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After the Annual – Utah Mountain Biking!

27 Mar

Bonneville Shore Trail

A message from HAPS Western Regional Director, Jon Jackson (left). Kerry Hull and Murray Jensen photobomb-ing.

A message from HAPS Western Regional Director, Jon Jackson (left). Photobomb by Kerry Hull and Murray Jensen.

Utah Mountain Biking is a bucket list option for interested HAPSters!

Although mountain biking is generally thought to have originated in the Marin County hills north of San Francisco, there is arguably no finer place to ride than Utah. If you have the time and inclination to hit the mountain trails and ride, there are lots of options awaiting you near the HAPS Conference this Spring.  Murray Jensen, Kerry Hull and I went out a day before the mid-year meeting to explore some biking options (and spend some time in Mark Nielsen’s lab). Here’s what we found.

Jon enforces a rest break...because rest breaks are cool.

Jon enforces a rest break…because rest breaks are cool.

Within a 10-15 minute walk up the hill from the Salt Palace (site of the HAPS Conference) you’ll find a number of shops that rent out mountain bikes.  For around $40, you will be able to rent a $2500 mountain bike for the afternoon!  Full suspensions, 29-inch wheels, and even more options can be had.  If you’re thinking or riding up in the foothills surrounding the city, you’ll have about a 20-minute uphill ride to hit the mountain trailheads that run along what was once the shore of glacial Lake Bonneville. The elevation gain from the hotel to the Bonneville Shelf is about 600-800 feet. The landscape is nothing short of spectacular, even on days with a smog layer.

Local Badger

The entire Great Basin opens up as you switch back up the foothills; it’s quiet enough that you can even surprise some locals along the way.  The uphill climbing ranges from mild to clutch-your-chest strenuous. [I suffered in particular because I was serving as the “untrained control subject,” trying to keep up with Kerry and Murray.] The altitude provided wondrous panoramic views and a kick-your-butt workout, but most importantly, it meant some SWEET downhill action.  On our segment of the Bonneville Shore Trail, the single-track path was 90-95% packed solid, and offered up a mostly smooth ride. But for those who have left their common sense behind, and seek a greater challenge, there are several advanced/expert routes down the hill that will rattle bones, loosen ligaments, and likely raise your health insurance deductibles more than Paul Ryan could.

5 Moose

Local Moose

But no fears, there are many moderate trails that can bring you back to town. Our ride lasted just under three hours, and left us euphoric, thirsty, and with a trace of sunburn (even in October).


6 Mid MountainIf the moderate to high euphoria levels of the HAPS meeting aren’t going to be enough — the next level up of mountain biking literally brings you up out of the Wasatch Valley to the mountains surrounding Park City, one of the nation’s premier mountain biking destinations. Lots of shops cater to people giving this level of biking a try, and so you’ll have no trouble finding a “29er” with full suspension. The uphill is even more strenuous, although some riding parks have ski-lifts 7 Elevationto take you up the mountainside. [I’m all for that, as it follows the law of conservation of energy.] This world famous Mid-Mountain Trail is definitely not for novices, but if you’re a reasonably solid mountain biker, this place is as good as it gets. Weather permitting, the miles of traversing trails running over these wooded ski hills will provide a relatively moderate-level (elevation-wise) riding experience. But the downhill can get tricky: you’re a mile and a half above sea-level, and “down” is long, long way away.

Olympic-level bikers who train in Park City power down the hills pedaling, and at high speed. Fortunately for those of us who don’t want to over-use our sympathetic nervous systems, we’re able to find more moderate slopes on which to descend.  Either way, though, it will be full-on fatigue at the finish. It was great that our intrepid riders had a “sag-wagon” to come and fetch them.

Tom Lehman joins post-ride

Tom Lehman joins post-ride

You too will probably may want to arrange for a ride, as you could be too tired and sore to drive back to SLC.  All in all, the beauty of the terrain and the challenge of the hills is a something for every mountain biker’s bucket list.  We’ll have some of the info from the bike places we used for our gear at this year’s annual conference.  We hope to see you there!



Author Jon Jackson is the HAPS Western Regional Director.

