take the poll and let us know!

In Pursuit of Animations and Videos

17 Sep

Have you ever thought, ‘Gee, I bet I can knock out an animation of that process in no time!’ only to find, 15 hours later, that a 5- minute animation isn’t yet perfect?  Okay, well, maybe that’s just me, then.

I’ve tried my hand at different media to record animations and videos for students. I’m very sensitive to copyrights (see my last post), so if there is a clip I can make myself, I’d rather do that than ‘borrow’ someone else’s.  Or, better yet, I’ll coax Pam Gregory, my office neighbor and resident graphics whiz, into making it for me.  She taught me how to use Macromedia, back in the day.  I still have some of my first primitive animations.  Unfortunately, a lot of the original files are lost. (See my last post about keeping better track of files!)  But, I still have access to Pam’s very sophisticated Flash files.  I’ve posted a sample of some of them here, including Pam’s wonderful Flash animation of a sweat gland duct cell: https://www.softchalkcloud.com/lesson/serve/Bqa3cwOoHUThtb/html

Part of my problem is that I don’t want any inaccuracies in my animations.  It may take me longer to find out what we know about the actual shape of a carrier protein than it would to animate the entire process with a ‘blob’ standing in for that carrier. And, of course, an accurate animation takes longer to create than a moving blob, too.  What this usually means is that I start a really neat project, get sidetracked looking in Alberts’ Molecular Biology of the Cell, and don’t get it done until after final exams are over.  Ah, well, maybe I’ll have them for next semester, I think. In this way, I have gradually accumulated a small library of resources, plus the ones that Pam has made.

I’ve also tried just recording a straight lecture. I am not entirely happy about listening to my own voice; it seems unnatural when I slow down my speaking, but I feel that I talk too fast, otherwise.  Feedback from my online students indicates that they appreciate hearing my “lectures,” even if I don’t think they are well done.  I’m sorry to report that it takes at least 2.5 hours to record a one-hour lecture. Part of that is stopping/starting, due to the phone ringing or the parrot squawking. The rest is the editing/processing/publishing time, and the addition of closed captions.  Ask Wendy Riggs some time (or read her posts from last year) about how much fun it is to record a lecture late at night, because you promised you would.

I have found some great resources online, but lately I find myself looking at the style rather than listening to the substance.  My hands-down favorite source is Youreka Science (http://yourekascience.org/videos/).  The style is engaging, the pace is invigorating, and the substance is just right.  I want my videos to be like that.  I took a cue from them, in trying to keep the focus on the visuals rather than my talking head.  I just don’t seem to be able to pull it off. See my feeble efforts in this short video.

I also have problems figuring out the best way to post animations.  I use SoftChalk (www.softchalk.com) for my course content, but those lessons are all password protected, except for the one linked above, that I created just for you! And, I’m using my college’s web space, which they pay for.  So, I’m still searching for the best place to park content.  Juville Dario-Becker suggested, in reading my last blog post, using creative commons (creativecommons.org) to protect my copyright, which is a really good idea. But I still have to figure out how, and where, to post the work itself.   Wendy Riggs commented on my last post that the Life Science Teaching Resource Community (www.lifescitrc.org) is a repository, but I think it’s mostly a collection of links – not a stand-alone repository.  So, I’m still working on hatching a plan, and I definitely haven’t given up my pursuit of elegant animations hand-tailored by me and my associates, for the good of our students.

And, I’m wondering, as I did last week, what other HAPSters are doing when you get those creative urges?  Do you have some resources you can share? Any interest in collaborative hosting?

- Betsy Ott, President-Elect

HAPSweb 2: The Email Listserv

14 Sep
Bag of gold

The HAPS listserv is as fantastic as a bag of gold!

The HAPS email listserv is where some of the most interesting conversations in A&P are taking place!  The listserv is a members-only benefit that is an extremely valuable resource.  If you are a member of HAPS, but have not yet joined the listserv, you are missing out on one of the best parts of membership.

For example, Ken Saladin, author of three A&P textbooks, wrote, “I have found the HAPS-L listserv to be an invaluable resource. Occasionally I know something edifying to other list participants, which is gratifying, but more often, I learn from others brighter or better informed than I. HAPS-L discussions have alerted me to many new perspectives in A&P that have found their way into my textbooks, and to issues where I’ve needed to re-evaluate my assumptions and correct or update my information. As a rich source of ideas for improvements and corrections, HAPS-L ranks at least as high as, or maybe higher than, the peer reviews we commission for each new edition.

