Axe, Meet Learning Objectives. Part. I: Introduction

Cue wavy waterfall effect: Remembering when. The first teaching gig. 12 years ago, I received a huge cement block from the department chair. That cement block was the A&P textbook. My first teaching gig.  I didn’t even blink. All I did was nod and shrug. Afterall, I had an extensive archive of science smarts from years of undergrad, grad, and postdoc imprisonment.

Volume and intensity. That comes with science territory. I can do it and so will these 18yo students. So, the routine began. Each class loading up 1GB of lecture slides and letting the geyser of A&P erupt. And I did this…for a while…like years.

Let me take a second to throw some innocents under the bus. At the time my colleagues were doing the same thing. In fact, we seemed to take pride in this tortuous exercise. One week of the semester remaining? Sure, I’ll squeeze in the entire autonomic nervous system chapter and, for grins and giggles, the senses chapter. It can be done. The students just need to listen faster!  

An enthusiastic Dr. Clark with his pile of slides ready to rock!
An enthusiastic Dr. Clark with his pile of slides ready to rock!

Cue wavy waterfall effect: Remembering when. The first crack in the system. Do you remember when you noticed? A couple of semesters ago, I stumbled upon a podcast from a stand-up comedian. On her podcast, she described stage presence and reading the crowd. Knowing when the jokes are working and when it’s time to improvise. Her description of comic timing and body language resonated with me as the overlap with teaching was never more obvious. The next class I applied some of those comedic strategies. I read the audience….and wow… I was losing them. I improvised. Moved around more. Got animated. Anything to make the information stick. The crowds’ reaction? Frantically scribbling blocks of run-on sentences or slipping into a defeatist’s coma. This method was not working, but what method would? 

Falling asleep in class by John (
Falling asleep in class by John

To fix this, I enrolled in a lengthy year-long workshop learning some amazing teaching strategies and classroom management. I built up such a library of techniques that I had to refrain myself from unleashing it all in a single class. But, the opposite happened. Very little, if any, novel strategies were implemented. Why? No time!!! To make good of these strategies required me to momentarily pause my slides, stop lecturing, let students interact, and miss some, maybe a lot, of the detail.

Then, I had an out of body experience, and my astral projection slapped me in the face several times. “Wake up! It’s not working. 90% of blabbing is seeping out of their ear.” 

2020 SPRING EMERGENCY ONLINE TRANSITION (because of…well, you know). It was now or never. No one was looking, no one would ask any questions. I seized the opportunity. I hacked away at the remaining chapters for the semester. And I did it again in the summer…and the fall. And doing it as I write this globally anticipated blog entry.

Oooohh…so liberating. I had time. Time to do things in class. But, why am I so dang nervous?. And scared? Why does this not seem right? Over the next two installments, I’m going to lay out what, how and why I purged materials. I discuss strategies, rewards and mistakes of this reformation. Not just the lecture, but also the lab…yes, I’m talking to you with the 200-item spreadsheet of skeletal muscles (and that’s just axial). I’ll address the 3 big questions

  • Did I cut too much?
  • Are they learning enough?
  • Did I make the course too easy?


Jordan Clark is the course coordinator and head instructor for anatomy and physiology and applied microbiology at Sam Houston State University. He earned a BS in psychology at Florida State University and a Ph.D in neurobiology at University of Kentucky, where he conducted research in spinal cord and brain injury. He served four years in the US Army. Currently, his primary research interest is developing engaging and active teaching strategies for large capacity courses. Free time? Consuming synth wave pop culture, daydreaming of being a master woodworker, and always seeking great geeky adventures with his awesome wife and and two kids.

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