A full list of recommended post-conference activities is available on the HAPS website

HAPS Web 14- The Histology Challenge

15 Dec
An archived imaged from an old histology challenge...

An archived imaged from an old histology challenge…

The HAPS Histology challenge, a fantastic benefit of  HAPS membership, was a the subject in an article on page 23 of the HAPS-EDucator’s Winter 2015 edition.  The abstract of the article states:

(The Histology Challenge) presents actual patient cases, in the form of photomicrographs of biopsy or surgical specimens, along with a “live” online discussion. Each case includes a series of questions designed to guide readers through the process of interpreting the photomicrographs, beginning with basic histology and progressing through the process of diagnosing the case. In this article, we review the history of the Histology Challenge, describe how it works, and describe some sample cases, to illustrate how they reinforce basic histology and introduce clinical applications. This article will also include suggestions for how these Histology Challenges can be used in A & P courses, and ways in which interested instructors can participate both in the online discussions and in production of future cases. 

The histology challenge serves many valuable functions for HAPSters and their students.  Some instructors use the challenge to beef up their own histology skills.  Others use the challenge to provide hands-on experiences for their students!  Either way, the challenge is a stimulating resource for HAPSters and their students.  So check out the Winter 2015 HAPS-EDucator and learn more about how you can take advantage of this fantastic benefit of being a HAPS member.

HAPS Web 9- The HAPS Learning Outcome Project

2 Nov

Learning outcomesHAPS has a long history of developing resources for educators of human anatomy and physiology. In 1992, the HAPS Core Curriculum Committee issued Course Guidelines for Introductory Level Anatomy & Physiology (now Course Guidelines for Undergraduate Instruction). This document was originally developed to provide guidance in setting curriculum for a two semester undergraduate course in human anatomy and physiology and was the beginning of the HAPS Learning Outcome Project. The HAPS Curriculum and Instruction Committee has more recently added A&P Learning Outcomes to accompany the course guidelines. All told, more than 35 instructors contributed to the set of documents that make up this incredible resource.

Today, this resource includes:

The authors wanted to be sure people understood that the project represents a suggested model and is not intended to be a mandate or an infringement upon academic freedom.  Instead, it is meant to be a guide for helping to improve student learning.  As such, instructors should realize that they are not required to use every outcome in the tables and are certainly welcome to include additional outcomes of their own.  Instructors should also feel free to cover the outcomes in different orders, or in different places within the course, than what are presented in the project. The goal of the HAPS Learning Outcomes Project was to provide a set of goals and learning outcomes for a two-semester course sequence in human anatomy and physiology (A&P) intended to prepare students for a variety of clinical and academic programs.  The documents in this project can be used as a benchmark for instructors currently teaching A&P courses or as a guide for those developing new courses.

The HAPS Curriculum and Instruction Committee consistently reviews and updates the documents of the Learning Outcomes Project. Comments related to the learning outcomes or supporting documents are welcome and may be sent to committee chair and will be considered for the next revision.

Next week, we’ll talk about the HAPS exam, which was written to assess how well students are meeting the standards outlined by the HAPS LO’s.

More on Repositories, Musing on Games

15 Oct

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,

Competency in A&P

8 Oct

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

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:

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 (  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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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

12- Flippin’ Activities: Variety is Good

31 Mar
Even spider variety is good...(or interesting, at least!)

Even spider variety is good…(or interesting, at least!)

It is hard to believe that I have almost two years of flipping experience under my belt.  Sometimes flipping feels so crazy that I forget to acknowledge how much extra work is required to pull it all together. And there are so many layers in a successful classroom, flipped or not, that it is often quite challenging to effectively steer the ship.

During my first year of flipping, I spent most of my time recording video lectures.  This left the actual class time VERY unstructured, and I relied primarily on student questions posed DURING class to fill that time.  I struggled with low attendance throughout my first flipped year and I was chronically dissatisfied with the quality of student engagement during the “new” lecture hour.  In my second year of flipping, I reused most of my video lectures (for better or for worse).  This freed up my time to use the Life Science Teaching Resource Community (the Archive of Teaching Resources has a new name!) to improve the quality of my class activities. This, in conjunction with the fact that I also started using clickers (for which students earn 5% of their course grade), has improved the class tremendously, in my opinion.  But my students expressed a different opinion the other day when I failed to prepare a set of clicker-activities for my class on “Blood.”

