Looking for Community College A & P Instructors Who Wish to Engage in Research on Student Attrition

First, a few questions:

  1.  How many of these abbreviations do you know?
  • SoTL
  • DBER
  • IUSE
  • CAPER
  1.  Where do most students in the USA take entry-level anatomy and physiology?

The answer the first question will be at the end, but it’s the second question that is important now.  Answer: Community Colleges!

Community Colleges are where thousands of instructors are teaching tens of thousands of students lessons in anatomy and physiology every day of the academic year.  Students in these courses often have high hopes – they hope to change their lives by gaining the qualifications to enter allied health professions such as nursing, surgical technology, and emergency medicine.  But as most of us know, many students do not complete the two-semester A & P sequence, and others complete the course but do not have high enough grades to continue in the program.  The course needs to be difficult; it’s a difficult topic. But too many students are failing.

I recently gave a SoTL (Science of Teaching and Learning) workshop at a community college that had an attrition rate of well over 50% in A & P.  The instructors in the program all talked about students being academically ill prepared for the rigors of an A & P course.  Other students, they said, were just too busy with work, kids, and “life” to devote the time required to succeed.  “Stress” was a common theme; stress caused by financial problems, family problems, and in many cases academic struggles.  In the workshop we talked about different strategies that “might help” students who struggle.  We can never “save” all our students, but we can improve the present situation.  We can help a few students succeed in A & P who otherwise might fail.

During the next month, a group of HAPS members will develop a National Science Foundation (NSF) ISUE (Improving STEM Undergraduate Education) grant targeting the attrition problem in community colleges.  If funded, we will work with instructors at community colleges who wish to try out a new teaching practice and conduct a small research project on its effectiveness (i.e., Discipline Based Education Research, or “DBER”).  We have to start out small, but if successful we will expand the program to include larger numbers of instructors and community colleges.  (And of course, NSF grants are hard to get – but you’ll never get one if you don’t apply!)

Are you teaching at a community college?  Are you interested in such a project?  If so, read about our project (CAPER) in the text below, which will also be posted on the HAPS List serve later today.    

And now the answer to the first question:

  • SoTL: Science of Teaching and Learning
  • DBER: Discipline Based Education Research
  • IUSE: Improving STEM Undergraduate Education
  • CAPER: College Anatomy and Physiology Education Research

(CAPER is the name of our HAPS/NSF research project!  So a bonus point if you got that one.)

College Anatomy and Physiology Educational Researchers (CAPER) – We want you!

One topic guaranteed to start up chatter on the HAPS Discussion Board is attrition – the disturbingly high number of students failing and withdrawing from our A & P courses, especially at 2- year colleges.  The HAPS Attrition Task Force has spent the past 18 months gathering data to document the problem.  The causes are complex, and the solutions equally so, but as HAPS members we posit that how we teach matters.   Unfortunately, while many of our members teach at 2-year schools, very little data that we use to inform our practices has actually been gathered at these institutions.  We are submitting an NSF grant application to help address this deficiency, and we need participants.  We are looking for 6 to 8 instructors at large enrolment community colleges serving diverse student populations who are willing to act as partners and participants in this grant. We want people who love teaching, love their students, and want to develop methods to help their students succeed – especially those who struggle.

Our goal is to identify specific classroom interventions that will reduce attrition in diverse student populations.  These interventions will target two important components of student success: conceptual understanding of physiology and psychological distress. Educators involved in this project will work together to develop, implement, and evaluate the impact of curriculum and pedagogy designed to influence one or both of these determinants.  We know full well that we cannot “save” all students, but we know that implementing some simple methods into our regular teaching practice can make a big difference our students’ chance of success.

Here is our preliminary plan, but we are interested in working with grant participants to fine-tune the methods.

What Do I Have To Do?

  1. July to December 2018:  Complete a 1-credit HAPS –I course (Title:  Introduction to Educational Research Methods) that covers basic principles of instructional design and assessment, and the mechanics of carrying out classroom research projects. The course includes online sessions as well as an in-person meeting at a regional HAPS conference in the Fall, and your tuition and travel will be covered by the grant.  We know that many of you are also teaching during this period, so will be asking to commit no more than 3 hours per week for this endeavor during the Fall semester. By the end of the course (probably in early December) you will have a plan for an intervention that you would like to try out, and evaluate, in your course.
  2. While completing the course, you will work with one of the course instructors to refine your classroom research project focusing on your specific student population.  Each participant will test the impact of an intervention on student performance (attrition) and stress levels using tools such as validated student surveys, instructor reports, and/or student interviews.  We will provide you with a list of interventions and research tools to choose from, but participants are also welcome to come up with their own.  For instance, one participant might look at how student stress and performance is impacted by two-stage cooperative quizzes, in which students complete a quiz both individually and in groups (cooperative quiz).  Another participant might decide to investigate if his or her students feel less psychological distress, and/or perform better, if they spend 3-5 minutes at the beginning of each group activity discussing their everyday lives. A third might examine the impact of instituting active learning activities, such as those that will be published in an upcoming Special Issue of the HAPS Educator, the inquiry activities on the HAPS website (HAPS Archive of Guided Learning Activities), or the many teaching tips on the HAPS website (A & P Teaching Tips).  We will also help you get Institutional Research Board (IRB) approval for your project. Note that interventions will be realistic and achievable – we are looking for small-scale interventions, not changing an entire course.
  3. January-May 2019: Carry out, analyse, and write up your classroom research project, with the support of the instructional team.  We hope that all participants can present their findings at the 2019 Annual HAPS conference at the end of May, and we also would encourage participants to submit their findings to the HAPS Educator.
  4. We will also ask each participant to participate in informal entry and exit interviews, in which your will discuss your perspectives on teaching and educational research with an interviewer.

Why?  What’s in it for me?

First of all, the educational community needs your input, and data from your students, to inform our practices.  Second, it will be FUN.  Educational scholarship has the potential to revitalize your teaching, and make your job more interesting, challenging, and satisfying.  Third, we will help support your travel to two HAPS meetings (one regional and one national), and there will be a stipend for completion of the manuscript describing your work.   

Sounds Interesting….What’s the Catch?

First, all participants will need to talk to their administrators. They must know what you are doing (research on teaching and student retention), support you in your efforts, help secure IRB / Human Subjects approval for you to conduct your project with students, and work with us to collect data on attrition.

Second, the project will work best if we have teams of two or three anatomy and physiology instructors from one community college, city, or region.  It isn’t an absolute requirement, but apply with a colleague from your own or neighbouring colleges if you can.  It’s even better if your school in involved in a program such as Community College Biology Instructor Network to Support Inquiry into Teaching and Educational Scholarship, or the SEPAL project.  

And third, please remember that this is a grant proposal, and there is no guarantee that the grant will be funded.  We can only accept 6 to 8 participants for the first year, but, if funded, we would run a second group of 6 to 8 participants in the second year.  

Still interested or have questions?  Email the project lead, Murray Jensen, at msjensen@umn.com.  Please include as much of this information as possible:

  • Names of instructor(s):
  • Name of your school:
  • Number of students enrolled in your anatomy and physiology program each year:
  • A rough estimate of your attrition rate (that is, the percentage of your class that receives a D or an F or withdraws before completion:
  • School involvement in national programs:
  • Name and title of your administrator who will support you in this project:

We need to have the list of participants finalized by November 21, so let us know if you are interested ASAP!   

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.