How do You Know?

As we approach the end of the third quarter of the semester, I tend to get bogged down thinking about all the students who don’t get it. Conversations with colleagues circle around stories of amazement over student mistakes, including missed opportunities for redemption.  It seems the efforts we make (often much more than some of our students seem to be willing to make) just suck the life out of us at this time of the semester, and it’s hard to remember that we still have a significant number of students who are doing fine.  It seems the good students tend to be quiet enough to stay below my radar.  This is probably a good thing,in terms of allocation of time, because many of my office hours are dedicated to devising new strategies to help the struggling students.

Which brings me to the question, How do you know when they get it? And, how soon can you know that they aren’t getting it? And, more importantly, how do THEY know when they are getting it, and when they aren’t?  And, now that we’re asking, how do they know what to do about it?

We all know there are plenty of resources to help students learn.  Between the textbook resources, individual faculty resources, free and paid apps, and commercial study resources, students have options for any study style.  Every one of us creates a schedule of reasonable expectations and provides appropriate resources.  Somewhere between setting up the course, and executing it, there is a gap between what we expect and what some of our students actually do.  I can see the gap, and I know they can, too. I’m just not sure, in the balance between trying to help them succeed and making sure they are independent learners, when and how to intervene.

So, for some time, I’ve been mulling over creating modularized, individual mini-lessons on very specific outcomes.  These would not only tie in to the HAPS outcomes, but also be useful in a competency-based structure. Students could use the lessons to learn, to assess their own mastery, and even to review when they enter their professional programs.  I think this would give both students and faculty the answer to my questions – including the one on what to do about their lack of achievement.

Aside from the time involved in creating an entire two-course set of mini-lessons, I’m stymied by a lack of expertise in creating a platform that is readily available and appealing to users. I’m pretty sure I can write the lessons (particularly in concert with other HAPSters), but I’m looking for a platform that students will use.  What I would need is someone who can convert the lessons into games or similar apps that would let students work on small parts, and eventually build them into a fluency in A&P.  The closest app I’ve seen is called Duolingo; it’s an app for learning foreign languages. (If you always planned to do that, I highly recommend it, and it’s free! You can find it on the web at  Call me a starry-eyed optimist, but I think something like that would work for some of our students, particularly the ones who suffer from over-commitment and need to have lessons they can stop and come back to.  What if we could offer something like that as an app, and students could use it before they sign up for a course, and continue using it while taking a course, and later when studying for board exams?  How would a tool like this fit into the traditional model of higher education? What do you think? I’d love to hear what ideas you have to help me make it past the late-semester doldrums…

– Betsy Ott

HAPS Web 8- Student Lab Data Project

People working together to build a puzzle.
Helping students work together while improving the quality of lab data they can analyze…this is the goal of the Student Lab Data Project.

If you haven’t already gotten this idea, HAPS is an organization based on sharing and camaraderie between A&P instructors all around the world. In this vein, HAPS member Julie Dias, with the crucial support of HAPS Executive Director Peter English, built a dynamic website to enable Laboratory Data Collection and Sharing Amongst Post-Secondary Institutions.  

The project stemmed from a desire to increase student interest in data collection and analysis by allowing them to share their data with other students around the world who were conducting similar experiments.  It was also hypothesized that sharing data could result in a larger pool of data for under-represented groups which may include students in higher age categories, smokers, elite-level athletes and possibly even males.

The project includes three different spreadsheets to choose from:

  • EKG – heart rate, PR interval, P wave duration, QRS duration, T wave duration (before and after exercise)
  • Heart Rate and Blood pressure (systolic and diastolic ) before and after exercise
  • Spirometry – respiration rate, tidal volume, inspiratory reserve, expiratory reserve, vital capacity, FEV1, FVC (before and after exercise)

All three spreadsheets also include the following demographic parameters: gender  and age (both mandatory), and ethnicity, BMI, waist circumference, activity level, and smoker (all optional).

Any equipment for physiological data collection can be used.  There is a column for inputting the type of equipment used to gather the data, such as Vernier with Logger Pro, BioPac, iWorks, etc.  Contact Julie Dais to receive your private Google Docs spreadsheet for your institution, which will enable you to contribute data to the project.  You do not need to be a HAPS member to do this.

