In Search of the Core Principles of Human Anatomy

A message from HAPS Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.
A message from HAPS Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.

HAPSters spend a lot of time discussing the teaching and learning of anatomy and physiology.  Check out this post from long time HAPSter and Central Regional Director, Murray Jensen.  Murray is trying to generate a bit of controversy about teaching anatomy and long hot lists that we require our students to memorize.  Just how important are all those names and structures?  Look forward to a retort from graduate student Bradley Barger next week.

After 25 years of teaching entry-level anatomy and physiology, I can safely say that I’ve begun to figure a few things out – like the importance of setting high expectations on the first day of class; you have to scare the kids a bit.  All HAPSters know that one.  Another thing I’ve begun to figure out is how to teach human physiology.  This is in large part due to the work of Joel Michael and his group who identified the core principals of physiology  (http://advan.physiology.org/content/33/1/10).    Energy flow, homeostasis, and a few other concepts set the stage for pretty much every topic in physiology.   I use Michael’s core principals to design my course, write curriculum, generate exam questions, etc.  It’s a powerful tool for those of us who teach entry-level physiology. Required Structures ListI also teach basic human anatomy, and after 25 years and a couple thousand students, I can say with confidence that I really don’t know what I’m doing.  I remember vividly the first human A & P course I taught.  Skeletal system .. skull anatomy…hmmm…what structures should be on the hot list?  Ethmoid? Of course. Sphenoid? Obviously.  How about the foramen spinosum?  Should that be on the list? To facilitate the decision process I used Rule One of Teaching – you teach the way you’ve been taught.  In deciding what structures to include on my own hot list, I simply went back to the notes I used as a student, “What did Dr. Ivan Johnson make me learn?” Turns out Dr. Johnson indeed had me learn the foramen spinosum; therefore it must be important, and so it went on my very first hot list for skull anatomy.   Twenty-five years later I still have my students learn the foramen spinosum.  Why?  The best I can do is “because I had to do it!” Blindly following Rule One is not professional.  I would like to do better.  Joel Michael’s core principles greatly improved my ability to teach physiology – his work established an epistemological foundation for physiology education.  Now when a student asks “why do we have to learn about vasopressin?” I can confidently answer that it fits into the bigger picture of how the body works, and vasopressin’s role in the homeostasis of sodium, water, and blood pressure.  Much, much more satisfying than responding, “Well…I had to learn it!” or even worse “Because it will be on the exam.” In the past few years I’ve been pushing my anatomy colleagues for answers.  What should kids learn about anatomy in my entry-level course? What should they learn first?  If a student wants a career in anatomy, what are the themes? What’s at the foundation of a conceptual understanding of human anatomy?  We’ve had some good beginning ideas: orientation, cavities, medical terminology, liquids and solids, layers have promise.  But there is nothing official at this stage – just some good conversations.  And nothing that helps me figure out if I should include the foramen spinosum on the hot list. Identifying the core principles of anatomy is a worthy quest, and HAPS leadership is looking into starting a task force to get things moving.  I’ve been working with Bradley Barger, PhD candidate in Anatomy and Cell Biology at Indiana University, and we’ll be hosting a workshop at San Antonio for others interested in the project. In pondering the task ahead, I think I’ve identified a significant question, but some background is needed first.  Dr. Ernest Rutherford, Nobel Prize winning physicist from way back, has a quote, “All science is either physics or stamp collecting.” I think Rutherford is correct – everything in science boils down to physics.  When teaching human physiology and thinking about Michael’s core principals, I see physics (e.g., diffusion, pumps, gradients, barriers, energy).  If students can comprehend some basic physics, then they can make some good strides toward understanding human physiology. My big question: Is there any physics in anatomy?   At this time I don’t see any physics.  I see terminology, orientation, embryology, and sometimes even design (gasp!) – but I don’t see physics. Disagree?  Disagree strongly? Well…make a list of your own core principles of human anatomy and come to the workshop in San Antonio.  Help me figure out if I should keep the foramen spinosum on my hot list.