“As an active classroom professor, I mention new information from HAPS-L often in my A&P lectures, explain my teaching and testing with reference to what I know the nationwide US-Canadian norms to be, and occasionally check with my HAPS-L colleagues on questions my students ask that I can’t immediately answer. My students seem to appreciate that I’m actively engaged in this network of A&P instructors, sometimes referring their questions to the listserv and always formulating my teaching practices not in isolation, but in the context of the expectations of A&P courses everywhere. “

The current HAPS President, Tom Lehman, added, “I smile on Fridays when I see multiple posts shooting out from colleagues who are trying to find reasons not to grade their latest exam.  Some of the posts are goofy and some are serious, but they’re almost all – on those Friday afternoons – a chance for educators to brainstorm and vent and share.  Even when we’re swamped with work, they give us a chance to flesh out some idea that has been percolating in the back of our minds, knowing that we have several colleagues who we can trust to consider our crazy idea and help build it into something amazing for our students.  The list-serv is one of the best aspects of being a member of HAPS.”

Well said, Mr. President.

A Cautionary Tale about Online Repositories

10 Sep image of a Google search

When I first pondered what I would share in the HAPS blog, I considered my prior forays into online resources. I’d like to tell you about my first, not only so you can make use of it, but also for the lessons learned from it. For many years now, I’ve maintained a website with photos of microscope images, dissected specimens, and anatomical models. You can check it out at http://science.tjc.edu but I need to warn you, it’s seriously out of date and not long for this world.

Actually, the site is not as out-of-date as it was about a month ago, when I was musing about what to say about my website. I decided I really ought to look it over. Coincidentally, about that same time, I received 2 emails from colleagues, telling me my website was down. That meant I had to contact the webmaster at my college and ask what the problem was. It seems they had forgotten they had arranged to ‘park’ my materials on a small server, and when they needed to shut that server down, my stuff went with it. When I inquired, the IT staff agreed to reactivate the server until we could come up with a plan to move the content, as the server was running on an old operating system and needed to go. As of now, no actionable plan has been developed, but the clock is still ticking.

My web guru at the College was concerned not only with outdated material and broken links, but also with complying with college standards for online materials. I have some time-consuming work ahead of me, if I wish to maintain my space on the College’s server. I also have to change my work habits to include getting approval of material from the web gate-keeper, I’m sure.

So, what I’ve done so far is delete extraneous material (outdated faculty directories, expired schedules, out-of-date degree plans) and leave up only the biological images that are popular with faculty and students around the world. Unfortunately, the software I used to build the site (FrontPage) is no longer available. And, some of my fanciest ‘footwork,’ such as hotspots in images, don’t work anymore.

Here’s the moral of my story – Keep up with your online resources! I should have kept better archival files, so that I can’t inadvertently delete the only high-res file of irreplaceable images, such as the aortic aneurism we found when dissecting a cat. I should have learned to use a more modern program than FrontPage before losing access to my own site. I should have migrated to the cloud by now!

In a happier vein, my web resources have led to interesting contacts with people requesting permission to use, or to publish, some of our images. My colleagues and I (primarily Pam Gregory, who is a whiz at graphics) have had images published in a textbook in France and a professor’s notes in Ireland. We’ve also discovered unauthorized versions with English labels replaced by other languages, or posted without attribution on other people’s websites. I have mixed feelings about that last – we do give free permission to use for educational purposes. I’m not sure what proper etiquette is on using someone else’s work online, but it was disconcerting to see our images posted on someone else’s page, with no mention of our ownership.

Here are some questions I’d love to hear answers to:

What are other Hapsters doing online?

What do you think is the proper way to acknowledge when you are using someone else’s images?

How do you keep track of your online materials?

How can HAPS help us share, and keep current, our treasury of resources?

And, finally, for those who wish to use our images, our request is that you let us know (so we can justify keeping our website as ‘marketing’ for the College), and attribute to “Betsy Ott and Pam Gregory, Tyler Junior College, Tyler, Texas.”

