HAPS Eastern Regional Conference: October 3!

A message from the ComCom
A message from the ComCom

Don’t forget to register for the HAPS Eastern Regional Meeting! Online registration will be closing on Wednesday, September 30th (registration will be available on-site).  The meeting will be hosted by Wor-Wic Community College in Salisbury, Maryland on October 3rd and will feature presentations from Jeffrey Hollar and Dr. Donna DeCosta.

Wor-Wic Community College is a great place to become a better teacher!
Wor-Wic Community College is a great place to become a better A&P instructor!

HAPS President Elect, Terry Thompson is the Conference Coordinator for the event and she’s excited about what the day will hold. There is one hotel available for those looking to stay after the regional meeting. The Hampton Inn has given HAPS a discounted rate of $80/night for reservations made October 3-5. Reservations can be made HERE.

And check out some of the workshops that you can explore:

  • Using online narrated video clips to improve student learning
  • Maryland’s Body Donor Program: Onsite Clinical Training Labs  to Advance Medical Education, Clinical Practice and Research Study
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Using Cases and Discussions in an Online Physiology Course
  • Arterial blood Gases Made Simple
  • Paper strips and arrow diagrams:  Two simple student activities to
    enhance linear thinking and learning of cause and effect events
  • The Do-Re-Mi’s of A&P: Teaching Interactively with Content-Rich Jingles
  • Generating “Aha!” Moments with Inexpensive, Everyday Props
  • Less Blah, Blah Blah; More Aha – Best HAPSter Demos II
  • And more and more and more….
Come join the fun.
Come join the fun.

So go ahead and get your HAPS fix now.  There’s no need to wait until May in Atlanta to get your HAPS on!

Current registration rates:
HAPS Contingent Faculty Member – $85
HAPS Members – $95
Non-Member Contingent Faculty – $105
Non-Member – $125
Student – $35

HAPS Eastern Regional Conference:  Schedule for Saturday, October 3, 2015

 Time Event Location
 7:30 – 8:30 AM Registration & Breakfast with Exhibitors Hazel Center
 8:30 – 9:00 AM Welcome Guerrieri Hall Auditorium
 9:00 – 10:00 AM Update Speaker 1:
Jeff Hollar
Guerrieri Hall Auditorium
 10:00 – 10:45 AM Workshop Session 1  Henson Hall – 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Floor
 10:45 – 11:15 AM Break with Exhibitors Hazel Center
11:15 AM – 12:00 PM Workshop Session 2 Henson Hall – 1st, 2nd, or 3rd floor
 12:00 – 1:00 PM Lunch Hazel Center
 1:00 – 2:00 PM Update Speaker 2:
Dr. Donna DeCosta
 Guerrieri Hall Auditorium
 2:00 – 2:30 PM Break with Exhibitors Hazel Center
 2:30 – 3:15 PM Workshop Session 3 Henson Hall – 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Floor
 3:20 – 3:45 PM Closing & Door Prizes Hazel Center

Evolutionary Anatomy – Vestigial Structures

Welcome to a new series on Evolutionary Anatomy by Dr. Tony Friscia.  Dr. Friscia’s research program has focused on the evolution of early Tertiary mammals and their diversification into modern families, using extensive anatomical and functional knowledge as a basis for comparison.

A message from UCLA professor, Dr. Tony Friscia.
A message from UCLA professor, Dr. Tony Friscia.

With the constant drive to prepare for allied health careers, one thing both students and even instructors of anatomy often forget is that anatomy is a sub-field of biology. Theodosius Dobzhansky, a founding member of the field of population genetics and one of the architects of the Modern Synthesis of evolutionary biology, famously said, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” So by corollary, nothing in anatomy makes sense except in light of evolution. As recognition of this fact, this is the first in a multi-part blog arc about the evidence for evolution in human anatomy. For me, this connection offers a richer picture of anatomy, and often helps to illustrate points that even our allied health students can appreciate.

There are some well-known, obvious examples of this connection. The appendix is one of these. It’s what’s called a vestigial structure. This means that it although it has no obvious use in humans, it is a holdover from our evolutionary history. Looking at other mammals we can see that the appendix is used by many of them, especially herbivores (plant-eaters) as a key part of their digestive processes. The fact that we retain the appendix speaks to our shared ancestry with these animals. (Having said this, there is some evidence that the appendix in humans acts as a store of the various ‘good’ bacteria that aid in our digestion, but even this function hints at the connection to similar, but more extensive, use in other mammals.)

A comparison of appendices among various mammals
A comparison of appendices among various mammals (from Talk Origins)

One question I often get asked about these sorts of vestigial structures, whether it be appendix or wisdom teeth or something else, is “Will we ever lose this structure?” Student wonder if it will be ‘evolved’ away, and the answer is a bit more complex than it might appear, and we need to go back to the fundamentals of evolutionary theory.

Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection added the necessary mechanism to evolutionary theory. Evolutionary thought was around before Darwin, by some accounts going back to the Greeks, but there was no good mechanism for it. One of the pre-Darwinian contenders for an evolutionary mechanism was Lamarckian evolution via acquired characteristics. Lamarck believed that the usage of morphological adaptations provided the selective mechanism for evolution. We now know this to not be the case. (Just think about it for a minute – if you work out, will your children be born with bigger muscles?) Nevertheless that Lamarckian idea hangs on a bit, because it makes some amount of logical sense. It is from this that the students’ questions about the loss of vestigial characters arises; if we aren’t using the appendix it should go away.

A key part of Darwin’s Natural Selection is the concept of fitness – a combination of the ability to survive to adulthood and to reproduce. When students ask me if the appendix is ‘going away’ I retort with, “Does anyone die of appendicitis anymore?”. In places with access to modern medicine the answer is no. Even if someone has the bad luck to have an infected appendix burst, spewing its biological weapons into the peritoneal cavity, we have a slew of antibiotics that can help most victims. So if the appendix doesn’t affect survival or the ability to reproduce, will it ‘go away’? Not via the mechanism of Natural Selection.

Modern genetics (a piece Darwin was lacking, and was added in the Modern Synthesis of the 20th century) adds a caveat to this answer. We now know about the concept of mutation. Mutations can alter the development of body structures. Obviously a mutation in a critical gene, like one controlling head or heart development, will never last long in a population, because the individuals will probably not survive (or even be born; many of the most horrible malformations will be spontaneously aborted early in pregnancies). So there is strong selection to maintain working forms of these developmental genes.

If a mutation occurred in the gene controlling appendix development, it may not even be noticed. Eventually in a population, these mutations may build up, to the point where the appendix never even forms. With no Natural Selection maintaining the appendix, it may simply be mutated out of existence, although this process may take a long time.

Other evolutionary factors affect our morphology, and in the next installment, we’ll tackle the trade-offs that are often made through the course of evolution, and examples of these trade-offs in humans.

(Here’s a link to a more detailed discussion of the vestigiality of the appendix)

Debating the “Utility and Futility of the Lecture”

Yossi Rathner, Australian HAPSter, trying to work while his children watch YouTube clips around him.
Yossi Rathner, Australian HAPSter, trying to work while his children watch YouTube clips around him.

“The lecturers are so lazy; they don’t teach us and then blame us when we don’t learn anything.”  This is an actual quote from a student in a first-year physiology course designed for nursing and allied health students.

In his essay, provocatively titled “The Utility and Futility of the Lecture,” Murray Jensen suggests that the traditional lecture format is out-dated and less effective than other forms of delivery.   In fact, he describes typical live-lectures as “monologues” that do not engage students or promote active learning.  Murray does find some value in lecturing; however, he advocates that lectures be available in an online format that will free-up lecture time for other more engaging classroom activities.  It seems his comments on lecturing as a mode of delivery seem to be more of a criticism of the lecturer’s delivery style rather than the andragological value of the lecture itself.  Let’s face it…..some lecturers just have more personality and maintain student attention better than others.  Rather than completely eliminating the lecture as a mode of in-class delivery, however, perhaps simply changing presentation style would make the traditional lecture more effective and subsequently more valuable.

Over the last four years, I have seen many critics of the traditional lecture refer to an image of Laurentius de Voltolina’s parchment painting which depicts a typical 14th century lecture at the University of Bologna.  In their attempts to discredit the effectiveness of lecture, these critics consistently focus on the seemingly distracted or bored students such as the two students conversing in the back corner of the room or the student asleep in the third row (which reminds me of myself in every afternoon lecture I attended).   I wonder what the students in the back are discussing.  Are they distracted or might they actually be discussing some controversial issue the lecturer has brought up – suggesting that they truly are engaged in higher levels of thinking?  Interestingly, critics neglect to mention the fact that over two-thirds of the students in the room are paying rapt attention to the lecturer.  Instead, they assert that a teacher who lectures is simply a “sage on a stage” who stands at the podium and reads from a text while students listen, take copious notes, memorize, and then regurgitate information upon request.

I’d like to make three assertions in response to Murray’s essay:   (1) Lectures are not all bad; indeed, many aspects of the lecture cannot be replaced or improved by using online delivery; (2) From an androgogical perspective, bad online content can actually be worse than a bad lecture; and (3) Information on the internet is often incorrect, misleading, and unclear, so expecting students to learn content in this manner might mean that they learn wrong information.

