My Favorite Guided Inquiry Activity for the First Week of Class: Inside and Outside the Body

We’ve all seen this image, or something quite similar, in chapter 1 of any anatomy & physiology textbook identifying the various barriers, tubes, and cavities of the human body. Although the image is part of the usual collection of introductory topics covered within the first week, courses typically pay it only cursory attention. Over the past few years, I’ve taken this often underappreciated image and used guided inquiry to deepen students’ understanding of what is inside or outside the body.

Model 1. Cavities and Tubes in Humans

What is guided inquiry? Guided inquiry lessons involve two essential components: curricular materials and teaching methods. Curricular materials extend beyond the textbook and must support students in “figuring out” a concept, such as how to determine what is inside or outside the body. Guided inquiry teaching methods are complex and include organizing students into small, cooperative working groups and using questioning to facilitate instruction. Asking students questions guides conversations, promotes deeper thinking, and fosters more accurate understanding (Jensen, 2016.) From an outsider’s perspective, guided inquiry lessons in classrooms may appear chaotic and confusing. It may seem that the students are going down cognitive rabbit holes that are potentially fruitful, but not initially correct. In response, instructors who are new to guided inquiry may want to jump in and correct students as they discuss questions and ideas. However, with experience in these teaching practices, they learn when to step back, let students struggle a bit, and figure things out for themselves, rather than simply telling them the correct answer. Within these moments of struggle exist the true power of guided inquiry as students construct their learning rather than memorizing information provided by an instructor and/or textbook.

Several years ago, while I was lecturing in a junior/senior-level physiology class, my instruction included statements such as “The air in the lungs is outside the body,” and “The contents of your intestines are outside of your body.” Simple stuff, right? Well, no. In fact, several students came up to me after class and said, “We don’t understand this inside and outside stuff. How can the contents of the intestines be outside the body?”

To address these important student misconceptions, the next day I had the class work through a guided inquiry using the “Inside and Outside the Body Activity.” (See the links below for the lesson plan.) In this activity, students examined the inside and outside body model closely to see that the “skin” is not continuous, but rather has breaks or openings for the urinary system, digestive system, etc. While they inspected the model and discussed their ideas with their group members, I guided their inquiry by encouraging them to look very closely at the model and answered student questions with still more questions. As a result, several “a-ha” moments occurred as the students proclaimed, “Now we get it!” and “We should have learned this when we were freshmen!”

These “ah-ha” moments still fascinate me today as an instructor. Recently, I used this guided inquiry lesson in an entry-level physiology class which included quite a few engineering majors. One of the engineering students was so perplexed by this activity that he had to get out of his chair and walk around the room a couple times, repeating, “No way! This cannot be right.” After a bit of thinking and walking, he approached me and asked, “OK, with this definition in place, you can never be inside your house, correct?” What a creative thought!  (And no, I won’t tell you how I answered. I’ll let you engage in that bit of inquiry yourself!)

Ready to try out this inquiry in your classroom? Over the past 10 years, there have been several versions of the “Inside and Outside the Body” guided inquiry activity made available. The first was published in a special edition of the HAPS Educator while a second one was published in CourseSource, both great sources for classroom activities including guided inquiry curricular materials. Considerable background information for this activity can be found in both of those publications. While the current version is newer, it is not necessarily better. Instructors who have worked with guided inquiry for several years frequently have their favorite versions.

I typically use this guided inquiry lesson during the first day of class to facilitate learning inside and outside body concepts. But of course, it could easily be adapted to units on the integumentary, digestive, respiratory systems, and even immunology. Feel free to use, adapt, and share this activity as you wish. As always, if you have suggestions for improvements or would like more guided inquiry activities, please send me an email at

Note: The enclosed version of this activity is not endorsed by any professional organization. 