Meet Becca!

HAPS is a society focused on the teaching and learning anatomy and physiology, but educators are just half of this equation.  We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our students.  So welcome to a new series of HAPS blog posts featuring A&P student extraordinaire, Becca Ludwig.  

A message from Becca!
A post from Becca!

I have been a student for a solid 17 years if you count from the day when I first stepped into my kindergarten class in 1998 to the time I walk across the stage with my Occupational Therapy degree in 2015. This is my last semester of coursework in my program before I go off into the big world to practice the art of Occupational Therapy. This holds some bitter sweet feelings for me. I love the idea of being a professional and making and impact on my clients’ lives, but I also love being a student and learning new things.

I have been a member of HAPS for a year now and have come to appreciate the professor’s side of the educational process. What you guys do is not easy. Over the course of the semester I will be writing a short series of posts about the student perspective on common things related to college life. This is a chance for you HAPSters to get inside of the student mind….

WARNING: It may be a scary place!

Note I am not the typical student…… or person for that matter, but I will try my best to explain the student perspective.

It's all good!

A Corporate Training Model

In one of my earlier lives, I was a research associate for a USDA scientist in Auburn, Alabama.  At the time, my husband was a graduate student in the Fisheries Department at Auburn University.  I had been teaching physiology to pre-pharmacy and pre-veterinary students at Auburn, but took a chance to get a civil service rating by taking a temporary position at the nearby USDA lab.  The majority of my activities related to nutrition research, specifically total body nitrogen analysis.  The scientist I worked for, Dr. John Frandsen, was studying the effects of parasite loads on the nutritional needs of various experimental animals.  When I took over the job, he had accumulated a backlog of research specimens to process – an entire freezer full of rats waiting to be liquified in nitric acid so their nitrogen content could be determined.  His previous RA had been hampered by a lack of equipment, but a budget windfall allowed us to quadruple our processing equipment.  This alone would have simply moved the bottleneck from one stage (frozen rats) to another (liquified samples), if it weren’t for one piece of high-tech equipment: a “nitrogen auto-analyzer,” which could process about 40 samples at a time without constant adult supervision.  Within a span of about 6 months, we managed to slog through about 3 years’ worth of experimental subjects, allowing Dr. Frandsen to speed up submission of manuscripts for publication.

The autoanalyzer was a slick piece of work: it had a robotic arm that swung from sample vial to analysis chamber, a disc with 40 slots that ratcheted around, and a spectrophotometer that could analyze the nitrogen content of samples in the chamber.  It cost a whopping ten thousand dollars (and that was in 1980).  Its purchase represented a huge investment to the USDA nutrition lab, and its successful implementation was essential to Dr. Frandsen’s research, the budgetary future of the lab, and my personal prestige.  To make sure we got the maximum use out of this sophisticated equipment, a 3-day training course was included in the purchase price.  The USDA budget was stretched to cover my travel expenses to Tarrytown, New York, where I interacted with a team of 2 company trainers and a loosely affiliated group of technicians whose labs happened to have purchased an autoanlyzer within the same time frame that Dr. Frandsen did.

This was my first (and, so far, my only) experience with corporate training. We met in a lab at the company building, where on the evening before the first day of training, we were each given training manuals and randomly assorted into groups.  We met from eight until five for three days, and we were given homework assignments every night. The training manual was broken down into the simplest of steps; the nightly assignments were clear, concrete, and circumscribed.   I knew exactly what was expected of me, and I made sure I completed my assignments as thoroughly as I could.  Every morning, we started with a review of the assignments, our trainers testing our familiarity with the information covered in the homework. We covered background concepts as well as technical steps. We practiced and critiqued. We debriefed and repeated.  We questioned each other’s results, analyzed plans, supported decisions. Even knowing we would only work together for three days, we did not question the benefit of forming teams and working to support each other’s development of skills.