HAPSweb 1: Become a Member!

8 Sep
Treasure chest full of glittering treasure.

HAPS is a treasure trove of teaching resources.

Welcome back to another semester of Anatomy and Physiology fun. This semester, the Communications Committee will share a series of posts describing the many resources available to HAPS members via the HAPS website.  If you aren’t yet a member of HAPS, this series might encourage you to join.  If you are a member, you will probably be reminded of how many treasures are available to our members.  We all think HAPS membership is a really great deal!

The resources found on the HAPS website are divided into two categories:  public and members-only.  The public resources are freely available to members and non-members alike.  While we are extremely proud of our public resources (like David Evans’ “What’s New in A&P“), we really want to encourage folks to take advantage of the benefits of membership.  This list is long and the benefits combine to make HAPS the most welcoming and useful membership organization for an Anatomy and Physiology teaching professional.

You can join HAPS by visiting the webpage and selecting your member type.

Dues schedule for HAPS membership.

Join HAPS now! There are many ways to get the most out of your membership.

Next week, we’ll begin the conversation by reminding ourselves of one of the most valuable membership benefits: The HAPS email listserv.

Moving Forward: A Blog Plan for the Fall

17 Aug
We're making new BLOG-er-ific plans for the fall...stay tuned for all the reasons you are happy to be a member of HAPS!

We’re making new BLOG-er-ific plans for the fall…stay tuned for all the reasons you are happy to be a member of HAPS!

I love this time of year.  Even though I am sad that summer is winding down, I feel refreshed from the summer activities involving family and fun and sleep (!), and I start getting excited to gear up for a whole new semester.  Just like the rest of us, the HAPS blog is gearing up for a fresh set of posts.

So here’s the plan for the fall.  After a brief break, the Communication Committee will be doing a new series on all the cool things YOU can find on the HAPS website.  These posts will be published each Monday and our goal is to inspire folks to either renew their HAPS memberships or join for the first time.  HAPS is a really amazing organization that supports its members in such a personal and meaningful way.  Ask any HAPSter: The value of a HAPS membership goes FAR beyond the cost of the annual dues.   It will be fun to follow this set of posts and be reminded on a weekly basis just how many ways HAPS membership supports YOU.

We are also excited to start hearing from HAPS President-elect Betsy Ott .  This will be a great opportunity to learn more about Betsy and some of the exciting things she’s got planned for her time as HAPS President next year.

With this plan in place, if you get a wild hair and want to join the Communication Committee, I’d love to recruit you up to write for our blog!  Just shoot me an email and I’m happy to make it happen (I’ve got skills like that).  And in the meantime, enjoy these last few days of summer and happy new school year to all!

HAPS-I: Rational Course Design

10 Aug
Image from http://www.zazzle.com/rational_as_pi_tshirt-235552823010272068

Maybe I need some lessons on being RATIONAL.
(Tshirt available at Zazzle.com)

I am sometime surprised by the way I can squeeze time out of an apparently packed week. But just like students often “need” the pressure of a quiz to remain diligent in their studies, I find tasks easier to complete if they are linked with looming deadlines.

So! In a moment of brilliant justification, I decided to sign up for Margaret Weck’s HAPS-I course on rational course design. Ready for the justification? It is simple. I will be teaching Human Physiology in the spring semester and have already decided to re-work the entire course. I’ve taught Physio many times in the past and feel it needs a giant overhaul. This means new labs, new lectures, new projects…the whole deal. And of course, I’ve been wondering where I would come up with the time to DO this overhaul—(insert heroic music here!)—HAPS and Dr. Weck to the rescue!

The course description states:  Participants will produce syllabi for new or existing courses that demonstrate the principles of rational course design.  As part of this process sample assignments and assessments will also be developed that could be used in any course to demonstrate student achievement of the A&P Learning Outcomes.  Clearly, this is the perfect opportunity to learn from the amazing Margaret Weck, complete a comprehensive overhaul of my course, and  take advantage, yet again, of all the ways HAPS helps me become a better teacher.

So join me!  This will be a fun class!  You can earn two graduate credits for the course, or just take it for professional development.  And remember—you can still apply for a HAPS-I scholarship to help you pay for the course.  The deadline to apply for this generous award is Friday August 15.

 

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