A former Pro-vice Chancellor of Teaching and Learning at my institution observed that we, as tertiary educators, need to make learning inevitable.  To encourage student attendance, we must engage them in lecture activities that cannot be adequately reproduced online.  For example, in a recent lecture on cranial nerves, I demonstrated the function of the hypoglossal nerve by sticking my tongue out at the students after saying that the hypoglossal nerves allows me “to do this.”  Not only did this demonstration get quite a few laughs, but it also encouraged peer-to-peer interactions as those students who missed what I’d done asked their peers about what they’d missed.  As their peers mimicked my demonstration, I could immediately provide feedback by saying, “That’s right, that’s exactly what the hypoglossal nerve does.”  Because students were entertained, engaged, and given immediate feedback, they will most certainly be able to correctly answer any test questions related to that particular content!

Here’s another example of a lecture activity that cannot adequately be replicated in the online environment.  When I teach the concept of a refractory period and the orthodromic propagation of action potentials, I have students participate in a Wave – think of a baseball stadium Wave that moves through successive groups of spectators as audience members stand, yell, and raise their arms before returning to the sitting position.  For my demonstration, I ask students to perform a wave in the hall.  These students must stand, raise their arms, and then sit until the wave passes them.  I emphasize that they may only stand up if the person next to them has already stood up, and they cannot stand up again until after they have sat down.  This simple activity explains both concepts and is the launch-pad for how the inactivation gate on the voltage sodium channel determines the absolute refractory period of the axon.  Both the cranial nerve and wave activities provide teaching moments in the classroom that cannot be replicated in the online environment because the online environment prevents this sort of spontaneous interaction between the teacher and the class.

Lectures have additional advantages over online educational resources (OER).  Attending a lecture in a classroom environment is much more conducive to learning than watching an online lecture at home where husbands, wives, children, pets, household chores, or leisure- time activities all vie for (and often win) our attention.  As an example, I’m writing this essay in my home office, a space I share with my entire family.  My kids are currently giggling as they watch Nigahiga clips on YouTube.  Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with their behaviour, the noise alone would be a significant distraction that would interfere with my ability to even hear an online lecture – much less understand it.  Furthermore, watching clips (OERs) online is much more like watching forms of entertainment – we might watch a program for 5-10 minutes, but then we quickly forget about it afterwards.  It seems unrealistic to expect that students will be able to truly learn, engage in, and think deeply about material presented in 10-minute vignettes that can be watched whenever a students has a few minutes to spare.  Does this really promote higher levels of learning?  Rather, the emphasis on short and convenient online activities actually diminishes the authenticity of the learning activity and discourages engagement. Interestingly, I received an e-mail from a student whose thoughts about the first year physiology subject design echoed this idea.  In her message, she made the astute observation that learning is not an entertainment activity.

In-class lectures, on the other hand, provide structure to student learning and minimize distractions.  They place the students in an environment tailored to learning and allow students to plan their day-to-day activities around the face-to-face meeting time.  Though well-organized students naturally do this without any help, less- organized, less-prepared students are typically unable to effectively do this on their own.

Online resources can certainly be useful.  Murray mentions that he uses Internet sites such as Google as resources for investigating topics students find difficult.  I have to admit that when I am rushed, I also Google certain words or topics.  As a matter of fact, this year alone I developed a whole new lecture on the pharmacology of obesity treatments based on images I found on Google.  However, there is a distinct difference between how I or Murray or any other instructor uses online sources and how our students use online sources.  Because I already have foundational knowledge, I’m only trying to clarify minutiae when I look up content or teaching-specific information on the web.  My advanced knowledge allows me to quickly filter chaff and erroneous information from valid material.  Murray indicates that he engages in a similar process while listening to Dr Fink’s lectures online.  He listens to the lectures while distracted, and in double time, and only pauses and pays attention to content on which he feels he needs a refresher.  Imagine the learning (or lack of learning) that would occur if our students followed this approach……

Because physiology focuses on dynamic processes, I like to use dynamic animations rather than static images to teach physiological concepts.  However, I advise using animations and videos with caution.  Why?  Because a lot of these sources are packed with wrong information.  For example, I recently searched for animations that explain the cardiac cycle and found on YouTube what appeared to be a professional-looking, well-produced animation that described the events of this cycle.  A large number of students praised this clip in the comments section and many wondered why their lecturers couldn’t simplify the cardiac cycle as well as this video did.  The problem, however, was that in a 4-minute clip, I counted 11 errors (starting with the AV valve being closed during cardiac diastole).  Sure, students found the explanation easy-to-understand, but their lack of foundational knowledge prevented them from filtering out erroneous information.