Jensen, M. (2016).  The HAPS Educator, Summer, 2016, 98-101.  Instructional Strategies for the Active Learning Classroom:  doi: 10.21692/haps.2016.021

Dr. Murray Jensen is a Professor of Biology Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Teaching Tips Update

This post is provided by the HAPS Curriculum and Instruction Teaching Tips Review Team

Have you ever wanted to revamp your teaching activities? Needed new ideas to engage students with important curricular concepts or how to pair with formative assessments?! We have an answer for you! The Curriculum & Instruction Teaching Tips subcommittee would like to re-highlight and share our new Teaching Tips improved website and submission process!

Teaching Tips (formally EduSnippets) are available to all HAPS members and are descriptions of learning activities including instructor’s guides and formative assessments. As of January 2022, a new website has been launched that houses all past and current Teaching Tip submissions. This website also uses a new “searchable tool” located at the top of the webpage, which allows easy access to all submitted Teaching Tips by author name, concept, learning objectives, etc. (shown below).

If you search “muscle action” in the keyword search, a new teaching tip created by our very own subcommittee member, Amy Gyorkos, Ph.D., appears which highlights how to teach students to use reason and not recall for learning skeletal muscles! (shown below)

This March, we also published THREE other Teaching Tips with activities involving pelvic vasculature, the urinary system, and plasma membrane transport. Each submission is peer-reviewed by two members of the HAPS C&I Teaching Tips Subcommittee before publishing on the web page.

If you are looking to share one of your teaching activities/assessments, the Teaching Tips submission process has also been overhauled for a streamlined process. To find more information on this process, please visit the teaching tips info page. There you will find “buttons” that allow you to download the Teaching Tip Instructions, and Template used for the submission process. Submission deadlines are January 15, March 15, May 15, July 15, September 15, and November 15. Please submit your Teaching Tip here.

Want to know more about the new submission process? Visit our workshop at the HAPS Annual Conference in Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday, May 29th at 11am EDT.

A&P Lab Accommodations Town Hall Series Wrap Up

The Accommodations subcommittee hosted a series of events at the beginning of the spring semester. The subcommittee members are truly inspired by how earnestly our audience members want to provide a classroom for all. We have gathered tremendous information by hearing your experiences, and together we will create a guidebook including suggestions for HAPS members on how to approach specific accommodations.  Keep in mind that all students typically perform better when accommodations are provided. It’s not an advantage for the student receiving accommodations. Accommodations enable an inclusive learning environment so everyone has a fair and equitable opportunity.

Pictured Left to right. Top Row: Jennifer Stokes, Abbey Breckling, Rachel Hopp 
Middle Row: Youlonda FitzGerald, Heather Armbruster, Barbara Heard 
Bottom Row: Sarah Greene, Jennifer Ellsworth, Jim Clark
Not Pictured: Molli Crenshaw, Margaret Weck, Liz Dement

These sessions were purposely designed to be at the beginning of the semester due to the fact that this is typically the time instructors are receiving accommodation(s) requests from students. The purpose of this series was to spark discussion, learn about specific accommodations, and gather information on current accommodation requests being fulfilled in A&P labs. We want to remind our HAPS members to work closely with their respective institution’s office of support services (or equivalent) as early as possible, and most often these centers want to work with you. 

In case you missed any of the 4 sessions, recordings of the live session or voiceover PowerPoints are posted to the HAPS website here. If you are interested in receiving ppt files, please email

January 19th – Incorporating ADA approved accommodations into A&P Labs by Jim Clark and Jennifer Ellsworth 

In this session, we highlighted ADA Guidelines and discussed how to include Universal Educational Design into the curriculum to create an inclusive learning environment for all students. We also included common accommodations i.e. extended time on exams, reduced distraction environments, and how to approach students who may need frequent breaks/absences. 

January 26thSupporting Students with Visual Impairments in A&P Labs, presented by Heather Armbruster and Barbara Heard 

In this session, we touched on many Universal Educational Design aspects when planning your lectures/labs i.e. fonts, accessible documents, alt text, etc. This session also described different levels of student visual capabilities and how to approach impactful learning for low vision, legal blindness, and total blindness. 