A second aspect of the project includes resources to support basic statistical analyses using MS Excel.  Data analysis templates are available along with instructions on how to perform these analyses and how to interpret the results.  If you have questions or comments about the data analysis, you can contact Erin Radomske.  Periodically the data submitted by the various participating colleges will be “curated” or further examined for erroneous results and moved to an Excel file on this page.  However, to access this file of group data, you need to be a HAPS member.  Please feel free to comment on this activity and make suggestions by using the Lab Data Forum.

This project represents just the sort of innovative collaboration fostered by HAPS that makes membership in the organization so incredibly valuable.

LORS Revisited

I listened to a webinar today, hosted by Instructure Canvas. My college uses Canvas as our LMS (learning management system), so whenever they have a new initiative, I pay attention. This time, they were publicizing “Canvas Commons,” which will give Canvas users the ability to share not only individual learning objects (LOs), but entire course modules, including lessons, animations, quizzes, and any other component you can put in a module.  Currently in beta testing, Canvas Commons will be available to educators to create entire courses, which they can choose to share within their departments, or with whomever is interested. Students can be given a link to the Commons course, and will have access to its resources. Course components can be shared; whole modules or individual LOs can be exported from the Commons and imported into another course.  The key for Instructure, of course, is that this will be available to users of the Canvas LMS.

The ‘marketing hook’ Canvas used in touting their product, “A Learning Object Repository That Actually Gets Used,” implies there are others out there that are not used, or perhaps not useful.  In the early part of the webinar, Merlot and others were referenced as ‘ancient’ resources, dating all the way back to the early 2000’s.  (I had mentioned Merlot in an earlier blog post.)  The first half of the webinar was mostly a review of OERs (open educational resources, such as Merlot) and the educational history of LOs. Apparently (at least, based on looking up the number of ‘hits’ in web searches), the term ‘learning object’ has been falling out of favor in the U.S., although it is still quite popular in Australia.  The suggestion was made that LOs are either hard to find, or perhaps just not very useful.

Of course, this webinar was general in nature, not specific to Anatomy & Physiology, so the excellence of the LifeSciTRC repository hosted by APS would not have been known to the Canvas developers. (And, the structure of the LifeSciTRC repository is very different from that of Canvas Commons.)  During the Q&A period, questions of costs, access, and storage space were answered in pretty general terms, so it’s hard to envision how widely adopted this resource will be, in spite of the clear intent of the webinar title.  Still, it’s interesting to imagine having a library of A&P LOs available to all HAPS members in an accessible format, organized into modules arranged by HAPS learning outcomes.  I know Canvas question banks can be linked to specific course learning outcomes, so there is an analytical application there.  At this point, I am formulating a goal of having my own courses in Canvas set up that way. Maybe, someday, I’ll be able to share, and perhaps others in HAPS will similarly have LOs in compatible formats, whether in Canvas, or in whatever form comes next, when Canvas is considered ‘ancient,’ maybe 10 years from now.

…On a separate note, I became aware of the “badges” available to the users of the LifeSciTRC repository. You can check them out at  I’m not sure if badges are useful in a professional sense, so I thought I’d ask…

– Betsy Ott

HAPS Web 7- Position Statements

If your institution wants you to dissect lego frogs instead of real ones, HAPS can help you formulate a departmental position on the issue.
If your institution wants you to dissect Lego frogs instead of real ones, HAPS can help you formulate a departmental position on the issue.

Tens of thousands of students take Anatomy and Physiology courses every year, usually as preparation for a career in health. A&P instructors touch the lives of all of these students, and HAPS gives those instructors guidance on dealing with some of the ethical and procedural issues that can arise in the process of this instruction. Having these guidelines and position statements allows HAPS members to rely on these statements as starting points for conversations when these issues come up.

One of the more contentious issues that arises is the use of animal specimens. Historically, an important tool of investigation in human anatomy has been dissection of animals. Often this is because human material is hard to come by and has its own logistical issues (see below). Dissection, both of humans and animals, instills a recognition and appreciation for the three-dimensional structure of the animal body, the interconnections between organs and organ systems, and the uniqueness of biological material while conveying the inherent variability of living organisms not otherwise observable in simulations and models. In physiology, experiments involving live animals provide an excellent opportunity to learn the basic elements specific to scientific investigation and experimentation. At the same time, HAPS also encourages educators to be responsive to student concerns regarding use of animals and to provide students who object to animal use with alternative learning materials. HAPS contends that science educators should retain responsibility for making decisions regarding the educational uses of animals and opposes any legislation or administrative policy that would erode the educator’s role in decision making or restrict dissection and animal experimentation in biology.