I could not, now, recall the practical information learned in that crash course. I do remember confidently running the equipment and training the technicians to run it as well.  Mostly, I remember being amazed at the success of the corporate training methods. There were some assumptions made by those corporate trainers: that we all had a basic competence coming in; that we were prepared to spend the time needed to learn the techniques, and that we would in fact do our homework and come to class every day, and be attentive and participate fully in all aspects of the training.  I also was impressed with the training materials: nothing was left to chance; all steps were spelled out, all processes explained in clear terms.  Trainers were on task for the entire class, following a procedure that was clearly honed by repetition.

As I try to respond to the needs of my own students, I wonder if I can adopt any of the tactics used by those corporate trainers.  Is it possible to spell out, step by step, what I need my students to learn?  Can I convey to them the need to have the mindset to do the homework and participate fully in their training, when my course is 15 weeks interspersed by the rest of their lives, rather than three intense days?  Can I get my students to see my course as a part of their professions, so that they move away from the reflex resistance of a young student and instead adopt the ‘can-do’ attitude of a productive team member?  I realize I’m working with a different cohort than the one I was part of in that training class, but I’d like to think that many, if not most, of my students are as motivated to learn as I was – at least, initially.  What can we do to help students start off effectively and stay on course? How can we help them develop an attitude of professional competence and cooperation?  As always, I look forward to your insights!

-Betsy Ott
President-Elect

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.

HAPS Web 5- The Central Regional Meeting

Eastview High School
Join your fellow HAPSters at the Central Regional Meeting on October 17-18.

It isn’t too late to register for the HAPS Central Regional Meeting on October 17-18 in Minneapolis, MN.  The conference is being held at Eastview High School in Apple Valley, Minnesota and is geared for both college and high school anatomy and physiology educators.  Eastview High School is a large suburban school that has ample space for such a meeting.  The school is close to several hotels, is a 10 minute drive from the Mall of America, and is about a 20 minute drive from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport.  Murray Jensen, the HAPS Central Regional Director, is the conference coordinator.

Regional conferences provide an excellent opportunity to re-connect with the HAPS community between the annual conferences, which happen in May.

Featured speakers at the event include:

Dr. Kevin Petti
Anatomia italiana: Art and Anatomy in the Italian Renaissance”

Sponsored by the American Association of Anatomists

Wendy Riggs – Chair of HAPS Communications Committee
“Its Flipping Fun!  Notes on how to flip an A&P class”

Dr. Paul Iaizzo – Director, The Visible Heart Laboratory, University of Minnesota
“Cardiovascular Advances at the University of Minnesota: Past, Present, and Future”

Dr. Arthur G. Erdman
“Development of Medical Devices Using Virtual Prototyping”

Cynthia Clague, Ph.D. – Director, Research & Advanced Technology Medtronic
“Anatomical Foundation of Structural Heart Device Design”

Dr. Jon Jackson
“Anatomy by the Slice: Radiology to bring real human anatomy to any classroom, anywhere.”

 

For questions, please contact the HAPS Main Office at info@hapsconnect.org or 1-800-448-4277.

 

HAPS-I Scholarships

The HAPS Institute offers working Anatomy and Physiology instructors the opportunity to earn graduate credits or just gain Professional Development in a variety of flexible formats tailored to their busy schedule.
The HAPS Institute offers working Anatomy and Physiology instructors the opportunity to earn graduate credits or just gain Professional Development in a variety of flexible formats tailored to their busy schedule.

This might surprise you (!) but we Anatomy and Physiology instructors are usually pretty busy people.  HAPS, as usual, aims to support us by offering opportunities for professional development via HAPS Institute (HAPS-I) courses.  These courses are designed to broaden our understanding of our subject by enabling us to participate in interactive learning communities made of peers who are also teaching anatomy and/or physiology.  HAPS-I courses include both subject-specific content as well as practical teaching and learning methodology and in this way exemplify the mission of HAPS as a whole.  Additionally, each course provides participants with the opportunity to publish their work in the peer-reviewed Life Science Teaching Resource Community.  Courses are available in two separate tracts to maximize flexibility for participants, allowing them to earn graduate credits or simply participate in the course for professional development.

