Curriculum that Works:  Classroom Activities that Promote Conversations and Questions

Consider this post an invitation to submit classroom activities for possible publication in a special issue of the HAPS Educator!

My boss, Robin, and I were talking one day about our best classroom activities.  “Do you have anything that’s a guaranteed hit?” she asked.  “I have two or three,” I said. Robin replied with “That’s good!  I have one, or maybe two.”

Wow.  After several years of developing curriculum for the active learning classroom (pictured below) you would think that we would have more than that.  Nope.  Curriculum development is far from easy; it requires the right combination of students, topics, questions, graphics, and more.

The open learning classroom
An active learning classroom at the University of Minnesota.  Nine students sit at a round table, and there are 14 tables in the classroom.

The days I use the “Inside and Outside” activity with entry level students I know will be good.  And by good I mean students will be talking with each other using the language of anatomy and physiology and there will be many moments where you witness students thinking, doubting, questioning, and even going back and revising answers to previous questions.  There will be good questions generated by the students.  There will be learning!

I use the “Inside and Outside” activity as an introduction to the digestive system, but I have many colleagues in other entry-level classes using it to introduce the respiratory system, others use it to introduce the integumentary system, and a couple even use it on the first day of the semester. The activity involves one graphic and several guiding questions that help students develop a conceptual understanding of what is inside and outside the body and the anatomical barriers involved.  The following questions are included; and it’s important to note that the answers to these questions are quite obvious to us (experts) but are quite novel, and sometimes even a bit troubling, for entry level students.

  1. Is air that is inside the lungs considered inside or outside the body?
  2. Is a piece of gum that is inside the stomach inside or outside the body?
  3. Is a fetus developing inside the uterus inside or outside the body?
  4. Is a tattoo inside or outside the body?

Learning, and more specifically conceptual learning, is slow and non-linear.  Students frequently pause, think, ask questions, think some more, and slowly…slowly…figure…things…out.  To show this process, I videotaped a group of four freshmen completing the “Inside and Outside” activity.  (I especially like watching the body language of students while engaging in good active learning lessons: squirming, leaning in, leaning back, looking up in the air, etc…all evidence that learning is indeed taking place.)  It’s painfully slow to watch, and many old-school lecturer instructors would obviously ask “why don’t you just tell them the answer!”  Unfortunately, conceptual learning is not that easy; for students to understand a concept (e.g., how do you know if something is inside vs. outside the body), they must construct their own understandings, they must “figure it out for themselves,” and cannot simply be told what to know.

A key factor in the success or failure of curriculum is its fit with the students – it’s not a “one size fits all” thing.  What provokes and engages students in one classroom might be quite bland and flat in another.  For example, advanced anatomy and physiology students zip through the “Inside and Outside” activity and have few, if any, questions.  Entry level students, however, work slowly and have many questions, and also have more than a few “aha!” moments.

Over the next few years, our research team of Kyla Ross, Ron Gerrits, Kerry Hull and myself, hope to develop a library of curriculum materials for HAPS members.  The library will be an on-line collection of curriculum activities that enable HAPS members to pick and choose activities that best fit their students and course goals.  We’re starting that endeavor with a special edition of the HAPS Educator that is to be published this Fall.

For this special edition we’re asking all HAPS members the following question:

Do you have any curriculum that works?  Do you have a classroom activity that is a sure thing in terms of generating classroom conversation?  Generating those “aha!” moments?

If so, please consider submitting your activity for possible publication in a special edition of the HAPS Educator.

We’re starting this process with two activities that can serve as examples.  First is the “Inside and Outside” activity that targets entry level anatomy and physiology students, and the second, from Ron Gerrits, is on cardiovascular control and targets physiology students.  Both follow the format that is required for the submission process.

Links to the two sample activities, as well as more information for activity submission, can be found on the HAPS website.

Transforming, or “flipping,” your classrooms from traditional lecture to active learning is a huge endeavor, and you should not try to do it all at once.  But with help from colleagues in HAPS, and sharing good curriculum (curriculum that works!), the process can be a lot easier, student learning can be increased, and you are almost guaranteed to love the conversations and questions you’ll have with your students.


This week’s post is from Dr. Murray Jensen, Associate Professor of Biology Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The 2017 Lab Instructor Survey Report is Now Available!