First, I did NOT admit to my students that I was unprepared.  (Ahem.)  Instead, I started class by asking them what they thought was the most important concept in the lecture.  This began the discussion and I capitalized on their questions and confusions to engage them in a 90 minute review session.  At the end of the 90 minutes, several of them made a pronounced effort to tell me how helpful the class had been that day.  They actually explained that sometimes the interesting and creative activities I facilitate require so much application and critical thinking that, in their minds, they don’t get a chance to really review the material from the previous night’s lecture.  This was such an interesting perspective and while I can not concede that the “easier” review session was BETTER than the more challenging application tasks, it did make me think about the value of VARIETY in the flipped class.  We all know that Anatomy and Physiology are really challenging courses.  But we’re coaches, and good coaches push their players hard, but they also know when to let up and make sure their players know they can be successful.  The take home message for me?  Variety is good.

High Hopes for the Semester, Part 3

22 Sep

“Can you set up the practical for me next week?  I’m just not ready for it this week.”

Come a little closer and let me explain it to you.

Come a little closer and let me explain it to you.

I slowly unclench my fingers from the mouse as I read this email from a student the evening before our first lab practical of the semester.  Four weeks into the semester, it does seem about time for these kind of desperate requests.  Nonetheless, it is so hard to not be riled up by the request.  I breathe for a few moments, compose a response, delete it (too biting), breathe a little more, compose a new response (better), and send it.  The gist of my reply is “no”.  I elaborate that it would be unfair to do that for one student over all of the others.  I drop their lowest exam or lab practical, so if he bombs this, it will just be his lowest score and not affect his overall course grade.  Later that evening, I get a reply.

“Okay, I can see that reasoning.  I was just stressed with work and wanting to do well.  I’ll crack down on the books tonight and be as prepared for tomorrow as possible.”

Wow…maturity.  Who woulda guessed?  That kicks up my “high hopes” level for the semester by one notch.

Next student:

“I’m sorry that I haven’t completed the syllabus quiz – which was assigned the first day and due the end of the second week – but I was bedridden this past week and the internet where I live is too spotty to get email and I was called into work several times this past week and…”

Where do we begin with how wrong this is?

Not impressed with his focus.

A little background for you.  I assign the syllabus quiz – found online in a test bank – the first day of class.  The students need to get a perfect 10 out of 10 on it by the end of the second week (they can take it as many times as they want).  If they haven’t gotten the 10 by the deadline, they lose 1% of their overall course grade for each day late.

This student is now two weeks late.  I’ve reminded him in person and sent him email reminders.  He’s shown up for half of the classes, usually just long enough to take the exam and disappear before I can catch him to chat.  He has not done well in the exams but did fair in the lab practical (so, I don’t want to give up on him entirely).  Having said that, I’m not thrilled with his inability to complete a simple assignment.  If he’s having such trouble with this one assignment, what does that say about the rest of the semester?  This one drops down the “high hopes” level for the semester by one notch.  We’ll see how/if he progresses.

Next student:

“I’d like to re-enter the class.  After the first week, I had to drop when my work changed my shift schedule.  Now, I’ve got it back into check and wonder if you’ll let me back in and catch up on what I missed.”

How much can you learn in a few nights?

How much can you learn in a few nights?

Breathe.  Re-read the email.  Unclench the fingers.  Breathe.  Look at the schedule.  She attended for the first week and a half, doing fair in the chapter quizzes.  She’s been a student in two previous courses and is stable, solid “B” student usually.  She’s missed a week and a half, which includes two quizzes (which is doable as I drop the two lowest quizzes out of seventeen).  The first major exam is in a few days.  In her email, she mentions that she’s already talked to some classmates, gotten notes, downloaded my PowerPoints, and is reviewing for the exam.  I decide to take a gamble and allow her back into the class.

That was a week ago.  She took the exam and scored a high “C”, which isn’t bad considering how much she had to catch up to get there.  We have two quizzes this next week and the next exam the week after that.  We’ll see how she does.  My “high hopes” indicator is “pending” for this one so far.  Cross your fingers.

Overall, so far:

This semester is a mixed bag of stories and students.  You’ve had students like these.  You can appreciate how easy it can be to become jaded and not have hope.  By the same token, you know what it’s been like to offer hope and…either they reward your hope or they crush it.  But, that’s one of the amazing thing about being an educator.  We hope.

High Hopes for the Semester, part 2

14 Sep
Arrgh!  I hate microscopes!

Arrgh! I hate microscopes!