February 2nd – Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in A&P labs led by Sarah Greene 

In this session, we heard from two panelists: Dr. Alicia Wooten, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Gallaudet University, and Holly Jackson, M.Ed., Sign Language Interpreter. They shared their experiences in the Deaf community as a student, professor, interpreter, and advocate. 

February 9th – Providing ADA Accommodations for Physical Limitations and Service/Support Animals in A&P Labs, presented by Youlonda FitzGerald and Jennifer Stokes 

In this session, we simulated an A&P lab set-up and used Universal Educational Design to ensure all activities and instruments were accessible to students who might need accommodations based on physical limitations or a service animal in the A&P lab. 

Thank you again, for your time and willingness to share. We look forward to hearing from you at the Annual HAPS conference where we will be having an interactive poster presentation on Thursday, 5/26, and an interactive workshop on Sunday, 5/29 at 8:30am where we will also share the first glimpse at our Accommodations Guidebook!

If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to the following:

Accommodations Subcommittee chair: Abbey Breckling

C&I Committee Chair: Rachel Hopp

HAPS Lab Survey 2022

In our quieter moments, I’m sure we can all recall long-planned projects and events that should have happened in the spring of 2020. For HAPS, one such project was the third offering of the Lab Survey. Results from the first and second surveys came out in 2014 and 2017, and we were looking forward to documenting how our laboratory learning outcomes and activities have developed and changed over the years. In our monumental and collective efforts to adjust ourselves and our courses to remote instruction, learn new software, problem-solve, and keep our families and friends safe, the lab survey was pushed into the ‘Important but Not Urgent’ category. 

The virtual HAPS Annual Conference in 2021 gave us, as a subcommittee of C&I, a chance to refocus and plan for launching the third offering of the lab survey. Our dedicated subcommittee members met twice monthly from June through October to revise and refine the survey. Subcommittee members volunteered for one of the three content areas (i.e., demographics, learning outcomes and activities, and teaching during the pandemic). Within each content area, members represented a diverse range of teaching experiences, institutions, geographic areas, teaching challenges, and individual perspectives. After several rounds of reviewing, revising, and test runs with naive reviewers, we were able to take the next step of obtaining IRB approval and planning the timeline for the survey launch.

Earlier this month, you should have received an email from HAPS inviting you to participate in the survey. We appreciate you and your willingness to add your anonymous data and perspectives on your successes and challenges in teaching human A&P before our classrooms, and most of our lives, were turned upside down by the coronavirus, as well as how you met new challenges while teaching during the pandemic. A longitudinal analysis of the survey data, with comparisons to the past surveys and publication in the HAPS Educator, will help all of us create the post-pandemic A&P laboratory.

ADInstruments has generously offered to sponsor gift cards in support of the survey, and participants are encouraged to enter into a drawing for the sponsored gift cards. One winner will receive a $100 gift card and four others will each win $50 gift cards.

If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Carol Britson ( or Rachel Hopp ( ), and once again, our humblest thank you.

C&I Lab Survey Subcommittee

Rachel Hopp (C&I Chair), Carol Britson (subcommittee chair), Ginger York, Janay Dennis, James Clark, Virginia Baker, Heather Arbruster, Chris Kule, Chinenye Anako, Julia Schmitz, Jeff Huffman, Shannon Oldenburg, Marnie Chapman, Cynthia Schmaeman, Roberta Anelli

A&P Lab Accommodations Town Hall Series Preview

The beginning of each semester is an exciting time for both HAPS members and our students, but that excitement may dwindle as our inboxes and to-do lists begin filling with administrative tasks. One common beginning of the term task is fielding accommodation requests. These requests may be routine or repeated, but they may also be confusing, surprising, or even unfeasible if you cannot provide the accommodations in your space(s).