David Brashinger has engineered the 2014 and 2017 HAPS lab instructor survey reports.

Hot off the digital press…the results of the 2017 HAPS laboratory instructor survey are now available to HAPS members in a Special Edition of HAPS Educator. My thanks to all of you who participated in either the 2014 or the 2017 surveys. This year, we received over 560 submissions from 470 institutions over a two-month period. That’s more than four times the number of participants and more than five times the number of institutions than we had in 2014, and in half the time! Special thanks to the ADInstruments team for their suggested survey improvements and sponsoring the Amazon gift card drawing for our survey participants.

The report, Instructional Goals and Practices in the Introductory Undergraduate Pre-Health Professions Anatomy and Physiology Laboratory, contains all the 2016 survey data alongside the quantitative results from the 2014 report. The report is hefty with 21 data tables; however, it was important to share all the data we collected in a peer-reviewed and published format rather than just summarizing a few key findings. The report includes data on the participant population, institutional and program practices, and the instructional goals and practices in the A&P laboratory. I expect you’ll find the data in this report very helpful if you are needing to benchmark your current laboratory practices against the national trends. I also see the report as a foundation for our discussions on what our laboratory practices should be in the future.

I look forward to discussing the survey results and our next steps with y’all in Salt Lake City. I’ll be at the poster session during the update seminar portion of the annual meeting and I’m leading a workshop later in the conference. If you won’t be at the annual conference, please feel free to reach out to me by email with your questions and ideas.

In closing, I also wanted to take a moment and thank all the HAPS committee members, board members, and administrative staff who worked on the lab survey project over the last three years. This project started with a question I asked Ron Gerrits in 2013. I was still very new to HAPS and it was my first annual conference. Looking back reminds me how welcoming we are as an organization and how much we accomplish as volunteers in HAPS. If you’re not already on a HAPS committee, review the committee list on the HAPS website and consider joining one of these fantastic teams. The committees meet in person at the annual conference, but you can still get involved even if you’re not headed to Salt Lake City this year. Just reach out to the corresponding committee chair using their contact information on the HAPS website.

Survey conducted in partnership with ADInstruments

Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? Part 3

valerie-lee
A message from Valerie Lee, an assistant professor at Southern Adventist University who just started her 6th year of teaching and loves HAPS!

In Parts 1 and 2 of this blog series, we identified that Anatomy & Physiology students are having difficulty with reading comprehension.  More specifically, their struggles are not limited to understanding specific content; rather, they are struggling with general vocabulary comprehension.
(To view Part 1 &/or Part 2 of this series,  Click the Link(s):
“Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read
 -PART 1             -PART 2

For her Southern Scholars senior research project, Molly Theus, first year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student at the University of Georgia in Athens,  attempted to seek insight into this problem by asking four questions:

  1. Does a positive correlation exist between cumulative GPA and vocabulary comprehension?
  2. Does a positive correlation exist between time spent reading for pleasure and vocabulary comprehension?
  3. Does a positive correlation exist between being read to as a child and vocabulary comprehension?
  4. Is there a link between a student’s major and vocabulary comprehension?

Molly chose six classes as candidates for investigation: General Biology II, Principles of Biology, Anatomy and Physiology II, Cell and Molecular Biology, Studies in Daniel, and Pathophysiology (Table 1). These classes were chosen to include one lower (n=42) and one upper division (n=31) biology-major class, one lower (n=43) and one upper division (n=32) nursing class, and one lower (n=27) and one upper division (n=20) general education class (total n=195). To assess personal reading habits and history, a questionnaire was distributed to all students in the six selected classes. To assess vocabulary comprehension, a twenty-question multiple choice vocabulary quiz was also distributed. In order to assure anonymity, informed consent and student information forms were assigned a unique three number code corresponding to each questionnaire.

Participants were given a two-week period of time in which to complete the questionnaires. Once the packets were collected, each informed consent document containing student names was separated from the rest of the forms so that quiz scores were kept anonymous. The names were needed to compile average GPAs and class-standing information for each participant. GPA and class-standing was then matched to quiz scores using the unique numerical codes. We made use of an ANCOVA linear model to analyze our data. The number of questions missed on the vocabulary assessment was the dependent variable and the independent variables are listed in Table 2. University GPA was rank-transformed to meet parametric assumptions. Analysis was performed using R version 3.3.0.