Microscopy…Arrgh!  It can be a bane for many students.  However, it can also be a gateway for many of them to truly understanding the material if I can only figure out how to help them reach through the fear and trepidation to the actual cool stuff.

It’s been a personal challenge for me for a few years now.  HAPS has been a godsend in helping me with this.  At annual conferences, I keep an eye out for new workshops on histology and microscopy (and I’m never disappointed).  Nina Zanetti‘s always good for an intriguing workshop on using microscopy to teach physiology.  Terry Bidle has a knack for helping make histology more hands-on to students.  Those are the concepts that I’ve tried to take to heart as I (hopefully) improve the histology component of my A&P courses.

Which jar contains the pseudostratified epithelium?

Which jar contains the pseudostratified epithelium?

I’ve tried to create a set of hands-on models that allow my students to see the basic concept of each basic tissue type before we actually look through the microscope.  For the epithelial tissues, I’ve filled small jars with styrofoam peanuts to simulate various epithelia.  In lab, I have 3×5 index cards that describe various locations in the body and the functional aspect of their epithelia, expecting the students to match the cards to the jars.

Can you tell which connective tissue is which?

Which petri best represents fibrocartilage?

For connective, muscle, and nervous tissues, I have created petri dishes with epoxy resin, doll eyes (cells), and other knick knacks.  Again, I have 3×5 cards to describe each tissue and have the students match cards to petris. The important detail, I tell the students, is not to memorize the color of each petri or the “which petri has rubber bands?“, but to understand “what would distinguish elastic tissue from reticular tissue?”  Does that sound familiar?

I see a lot of enthusiasm in the lab and am starting to see more enthusiasm the next day when we dig out the actual scopes and glass slides.  I’m overhearing the students discussing what to look for in each slide (actually figuring out components of the various tissue types).  This appears to be empowering the students; cross your fingers.

Summer Travels, part 2

31 Jul
Physics in action.

Physics in action.

Here’s a fun scientific thought for you.  A beer can (or soda can) one-third full of liquid will stand on its indented angle.  The new fad in several microbreweries is to have glasses shaped like beer cans because it’s familiar to hold and can stand on this angle.  Try it next time.

HAPS President-elect Tom Lehman reporting in, still traveling through the United States this summer in search of inner peace and balance, while also seeking out family, friends, bike trails, golf courses, and (of course) microbreweries.  During weeks 3-6 of my 10-week summer trip, I drove from western Washington to central Minnesota.  I didn’t run into many HAPSters during this part of the trip, but I did get to let my mind wander on a number of topics.

One topic is traditions.  I visited several of my high school classmates this summer for our 30th class reunion in Fort Benton, Montana (“The Birthplace of Montana”).  The town has created an annual tradition – Summer Celebration – where all of the class reunions are held the weekend before the 4th of July, surrounded by art shows, 5K run, town parade, golf tourney, fireworks over the Missouri River, and a street dance.  It’s one of the best weekends that you could ever experience in small town Americana.

A slice of Americana.

I’m a Big Sky boy at heart.

Small towns and big cities have their shares of traditions, but so do educational environments.  We’ve experienced traditions of lab designs (e.g., dissection, microscopy), lecture modes (e.g.,PowerPoints, case studies), and course designs (face-to-face, online, hybrid).  However, there are always new ideas coming up that may become traditions on their own.  Murray Jensen is a leading HAPSter in field of POGIL (we had a very impressive seminar on this topic at the Vegas conference this summer).  Our list-serv and even this blog have lit up with discussions of “flipping classes”.  It’s rewarding to build new traditions while keeping an eye on current traditions.  That’s one of the best things about HAPS to me; how we’re so excited about new ideas and how they can benefit our students.

Remember to exercise your body as well as your mind.

Remember to exercise your body as well as your mind.

As I’ve traveled across the upper stretch of the US, I’ve thought about seminars and workshops from the HAPS conference.  I’ve become excited about how I can incorporate these ideas into my current curriculum, fueled by beautiful scenery and exercised-induced endorphins.  This is so much better than stewing in my office.

As I head southward from Minnesota to Missouri, I leave you with this thought.  Exercise your mind this summer.  See what traditions you enjoy in your class, what traditions you can lose, and what traditions you can start.  You might be surprised where the thoughts take you.Let your mind wander.

Let your mind wander.