The Accommodations Subcommittee of the HAPS Curriculum and Instruction Committee has created a 4-week town hall series to kick off the spring term. The goals of this series are to spark discussion, learn tips and tricks for specific accommodations, and gather information on current accommodation requests being fulfilled in A&P labs. In each town hall session, subcommittee members will be interacting with the audience to gather data with the intention of creating a useful guide to lab accommodations for all HAPS members. Interested in attending? You can register now! Note: the Zoom link will be the same for all of the sessions, so once you are registered once you are all set!

Town hall sessions will be held on Wednesdays from 3-4 PM EST (2 PM Central, 1 PM Mountain, Noon Pacific) beginning on January 19. An overview of the topics being covered each week is below.  

January 19th – Incorporating ADA-approved accommodations into A&P Labs.

A&P instructors may be asked to provide a variety of accommodations to students in A&P laboratories and may not know how best to meet those requests. Discussions will focus on how to incorporate Universal Educational Design in teaching A&P labs, testing accommodations for laboratory examinations, and how to consider accommodation requests students may need based on academic standards and rigors for your course(s).

January 26thSupporting Students with Visual Impairments in A&P Labs

The discussion will focus on accommodations and other considerations for students with visual impairments in laboratory settings of A&P courses.

February 2nd – Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students in A&P labs

This session will include a panel discussion with 2-3 Deaf and Hard of Hearing students and/or professionals who will share their own experiences related to teaching and learning in the A&P lab. 

February 9th – Providing ADA Accommodations for Physical Limitations and Service/Support Animals in A&P Labs

This session will foster discussion focused on accommodations for students with physical limitations in A&P laboratories. Discussions will focus on physical limitations for testing, laboratory safety for students, and support/service animals.

The same Zoom link will be used for all of the sessions, so once you are registered you are all set. You will receive an email with the Zoom link on the day of each session.

If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to:

Accommodations Subcommittee chair: Abbey Breckling

C&I Committee Chair: Rachel Hopp

Axe, Meet Learning Objectives. Part. II: The Lecture

As I write this, I’m putting a bow on the urinary system. Yeah, I’m thinking about all the great stuff we discussed in lecture, but I can’t stop thinking about the “what-ifs”. What if they really needed to know how bicarbonate ions are formed and recycled? What if those type A intercalated cells really matter? What if, but I axed it? Ran out of time. Convinced myself that it’s not important.

The Next Day: I’m commuting to work. I fire up a podcast and my favorite metabolic physician is interviewing an endurance specialist. Together, they are both promoting the importance of, wait for it, bicarbonate ion recycling and blood pH balance. I freaked out. I was careless with my axe and failed to prepare my students. My worst “what if” fear was confirmed.

And here we are today. End of the semester. I’d love to crack some snarky, arrogant statement about not caring. I want to be Bender from the Breakfast Club. “Screws fall out all the time. The world’s an imperfect place.” Truth is, I struggle with this. I do it, though. As stated in the intro for this series, I cut and chop. I feel devilishly liberated, but also nervously frustrated that there is no clean validation for what I teach.

Look at those freakin’ textbooks. It’s an ambush of information. That is the pressure. Because somewhere there is a renal physiologist who insists that the counter current multiplier…thing is of utmost importance. I get it. I do. I’m a neuroscientist and I think Goldman–Hodgkin–Katz voltage equation is imperative for grasping the basics of the nervous system. We win some. We lose some. So how do I decide what stays and what gets the axe? The bag-o-tools drives the format of my class sessions, and backwards design drives the content that makes it past the axe.

The Bag-o-Tools

Tools. Oh, those wonderful tools I stuffed in my tool bag. The ones from the summer teaching workshops. The ones from the webinars (ugh). The ones from great organizations that promote A&P. I want to use them. I will use them. I have a few pedagogical gadgets in my bat utility belt. Always on rotation. No excuses. Just a sample of my favs include the 10 minute chunk. Breaking the lecture into 10min chunks of learning objectives immediately followed by student Q&A.  I also like having students swap notes with a classmate and checking their notes for clarity and organization.  There are several more. Too many to list here. But, I must use them. No excuses

There is a warning label: To effectively use these tools, teachers must momentarily pause lecture.