The preliminary result yielded three key results:

KEY RESULT 1: Students’ reading for pleasure had no statistical significance for predicting higher scores on the vocabulary quiz (Table 2). This was contrary to what we had hypothesized based on the literature.  

KEY RESULT 2: In our model, the amount of time parents spent reading to their child was a statistically significant predictor of scores on the vocabulary comprehension quiz. This relationship was consistent even when controlling for university GPA (F(3, 183) = 4.80, p = 0.003; Figure 1).

KEY RESULT 3: A higher cumulative university GPA was also a significant predictor for improved quiz scores (F(1, 183) = 20.39, p = <0.001; Figure 2).

Molly and I were surprised that reading for pleasure was not a statistically significant indicator of vocabulary comprehension. Molly suggests several possible interpretations:

    • Students choose reading materiel at or below their reading level.
    • If a student’s reading level is low, that might inhibit acquisition of non-content specific collegiate vocabulary.
    • Self reporting is not a precise tool.

What can we do with this information?

  • Early intervention seems to be key to the issue of vocabulary comprehension
  • Collegiate students identified as struggling with non-content specific vocabulary comprehension need interventions as well. Possible interventions include encouraging them to read challenging books outside of class and providing mentor support.
  • This is an interdisciplinary issue that needs to be addressed in every department.

The preliminary results are very interesting and both Molly and I are interested in collecting more data in the future by expanding the background questions asked and surveying both private and public institutions. If you are interested in helping us, contact me at vlee@southern.edu.

Supplemental Instruction

A message from HAPS President-Elect, Betsy Ott.
A message from HAPS President-Elect, Betsy Ott.

We’re just past mid-semester, and that means some of our students are starting to ask for help in catching up on what they should have been doing every week. As with many institutions across the country, we have been working on improving student success and retention for a number of years now.  We assign the textbook-related website, we have our own online resources, and we provide an on-campus open lab for reviewing models and answering questions.  So, you might wonder, what are we missing? Why aren’t all of our students availing themselves of all these wonderful opportunities, and achieving their dreams in A&P?

The HAPS List serve had a lively discussion this week about allowing electronic devices in classes.  One of the points made was that students don’t always make the best choices, and that poor decision-making can, at least in some cases, be explained by their state of maturity (or lack thereof) due to age and experience.  Each of us, as faculty, needs to decide how much we will control in our courses, in terms of student behavior. We all implicitly control student behavior through awarding points for exams, discussions, participation, or other course-related activities, so banning or enhancing the use of electronics is just one more example of options we exercise to control the learning environment.  The exchange of ideas has me wondering if I’m providing enough structure for students to make better choices.  To me, that means setting clear consequences for failure to comply with the requirements I set up – all of which are designed to improve student outcomes.  But do students see these policies in the same light?  Or do they simply recognize additional barriers that they need to circumvent?

At my institution, we are planning to implement two major changes, which we predict will improve student mastery.  We are requesting approval to add the online text website access as a tuition-related course fee, and to add a contact hour of compulsory open lab attendance.  The process for each involves explaining the rationale for the action, ensuring that it is revenue-neutral (at least), and that it is feasible.  I think we can justify these actions based in part on data provided by our textbook publisher (in terms of success of their online resources) and a small pilot program in our open lab.  Yet, it remains to be seen if we get the level of success we are hoping for.  I hope to use my soon-to-be-acquired educational research skills to help inform future decisions of this sort.

I have yet to find a way to consistently jump-start all students’ intrinsic motivation, curiosity, or mental acumen within a single semester.  I don’t seem to have much impact in determining what students sign up for my course, or whether they are truly readying themselves to focus on their coursework.  So, I try to zero in on what I can do to encourage, enable, and channel their actions toward success.  I’m hoping our new online and in-person supplemental instruction initiatives will have a measurable effect.  I’ll be sure to share results with you all, and hope to hear from you about what you are doing that works well.

Resolution Review, and Looking Forward

A message from HAPS President-Elect, Betsy Ott.
A message from HAPS President-Elect, Betsy Ott.

