In general, students take our A&P courses in preparation for a future career in healthcare or the sciences. It is critical to our students that our courses are accepted; either for transfer or as a prerequisite by other institutions and programs. National guidelines, such as the HAPS learning goals and outcomes, provide a common reference point for instructors and administrators to compare and evaluate courses.
As an online science educator, one of my challenges is to make my courses as robust and defensible as possible when it comes to transfer. Unfortunately, a bias against online science courses still exists at some institutions. Some students are challenged or even denied credit for transfer or acceptance as a prerequisite simply because they took their course online. I agree that not all online science courses are equal and designed with the same rigor. However, the same can be said of on-campus courses, yet they are not held to the same level of scrutiny.
In preparing this post, I went back to the HAPS-L Discussion Group archives to review the history of our discussions on the topic of transferability. Not familiar with the HAPS discussion groups? Visit the HAPS Discussion Groups page for additional information on how HAPS members can subscribe to the discussion groups and access the archives.
In December 2015, we had a discussion on “Transfer credit for purely online A&P courses.” Wendy Riggs noted that at her institution, the teaching modality of the course was not allowed to be a factor when considering transfer. As long as the course had the appropriate number of credits, contained a laboratory component, and came from an accredited institution, it would be accepted for transfer. Both Wendy and Jon Jackson highlighted the important difference between focusing on the instructional method and achieving the learning outcomes. Jon Jackson made the point that asking if courses are equivalent is the wrong question. The appropriate question is how well the student in the course masters the material.
Instructors and administrators can use the following questions to help guide their evaluation. Ideally, the syllabus should contain the answers to these questions:
Does the syllabus reference state or national standards? One of the goals of the HAPS Guidelines for Undergraduate Instruction of Human Anatomy And Physiology was to “help establish equivalency between anatomy & physiology courses at different institutions, easing many of the problems associated with the process of transferring credits.” A statement of course alignment to state or national standards can be very helpful during the evaluation process. References to articulation agreements may also provide an additional data point for comparison.
Does the course use a commonly recognized textbook or course materials? The use of commonly recognized textbooks and course materials provides some confidence that the common body of anatomy & physiology knowledge has been covered in the course. This question becomes increasingly important as the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) becomes more common.
What was included in the lab? The HAPS Guidelines describe the expectations for hands-on laboratory experiences and hours of laboratory activity per week of the course. It is important to note that the HAPS Guidelines and the Distributed Learning Position Statement support A&P instruction at a distance.
Does the course or department utilize the HAPS exams? Use of the HAPS exams provides a direct measure of student learning referenced to the HAPS learning outcomes. Even if individual student scores are not available, use of the HAPS exams for programmatic assessment is an indicator that the institution is attempting to evaluate student performance relative to the HAPS outcomes.
Is the institution regionally accredited? This may require investigation beyond the syllabus, but can be easily answered using the institution’s public website. Regional accreditation (HLC, SACS, etc.) provides an indication of overall institutional quality independent of instructional modality.
Students can also be proactive and be prepared for potential questions:
Keep a copy of the syllabus. This is the most important document (besides the transcript) a student will need in order to demonstrate the scope and activities in our course.
Keep copies of their work. This is especially useful in courses where students are creating original lab reports or assignments. In my A&P courses, students create written and video-based lab reports. I encourage my students to keep copies of their assignments so that they can share them with institutions if there are questions. My institution also uses a commercial publicly viewable online portfolio platform which students can use to display their work.
In summary, we can help all of our students with respect to transfer through quality course design and clear documentation in the syllabus. In terms of evaluating science courses for transfer, we need to take the time, request a syllabus, and give credit where credit is due.
Dave Brashinger is an assistant professor and director of the natural sciences program at American Public University System.