While animal dissection may approach the ideal, human cadavers provide opportunities that cannot be duplicated by animal dissection. HAPS believes that the opportunity to observe and wonder at the complexity of the human body, the impact of disease on human structure, the effects of age and life style on anatomy, and structural variations related to development are unique attributes of a cadaver experience. While anatomical models, interactive computer programs, and multimedia materials may enhance the laboratory experience, they should not be considered as equivalent alternatives or substitutes for a hands-on cadaver experience where it is available. HAPS supports the use of cadavers for anatomical study provided their use is in strict compliance with federal legislation, the guidelines of the National Institutes of Health, and the body donor program from which the cadavers were acquired, and that such use fulfills clearly defined educational objectives.

HAPS also provides position statements on the quality of education that institutions should be providing to our A&P students. A growing trend in education is the use of ‘distributed learning’ – partially or wholly online courses and the use of web-based resources. These educational distribution methods provide a number of advantages: providing access to education that might not otherwise be available to particular students, flexibility in scheduling and learning styles for students, and the wealth of resources available on the internet. Nevertheless, these instructional technologies must support and complement the needs of best principles of teaching and learning, including training of instructors, pedagogical best-practices and assessment security and integrity. Online courses should provide an equivalent experience and similar material to face-to-face courses, and not be watered-down versions of an on-campus course.

On the topic of instructor accreditation, HAPS understands that A&P instructors come from a wide variety of post-baccalaureate programs including traditional life sciences programs (e.g. biology or physiology) as well as programs like biological anthropology and kinesiology. In addition, many A&P instructors come from clinical backgrounds such as nursing or physical therapy. HAPS has a number of guidelines for suggested coursework that A&P instructors should have taken, and how clinical or practical experience can be considered substitutions for this coursework. These guidelines embrace the diversity in backgrounds while still requiring rigorous standards of instruction and evaluation of that instruction.

These guidelines and position statements, with far more detail and formality, can be found on the HAPS website.  These statements are tools that HAPS provides for dealing with the questions that A&P instructors may encounter when dealing with students, administrations, and the public.

More on Repositories, Musing on Games

As I continue my exploration of online repositories, I get recommendations from other HAPS members. For example, Hiranya Roychowdhury, co-chair of the Curriculum and Instruction committee, made me aware of the University of Wisconsin learning object repository at  A quick search brought me to the life sciences learning objects, where I could see how many ‘hits’  a particular object has, what rating it has, when it was last updated, and even whether it is compatible with mobile devices.

The site has a number of cool-looking options, including a game builder, along with badges for different levels of participation.  I admit I haven’t had time to explore the learning objects posted there for quality, accuracy, and engagement, but the idea of it is intriguing.

I also came across a blog posted at Edutopia ( this week that discussed aspects of game design, and how that increases student engagement.  I remember playing competitive games in high school courses, and how those activities increased buy-in from me and my classmates.  I’ve played a version of Jeopardy (TM) with my own A&P classes, and I was surprised when some of my non-participatory students could pop up with correct answers when sufficiently motivated and engaged.

I’ve started using an app called Duolingo, which teaches languages through quiz-like assessments – including recognizing pictures, speaking, listening, and interpreting. (It’s completely free, by the way.)  Maybe, with this quick and easy, short-lesson-format, I’ll finally learn some useful Spanish after living in Texas for 30 years…I’ll confess, I get really drawn in to video games. Once hooked, I tend to return to get higher scores and achieve higher levels.   All it takes for me is early rewards and a clear path to the next victory.  Turning course work into games might help hook some students that otherwise would not take the time for the drudgery of memorization and review.

One of the points made in the Edutopia article was the need to have early failures (low stakes) built in, so students are working to improve performance and getting early rewards for doing so.  I have also read that making decisions – even if incorrect – can help reinforce memory.  I’ve built some auto-graded assessments into my online lessons, but I think the gaming environment would make them more attractive to some of my students.  I speculate that if we could make a sufficiently addictive video game for A&P, we could just sit back and watch students learn.  Until that day, though, I continue to search for anything that simultaneously engages and teaches my students.