I’m feeling kind of unsettled this month. After taking a break from blogging over the month-long year-end break, I’m finding it difficult to kick-start myself.  In preparing this post, I looked back at my resolutions – and I want to assure you, I’ve kept them as well as I can.  Although, I did have a student today ask if he should finish the “pre-lab 2” assignment before or after attending lab 2.  It’s hard to know how much clearer I can make assignment titles.

I spent quite a bit of time over the holiday break refining my courses, particularly the online instructions.  I actually had a student tell me she was intimidated by how much she was going to have to wade through just to start the course.  I’m not sure how to fix that.  I remember when I started teaching microbiology lab, that my pre-lab briefs were pretty short.  As my experience increased, the length of my briefs did, too – I kept adding to the things that could go wrong, as students continued to find new ways to mess up the lab.  So now, I find myself adding to the instructions about how the course works, to the point (apparently) that students are overwhelmed by the instructions before they even get to the content.

So, I’ve decided to look for expert help.  I will ask our resident instructional designer to review my course orientations, and see if they can be streamlined – or if they are fine the way they are.  I”m reading about teaching and learning, which I’ll report on in future posts.

Most significantly, I’ve signed up for Valerie O’Loughlin’s HAPS-I course on educational research.  After thirty-plus years of being a professional educator, I suppose it’s high time I actually get some professional development on education.  I’m looking forward to creating a system of asking, and answering, questions about how my students learn and what I can do to facilitate their success.  Particularly as I am chair of the college’s General Education Committee, I feel compelled to collect meaningful information that measures parameters that matter, rather than just what is easy to quantify.

One of the best aspects of a HAPS-I course is the interaction with peers.  With a focus on a specific outcome, the quality of discourse can be amazing, and I’m looking forward to working with HAPS colleagues to explore aspects of metacognition and the scholarship of teaching.  I encourage you to join us – or to find some other avenue to enhance your scholarship of teaching.  Have a great spring semester!

Betsy Ott
President-Elect

HAPS Web 9- The HAPS Learning Outcome Project

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.

HAPS Leadership (#17): Southern Regional Director

We’re checking in with Jason LaPres this week to learn what is so gosh-darn special about the HAPS Regional Conferences.  Jason is our Southern Regional Director, as well as an attendee and/or committee member at a few of our Regionals.

???????????????????????????????“The Regional Conferences are a little more intimate than the Annual Conference.  Usually just over a weekend, they are a little more low-key.  Most people are close enough to drive and a lot know each other before reaching the conference.  There are fewer vendors, only 1 or 2 update lectures, but most of the focus is usually on the workshops.”

Uh…gee, Jason, that sounds somewhat “less” than the Annual Conference.

“Heck, no, Tom.  It’s just different.  As I said, the Regional Conferences tend to be more intimate than the Annuals.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Annual Conferences.  The night and day energy at those is incredible.  Meeting so many new people and experiencing so many new things is absolutely breath-taking.  But, what makes the Regional Conferences a jewel is their focus.”

“See, each Regional Conference tends to develop a bit of a theme for itself.  We’ve had Regional Conferences that were built around cadaver dissection, around online courses, around high school educators, the list goes on.  The Annual Conference is a chance to explore a whole bunch of – SQUIRREL!

140212 (2) Up“Sorry, lost my train of thought.  Oh yeah, the Regional Conferences are a great way to really roll your sleeves up and immerse yourself into a tight group of educators who are just as passionate as you.  We have an Eastern Regional Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 15 of this year.  I’ve spoken to a number of people are very excited to attend that one.”

Are there other Regional Conferences in the works?

“Yes, Murray Jensen is working on a Central Regional Conference for October of this year.  We’ve had proposals from a number of other HAPSters who want to host a Regional Conference in their neck of the woods.  Hosting a Regional Conference is a great way to see if your location could serve as a future site for an Annual Conference.  For more information on hosting a Regional Conference, feel free to contact Ellen Lathrop-Davis, Chair of the Conference Committee or check out their committee’s web page.

Thanks, Jason.  That gives me a lot to think about.  I’m going to check out the Regional Conference web page and think about attending.

Excitement at the Southern Regional in Texas this past year!
Excitement at the Southern Regional in Texas this past year!
Vendors, Workshops, and Seminars..oh my!
Vendors, Workshops, and Seminars..oh my!