That’s right. No more Guinness World Records for longest lecture on a single breath. I may sacrifice up to 15 minutes a lecture on class interactions. Definitely losing some content-stuffing yapping time. But these tools will not be sacrificed for the obligation of content volume.  Now that I’ve cemented this immovable criterion, I fill in the remaining measures with…

The Backward Build

Thanks to Brandy Doleshal at Sam Houston State for this one. I plan backwards. I look at the chapter and think about 3, *maybe* 4, big objectives that I want my students to digest. Gotta cover the basics. Which means I need to define what the basics are. I go through each section of that chapter. I write my mini objectives that support and align with my 3 (maybe 4) big objectives. As I plan and scheme, I remind myself of the time constraints courtesy of the first criterion. The axe starts axing. The scraps fall to the floor. There’s some quality stuff that doesn’t make the team.

But. But. But. Yes, Jordan’s tortured head, I hear you. After further review of your own self-imposed criteria, the Goldman–Hodgkin–Katz voltage equation will be omitted.

So what does all of this look like? The lectures = lean. The presentation slides = digestible. There is calmness (that, or they’re asleep).  We talk and uncover confusion and misconceptions before pushing forward.

So how do I feel? There is that sweet temptation to abandoned the bag-o-tools. Maybe just for one lecture because I really want to cover this or that. Just one lecture and I’ll reinstate criteria 1 next time. I PROMISE. Nope. I resist. And I know some of the dirty tricks to circumvent the system. Record mini lectures with additional material not covered in class. Let the students watch and review from the comforts of home. No way!  That’s dishonest to my criteria.

Next, we’ll walk down the stairs and across the hall to the lab. For some reason, I don’t have the anxiety about hacking up the lab content. Maybe because it’s been a long time coming. The list and more lists. Watching all those identified structures, under intense hydrostatic pressure, blow out of their skulls as soon as they out the lab. I’m feeling a bit snarky for this next installment.


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

Axe, Meet Learning Objectives. Part. I: Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

New Teaching Tips Submission Process

This post is provided by the HAPS Curriculum and Instruction Teaching Tips Review Team

For more than two decades, HAPS members have been sharing Teaching Tips (formerly EduSnippets). These Teaching Tips are descriptions of learning activities that others in the HAPS community may find useful for their own teaching practices. The Teaching Tips often include both instructor’s guides and formative assessments.  They are published on the HAPS Teaching Tips Website, grouped by HAPS Learning Outcomes, and available to all HAPS members. 

We are excited to share with you that the Curriculum and Instruction Committee has recently updated the Teaching Tip format and submission process!

One of the improvements we have made to the HAPS Teaching Tips is a consistent format, including a uniform header, with a brief description (summary abstract of 100 words or less), intended audience, keywords/terms, approximate time for completion, and type of activity (case study, demonstration, discussion, etc.). We hope that this will make it easier to determine if a Teaching Tip might be useful for you and your teaching!  We have also added a *NEW FEATURE* — if the Teaching Tip addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion, if it includes accommodation suggestions for students, and/or if it is adaptable for remote instruction that information will now be directly noted on the Tip’s header.

As a reader, you can expect all Teaching Tips to include student activity pages (i.e. student worksheets, guided problem sets, in-class clinical cases, etc.), a formative assessment with answer key/rubric, as well as a detailed instructor’s guide.  

Submission deadlines for HAPS Teaching Tips are January 15, March 15, May 15, July 15, September 15, and November 15. Each submission will be evaluated by the HAPS C&I Teaching Tips Subcommittee Review Team. Accepted Teaching Tips will appear on the website within six weeks.