The next round of HAPS-I courses are scheduled to begin between August 24 and September 15.  I’d personally like to take all of them.  Dr. Margaret Weck’s course on Rational Course Design “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.”  I want to take that class!  And Dr George Ordway’s course on Advanced Cardiovascular Physiology will “provide college-level instructors with an opportunity to develop their understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the cardiovascular system, including key cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for function of the heart and blood vessels.”  Oooh!  I want to take that class too!  And then Dr. Chad Wayne will be offering THREE classes on reproductive physiology.  Whaaaat?!?!?!  I want to take ALL of those classes!

And not only does HAPS offer these amazing courses, they also offer scholarships to support you in TAKING these cool courses. In fact, the next scholarship deadline is August 15.  To be eligible for this scholarship, you need to be a HAPS member in good standing, you must be a regular full-time employee teaching anatomy and physiology, and you must have a teaching load that includes at least one section/class of anatomy and/or physiology.

So pick the fall HAPS-I course you’d like to complete, and apply for that HAPS-I scholarship by August 15.  And then vote on which class you think should I take!

Musings on Video Lectures…

In this lecture, I received 2 phone calls,  1 text message, dropped my phone, and had a sympathetic nervous response when something fell off the wall in my office.  I think I should re-record this lecture.
In this lecture, I received 2 phone calls, 1 text message, dropped my phone, and had a sympathetic nervous response when something fell off the wall in my office. I think I should re-record this lecture.

Summer is such a luxurious time to reflect on my teaching and get fired up to make improvements.  It is so nice to feel my excitement growing as I get my class materials together for the fall semester, which is only a month away.

After settling into the decision NOT to flip Human Biology this fall, I decided to make use of all the extra time I would have to re-record my Human Anatomy video lectures.  I feel this is a little bit insane…this will be my 4th time teaching (and flipping) Human Anatomy and my third time re-recording my flipped video lectures.  It seems more than mildly insane to re-record lectures this often, but I understand that I am not only ironing out the wrinkles in my flipped pedagogy, but I am also ironing out the wrinkles in my presentation of CONTENT.  I have taken it for granted that in a traditional classroom I get to re-work my lectures and improve on my craft every time I teach the course.  This is a fantastic assurance that I will constantly GET BETTER.  But in the flipped scene, improving the lectures is much more time consuming.  Nonetheless,  I am clearly in need of creating a “new edition” of my lectures, though I am sincerely hopeful that THIS set of videos will last more than one semester.

As I prepare to record lectures, I can already tell that the videos will be better.  I have a better understanding of the big picture, which will make the individual pieces fit together more cleanly.  I have more experience with the tricky parts which allows me to emphasize the concepts that will be most helpful to my students.  And I am hoping to record the lectures at a more leisurely (and reasonable) pace, without the imminent deadlines that inevitably means I end up trying to present content in front of a video camera in my office by myself, exhausted and delirious, at two in the morning.  Ahem.  My fingers are crossed.

23- A Decision

"Sanity" and "Insanity" signs
Hmmm…left or right…left or right?

I’m a stubborn human.  I also have some pretty grave questions about my sanity.  Because it was just this morning as I chatted with my mom on the phone during a very slow jog through my neighborhood, that I AGAIN lamented about whether or not I was going to flip Human Biology in the fall.

Really??!  Does anyone else get the feeling that we’ve been here before?

But I think this time, I really did work through the issue (though I did ask my mom to remind me of this decision should I somehow lose focus before fall).

So here’s the ultimate reason I am firmly committing to NOT flipping Human Bio this fall.  There are only 17 students enrolled in the course at this time and the course will not be offered again until next summer at the earliest.  There.  So if I were to flip the class, I would invest the ridiculous amount of flipping energy for 17 students (whom I’m sure I will love very much, and who are probably quite deserving of the educational advantages that the flip offers).  But 17 students in 1 year just doesn’t justify the time it would take to prepare for an effective flip.