Here’s another example of how information on the internet can detrimentally affect student understanding.  In a recent inquiry activity, we asked students whether a 100mOsM or a 1200mOsM solution contained more dissolved particles.  Remarkably, more than 75% of the students said that the 100mOsM solution had a higher solute concentration than the 1200mOsM solution.  Because such a large percentage incorrectly answered this question, we investigated and found that the students defined osmolarity as a measure of water concentration rather than solute concentration.  What caused this confusion?  The internet, where students erroneously learned that osmolarity referred to water concentration.  I realize that many instructors teach osmolarity relative to water concentration (explaining that water moves along its concentration gradient from an area of higher water concentration to an area of lower water concentration), but I emphasize that osmolarity relates to solute concentration and impress upon my students that water always travels towards the higher osmolarity.

Murray began his essay comparing the lecture to a monologue; whereas, I see a live-lecture as an opportunity for the instructor to dynamically and spontaneously interact and respond in real-time with students. To me, the recorded presentation is the epitome of a monologue because it lacks interaction and engagement.  We make several assumptions when we talk about online teaching.  First, we assume that students are eager and engaged learners able to organize and motivate themselves to study in an unstructured learning environment.  Motivated learners will learn despite what teachers do.  The question that needs to be answered is how does the reluctant learner cope with digital learning?  In effect, removing lectures can break down the scaffolding that these students need to organize themselves.  In fact, my experience is that these students won’t even watch content available online.

A second assumption is that because students today entertain themselves with brief YouTube clips they will also learn better this way.  I remain unconvinced that this is true, and I think we make a mistake confusing accessibility with learning.

Laurentius De Voltolina. Wikimedia Commons. (2014)

Reflecting back at the de Voltolina painting……the students who will be most detrimentally affected by discarding lectures as a teaching strategy are the very students who actually show up and engage in the material during lectures.  Students who show up but are distracted and busy updating their social media sites might even glean a small amount of information from simply being present in class.  This scenario is no worse than if they watched an online lecture while reading a morning newspaper at double speed.  The fact remains – engaged students are benefiting from the lecture, and they are voting with their feet.  We can’t possibly engage students who never show up, so getting rid of the lecture will only diminish the university experience for those students with whom instructors might actually connect.

Rational Course Design (F15)

A message from the HAPS Communication Committee Chair, Wendy Riggs.
A message from the HAPS Communication Committee Chair, Wendy Riggs.

One year ago, I took the HAPS-I course entitled “Rational Human Anatomy & Physiology Course Design: Incorporating the HAPS outcomes into new and existing courses” with HAPS President Emeritus, Margaret Weck. It was such a fantastic class that she’s agreed to do it again…and the good news (for you) is that the course starts up in a week (9/13/15).  That means you still have time to join the fun!

When I signed up for the class, my intention was to rework my Human Physiology course using strategies of “backwards design” to sort of SIFT through the vast quantities of information I felt obligated to include.  It was actually pretty entertaining to engage in the weekly Google Hangouts with Weck and my classmates, and listen to myself (over and over again) FORGET that I was trying to REWORK the class to PRIORITIZE the most important themes and outcomes.  Over and over (and OVER) again, Weck would nudge me back onto the Rational Road with a quiet question, “But what do you want them to be able to KNOW and DO?”  It was amazing to watch myself fall so effortlessly back into a “This would be a fun activity!  Here is an exciting project!  That sounds like a great test question!” approach, and forget again and again to ask myself, “Why should I have my students do this?  What exactly do I want them to get from it?”

Who knew that ferrets could help motivate students?!  Scritches for Margaret's ferrets motivated me!
Who knew that ferrets could help motivate students?! Scritches for Margaret’s ferrets motivated me!

But like any habit, it takes great focus, repetition, and practice to shift the way we think about education and our roles in the teacher-half of the equation.  I could EASILY take this class again…and again…and again.  (Are you sensing a pattern here?!)

So think about signing up and spending some quality time with a professor who has a great deal to offer all of us.  (Plus, she has ferrets.  And that’s just cool.)

Take Rational Course Design with Margaret Weck!
Take Rational Course Design with Margaret Weck!

Rational Human Anatomy & Physiology Course Design: Incorporating the HAPS outcomes into new and existing courses.
(2 credits) September 13 – November 2, 2015
Margaret A. Weck, D.A.
St. Louis College of Pharmacy
View syllabus
Register now:  Graduate Credit or Professional Development

The course is briefly reviews the major concepts associated with the “backwards design” model of rational course development, which stresses the value of thinking through the ultimate outcome goals (both in content mastery and cognitive skill development) for a course as a first step the course design process. Participants will examine the HAPS Course Guidelines for Undergraduate Instruction and A&P Learning Outcome statements and think about the design elements, teaching methodologies, and assessments (both formative and summative) that would best foster student achievement of these outcomes. The course will be conducted entirely on-line. 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.