We are currently calling on all HAPS community members to consider submitting a Teaching Tip for our upcoming May 15th deadline! Those interested in preparing a submission are invited to review the HAPS Teaching Tips Instructions. Not only are HAPS Teaching Tips peer-reviewed (a great addition to your professional portfolio!), they are also a terrific opportunity to showcase your teaching expertise and be recognized by your professional organization. 

We look forward to reviewing your submission! 

Links to sample Teaching Tips (in the new format):

Pelvic Vasculature Guided Demonstration 

Short Case Study of the Urinary System

C&I Teaching Tips Review Team

Danielle Bentley
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member 
Assistant Professor, teaching stream Faculty of Medicine University of Toronto
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Abbey Breckling
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member 
Clinical Instructor Kinesiology & Nutrition Department Anatomy & Cell Biology Department University of Illinois at Chicago 

April R. Hatcher, PhD
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member
Associate Professor, Anatomy, Embryology, and Histology Department of Neuroscience University of Kentucky Lexington, KY

Jessica Loomis, M.S.
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member
Professor, Biological Sciences Department of Biology Cincinnati State Technical & Community College Cincinnati, OH

Ellen Krumme, DC, MS
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member 
Associate Professor in Arts and Sciences Galen College of Nursing, Cincinnati Ohio

Edgar R. Meyer, M.A.T., Ph.D.
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member
Assistant Professor Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences, Division of Clinical Anatomy, College of Medicine University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

Wendy Rappazzo
Teaching Tips Subcommittee C&I Committee Member 
Professor, Biology Harford Community College
Bel Air, MD

Rachel Hopp
Chair of HAPS C&I Committee
Assistant Professor in Biology University of Louisville

My Experience in Striving for Equitable Education in A&P Curriculum: Why it Matters to my Students

I want to invite you to read some words that may make you uncomfortable, and I encourage all of my readers to read, reflect, and keep an open mind. We often find our greatest opportunity for growth by stepping outside our realm of comfort and into an arena of discomfort. Use the movement from comfort to discomfort as an opportunity to understand how our identities lead to bias and create a lack of equity among our students.

As educators, our experiences shape biases and these biases can create disadvantages for students. The biases we carry can influence how we teach and respond to students. Likewise, how our students participate and engage with faculty and course content is influenced by their biases, experiences, and preconceived expectations of us and the course content.

The start of each semester presents me with an opportunity to remember that my students bring their own cultural and societal experiences and biases, impacting how they experience my courses. Cultural humility, which involves recognizing and reflecting on the difference between my own culture and identity and the cultures and identities of my students, requires ongoing reflection and growth on my part to understand who my students are. I have realized that in order to create a more equitable and inclusive classroom, where all students are valued and respected, I must practice cultural humility and acknowledge my students’ differences in race, ethnicity, class, sex and gender.

Why do the identities of students and instructor matter at all? The mistrust that underrepresented minority (URM) students have in white faculty has been building for decades due to personal experience, discrimination and mistrust within our medical and legal systems, and an increase in social justice unrest. The oppressive stresses felt by URM students in society are carried into the classroom and intensified when URM students see white professors as authoritarians.

According to a 2017 Pew Research looking at college faculty and student diversity, 76.5% of all faculty that students encounter is white. Comparatively, according to the AACU, students of color enrolled in undergraduate education, in 2016, comprised 45.2 percent of our student population. At the graduate level, students of color represented 32.0 percent of enrollment.  This means that only 23.5% of college professors represent communities of color.

To give an idea of how my institution compares to the research, during the 2019-2020 academic year 84.8% of the faculty identified white, compared to 8.9% of the faculty identified as Black and 4.3% of faculty identifying Hispanic. Our student body is 26% Hispanic, 17% Black, and 48% White. Our total population of students of color is 43% of the student body, but faculty they can identify with only make up 13.2%. URM students are enrolling in courses and being educated by professors who cannot empathize with or relate to social, family, and justice experiences. How does your institution compare with the data?