I think I feel peaceful about this decision.  The true test will be to see what the blog topic is NEXT week.  If I’m still talking about whether or not to flip Human Biology in the fall, you’ll know this peaceful sense is an illusion.  But if I’ve moved onto a new topic, then we’ll all happily put this one to bed and I’ll start trying to remember how NOT to flip a class!   HA!

22- To Flip or not to Flip?

Fair use image of Bart Simpson.
I will NOT flip the classroom upside down…I will not…really…I will not…

I’m slowly settling into the swing of summer…and it is time to pull the trigger on a decision I have been struggling with for a couple of months now.

In the fall, I will be teaching a new class that I have never flipped:  Human Biology.  This is a non-majors course that is general bio, anatomy and physio, IN ONE SEMESTER.  Obviously, we must do a very light survey of these three courses, all of which I’ve taught multiple times before.  I do not anticipate the prep being too difficult, from a content perspective.  But I am having an ongoing internal battle about whether or not to FLIP the class.

There are a million points on the “FLIP IT!” side of the equation.  Students love it.  I have more time to work with them during class.  We can do more FUN STUFF!  Plus, I’m the flipping QUEEN, right?  I’ve been flipping all over the place for 2 years now.  I’m a flipping phenom!

But maybe I’m growing up a little bit (!) because I am not sure I can handle the stress of DEADLINES that inevitably accompanies the decision to flip a new class.  I’ve spent two years under the “gotta get a lecture recorded before I go to bed TONIGHT” mandate.  Even my YouTube students who don’t’ even know me comment on the scattered and unfocused rambling in my video lectures that is directly proportional to the lateness of the hour (and hits a peak around 1am).

Besides that, fall already promises to be a very busy semester.  It will be my first semester as a full-time tenure-track professor (after 5 years as an adjunct in this institution).  Plus, I will be teaching Human Anatomy again, which I find to be pretty intense.  Add to that the fact that we have two brand new cadavers (who will be with us for the next 3-5 years)…and I am utterly confident my fall plate will be overfull.

Every cell in my body says, “Make the smart flippin’ decision, Riggs.”  And my cells have been saying this for, oh, a couple of months now.  So what part of me is still refusing to pull the trigger and admit that I will NOT be flipping Human Biology in the fall?  I know it is time…and I know what I need to do…it just makes me sad, because I really love flipping.

So I’ll probably just end up agonizing over the summer until it really is too late to pull off a quality flip, and then the decision will be made for me.  Ask me again in August.

18- Let’s Share

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Logo_Share_Your_Knowledge.png
Teachers share. It is what we do.

Information is cheap.  Teachers are no longer holders of ALL knowledge.  Instead, we help organize the massive quantities of information that are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.  Our task has clearly shifted from “Let me TELL YOU everything I know!” to “Let me show you how to understand all this information that is available to you RIGHT NOW.”  We do this by creating a path through the information that ultimately helps students build their own understanding inside their own brains.  The way the information is organized cannot be copyrighted…it cannot be “sold.”  And maybe because of this, many teachers are eager to share their ideas and methods.

I think by nature, teachers are a generous bunch.  The HAPS email listserv is an excellent example, as are the contributors to the Life Science Teaching Resources Community.  I know that I am extremely complimented when someone is interested in using my teaching resources.  It somehow adds additional validity to my work, making the investment feel more “worth it.”  And I think we all remember what it is like to teach a class for the first time (or to TEACH for the first time!)  We start out with nothing…but if someone shares with us, we start out with a glimpse of their experience and perspective, which can be invaluable.  This is what is so great about the HAPS Annual Conference.  It is an amazing opportunity to SHARE!

I do understand being shy to share…because it is easy to feel like our materials aren’t “perfect” yet.  But I know someone else’s imperfect materials are STILL a start for me!  (And I’m sure many of you are like me and don’t ever use anything AS IS.  We always have to tweak things!)

For most authors,
the greatest risk is not
piracy
but
obscurity.
-Tim O’Reilly

Sharing makes us all better educators.  What a lovely thing!