I’d love to hear from you, particularly if you know of other repositories, apps, games, or references on how to incorporate more engaging content in an online or classroom environment.

-Betsy Ott,

HAPS Web 6- A Message From Your HAPS-Ed Team!

The HAPS-EDucator is a great way to share ideas!
The HAPS-EDucator is a great way to share ideas!

This week, the Communications Committee brings you a message from the co-editors of the HAPS EDucator, Jennelle Malcos and Sarah Cooper.

You may have read the post a couple weeks ago focusing on the HAPS EDucator and all the exciting resources it has to offer.  We would like to now share with you some information about how you can share your ideas and contribute to this resource.  Submitting an article is easy to do with out new “Author Submission Packet” posted on the HAPS EDucator website.

The goal of the EDucator is to foster the advancement of A&P education by promoting communication and collaboration between HAPS members – also known as sharing your ideas!  You may be wondering what types of articles are considered for publications.  There are many types and vary from innovative teaching techniques or lesson plans, reviews of trending topics in A&P or summaries of noteworthy events or experiences.  We also feature our popular Edu-Snippets:  quick and easy ideas to use in the classroom or lab.  We encourage you to think outside the box and publish in areas that interest and excite you because they will likely excite others.

Starting in 2014, regular article submissions are now undergoing a peer-review process based on the standards of “Educational Scholarship”.  If you submit an article, 2-4 members of the HAPS EDucator Editorial Board will review your article based on the following criteria:

  1.  Is the article appropriate and relevant for HAPS members and the society’s goal of promoting excellence in human anatomy and physiology teaching?
  2.  Is the article scientifically accurate and reflects the author’s preparation and knowledge in the field?
  3.  Is the presented information organized and free form spelling and grammatical errors?

You will receive targeted feedback and the opportunity to make corrections if necessary.  Through this process, published articles are considered peer-reviewed and can be used for the purposes of promotion and tenure at your institute.

After the annual conference we also look for members to share their experiences in the “HAPS EDucator Annual Conference Edition”.  We encourage workshop and poster presenters to share a summary of their work or attendees to share there favorite part of the conference.  This becomes a valuable resource for those that cannot make the journey to the annual conference.

Submitting an article is a great way to contribute to HAPS and help promote your career.  If you ever have any questions about the submission process, please feel free to contact us at  Now take a break from reading this blog and start sharing your ideas!

Your Co-Editors,

Jennelle Malcos and Sarah Cooper

Competency in A&P

I wrote last week about attending the SoftChalk User Conference in Baltimore.  At the end of 2 days of workshops, I attended a presentation about competency-based education. This is something of a buzz word, as nontraditional certification programs develop ways to certify individuals to be capable for employment. It’s also a natural consequence, I think, of acknowledging that a grade in a course doesn’t guarantee the ability to apply, or even remember, what was learned in a course.

So, I’m interested in finding ways to teach, and document, competency to and for our students.  The topic of this workshop was competency in a speech course, but I think the basic idea can be translated to other academic areas.  The presenter had a very narrow designation for competencies: every specific, individual skill at the most basic level that could be explained and tested was a competency.  The way she used these in her course involved allowing students to demonstrate competency and accumulate them for credit.

This got me thinking – can we take the HAPS learning outcomes, at the finest level, and develop short lessons that focus on those individual skills/ideas, then construct an organizational framework that builds into a conceptual structure that students can apply to higher levels?  These could be parked in a HAPS-approved repository, such as LifeSciTRC. They could stress different learning styles and incorporate various resources (such as video files) that would help students with different learning styles.  HAPS members could contribute to a pool of resources that could be tagged by learning style, HAPS objective, and maybe Bloom’s levels.

I can’t say I have a fully-formed idea of this in my head, but I think I’ll try to pull something together, and post it in SoftChalk (which has a new initiative called SoftChalk Share) for feedback.

I realize there could be issues of copyright, competition, and other complications, and I’m interested in both the pros and the cons. So, please share – what do you think? I know there are some wonderful resources developed by HAPS members and others…does this idea fill a niche?  Is it something you could use? Would you be willing to contribute?

Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful input.

Betsy Ott
HAPS President-Elect