I believe that the biases brought to the classroom by URM students requires me to work harder to break down barriers of race, sex, and gender and establish trust with my students that allows for greater success and perseverance. The delay in establishing instructor-student trust relationships is sometimes the culprit behind the achievement gap seen at community colleges. In a report published in 2014 in the JSTOR, researchers found that the performance gap (withdrawal rate and grade performance) for students of color enrolled in courses taught by instructors of color was reduced by 20-50%.

This data is reinforced by my own experiences, and consequently, I owe it to my students to not be a gatekeeper of their education, to not subscribe to a fixed mindset. We must see our students’ color and attempt to unravel their biases; it is only in seeing color that we can start to understand their experiences, history, and biases that they bring to our classrooms.

Diversity Hands by Kolette Draegan

What are some “quick to implement” strategies in building trust with your students? Here are changes that I have made to build relationships with my students.

  1. I start with my syllabus. It is the first introduction to me that students have. So consider: Is it inclusive? Is the syllabus written in a “negative” or “penalizing tone”? What support do you outline in your syllabus? Do you identify your pronouns after your name?
  2. I take risks. I inject personal stories of difficult periods of my journey and allow students to share their stories. I listen to and validate their stories. In doing so, I validate my student’s experiences. In becoming vulnerable, students will see you as being human and relatable to them.
  3. I am mindful of words spoken. I correct instances of microaggression within my classes. I also need admit when I misspeak or engage in microaggression-infused conversations, even with colleagues.
  4. I recognize my own privilege. I acknowledge it, and I use the acknowledgment to start discussions of race and sexuality within my courses. I allow students to express their experiences, encourage different views – made sure to allow and encourage ALL students to offer opinion, even if it had already been spoken.
  5. I am open about my support of students of color. I hang fliers on my office door that promote DEI events on my campus. I participated in Safe Zone training on my campus and display the insignia on my door, scanned it and put it in my syllabi, visually showing support with my words and action.

More specific ways to increase inclusiveness will be the topic of future blogs in this series.

We owe it to our students to be the best advocates for inclusive, equitable educational practices and for working collaboratively with peers to support greater diversity in our classrooms, departments, and fields of study. What challenges with developing cultural humility can you perceive? What changes can you make to your classroom to break down barriers caused by our different identities? What steps can you take in earning your students’ trust in order to transform their educational experience?

Larry author picLarry Young is Professor of Biology and Anatomy & Physiology at Polk State College in central Florida. In addition to his teaching, Larry works with the colleges Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program as a research mentor and campus coordinator/club advisor. He earned his B.S. in Biology from Richard Stockton University, New Jersey in 2000 and his Masters in Life Science at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2008. His work in DEI education has led him to incorporate social justice relationships to A&P content taught within his courses. He also teaches Biology of Sexuality and Gender. When not teaching and hanging with HAPS humans you can find Larry, and his wife Niqui, paddle boarding in the Gulf of Mexico, enjoying the beach, working out, and when traveling, finding the local distilleries and breweries to enjoy the regional flavors, but also learn of the history, experiences, and diversity of communities brought together by some yeast, grains, and patience.  

A&P Cyber Style Part 4: Asynchronously Out of Sync

This is finale of a multi-part series of posts from HAPSter Jordan Clark. Check out his introduction post and his thoughts on synchronous lectures and synchronous labs while you’re here!

Fast food. Sure, sure…I know. Your palate is too refined. But ooohhhh the convenience. Because you’re hungry. Because you’ve been ripping out kitchen drywall all day (long Christmas break…don’t ask). You don’t want to shower. You don’t want to wipe off the stove. You don’t want to pull out a classic southern supper dish passed down through generations. Nope. You just want to eat. Eat something that kinda resembles food. All you need is some wheels and a vague sense of direction.  Chances are it’s already made and sunbathing under heat lamps. Go get it and guess what? You don’t even have to eat it at that very moment!! Take your time, eat it when you are ready in your busy schedule.

And once you declare chow time, chow down. Inside the grease-blotted bag is something that….ehh…sorta resembles food. Something chemically bonded and partially digestible.

Doesn’t really look like the pictures. At all. Whoever slopped this together is not getting a Hollywood handshake. But you eat it because it’s there. And, come midnight, you’ll probably regret it.

Compilation of images by author. Figure 1 is from AZ_RN and Figure 2 taken by SteFou!, both via flickr

Where am I going with this? I’m hitting an all-time high score on the snark-o-meter, but this is how I view asynchronous online courses. Self-paced online course. The drive-thru fast food of academia. Lectures and assignments prepackaged and sitting under a heat lamp. Pick it up when you want. Finish it when you want. It kinda resembles learning. Looks nothing like the pictures. And, come midnight, you’ll probably regret it.

And like fast food, it’s an easy sell. Heck, I hit the drive thru and picked up a delicious, fried bag-o-knowledge.  Recently it was from a menu of online workshops. It was a great experience. But not for the upgrade in my tree of pedagogical skills. But because I experienced, what many students experience, when enrolled in self-paced online courses (and I’m comfortable speaking for many students). After about 2 weeks of the workshop, I was no longer focused on learning. I was only focused on completion. And like the buzz I hear from so many students, I settled in with this regretful thought bubble:

No matter how flashy the video production or interactive the activities, I’m tuning it out. Putting everything off until the due date. Just complete the dumb thing.

In a couple of weeks, I’m teaching some asynchronous online courses with enrollment of over 260. How am I going to keep my students from disconnecting? What happens between posting and collecting materials? How do I shift the objective of completion back to learning?

Well, I picked up a few tricks. Nothing earth shattering, but easily overlooked as convenience is too tempting with this format.  As with all these ramblings, I cannot recommend or discuss any programs I’m using (Just check your inbox. It’s full of solicitations).

These info nuggets stem from the Spring 20 Emergency Transition. I did them to save my sanity. I used them sparingly during that time, but I will supersize them for this semester.

  • Dress Rehearsal: There are no mandatory scheduled meetings for these courses. Thus, when I recorded my lecture, I sent out an invite to attend. Doesn’t matter what time or day. I could be recording a lecture at 9pm on Saturday. I’d invite all students to attend. It’s like watching a live dress rehearsal. They got to hear me screw up, swear, restart the recordings, swear some more
  • Study Sessions. I held live study sessions periodically. And not just for exams, but after a couple of heavy lectures (good ole neurophysiology). Kept it short and focused.
  • Posts: I used a discussion board. Posted some trivia about A&P. Made sure I commented on any responses. I made goofy 10 min videos from my nerdcave discussing fun facts about physiology and human health (and showing off my Atari memorabilia).

What did this accomplish? I didn’t leave them out in the cold. I held open the lines of communication. Will this work in the Spring? I think so. That’s a massive line of cars pulling up to the drive-thru window (Remember….over 260 kids). I don’t expect all to participate, but at least they’ll know I’m alive. The worst thing I (or anyone teaching this format) can do is dump everything on a Sunday and check back in at the end of the week. Come semester end, maybe I won’t get that Hollywood handshake, but I will win the technical!

clark-headshot-1Jordan Clark is the course coordinator and head instructor for anatomy and physiology and applied microbiology at Sam Houston State University. He earned a BS in psychology at Florida State University and a Ph.D in neurobiology at University of Kentucky, where he conducted research in spinal cord and brain injury. He served four years in the US Army. Currently, his primary research interest is developing engaging and active teaching strategies for large capacity courses. Free time? Consuming synth wave pop culture, daydreaming of being a master woodworker, and always seeking great geeky adventures with his awesome wife and and two kids.