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.

A&P Cyber Style Part 3: The Sounds of Synchronicity…in the Lab

This is part 3 in a multi-part series of posts from HAPSter Jordan Clark. Check out his introduction post and his thoughts on synchronous lectures while you’re here!

Admittedly I was surprised with my own positive reflections for synchronous online lectures. An audience, a community, and the freedom to text at will. But…..there is that one thing. The other component of the course. The labs!!

Compared to the online lectures, planning for synchronous online labs is like planning a hack into ENCOM’s mainframe, without being detected by the MCP, to find code fragments of games you developed like Space Paranoids…(you guessed it..Tron reference). But labs come with the bundle, so I planned and schemed and guess what??

I think it kinda, sorta, weirdly, worked. Now I cannot recommend any A&P programs and will not disclose programs I used. I can, however, lay down some snappy tips that should apply to many online lab strategies. Remember, this is for synchronous online formats. Ready?? I used a little-known pedagogical strategy called 80s-kid-in-the-mall approach.

Figure 1: Young Dr. Clark Exploring the Mall

Basically, as a kid, my parents would take me to the mall, provide me with a set of instructions, set a timer and set me free to explore. Once my time expired, I’d rejoin my parents for a debriefing (and receipt audit for those Hair Band cassette purchases). That’s essentially what I did in the labs.

  • Family Arrival at the Mall: We all showed up on the webcam for lab. Welcomed everyone. Reviewed any assignments from last week’s lab. Gave an introduction to the current week’s online lab activity. Did some pre-lab activities. Doing a virtual cardiophys lab? How about a pre-lab debate? Set the tone and have them argue the effects of energy drinks on heart function. Got them interested and got them talking.
  • Parent-free Mall Exploration: Let them loose to complete the online exercises, whether it’s a simulated experiment or virtual cadaver dissection. They could work in groups, they could even log off and go solo, but I, you, lab TA, stayed logged in just in case there are questions. Gave them a timeline…let’s say 45 minutes (to include food breaks).
  • Rendezvous with the Parents: Once time has expired, I brought them back. This part was critical. Everyone rejoined into the live virtual sphere. Reviewed the activities.
    • Did some anatomy post lab stuff such as…
      • Anatomy ID gameshow with student teams (they can circle stuff on your slides)
      • Demonstrate movements and application of said anatomy, like exercises that work certain muscles
      • Clinical studies on injuries…use x-rays, MRI’s, etc. Applied the anatomy!
    • Did some physiology post lab stuff such as…
      • Discussed the experimental design. Controls, variables, hypothesis, etc.Reviewed the data. Answered questions just using graphs
      • Did some mini case studies

In other words, wrapped it all up!

As a champion of traditional classrooms, I really find this online style effective. However, I know we brought this up in the last blog entry (you did read that one…right?). These synchronous online courses may be a rare offering. If I come across as a bit defensive, well…there is a lot of scrutiny (to be polite) in the current academic climate of online courses. But, it can and does work. When does it not work? We’ll discuss that in the next blog. Until then, I’ll be at the food court enjoying some Sbarro before heading off to Camelot Music to spend my allowance.

“Say, would someone mind checking the ratings? I seem to have any audience of two,” Max Headroom

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.

A&P Cyber Style Part 2: The Sounds of Synchronicity

This is part 2 in a multi-part series of posts from HAPSter Jordan Clark. You can find the introduction post here

By the time you’ll read this, the Fall 2020 semester reviews are limping in. And it is ugly. My first bit of advice: Maybe don’t read them. Consider giving yourself a mental and spiritual cleanse over the winter break. 

We all knew it was coming. The low-pitch student (and faculty) grumblings from September that devolved into whimpers and cries of surrender. For many first-time online teachers, sucked into the master control program (Tron reference. Nerd alert), there may be great temptation to swear off this cyber format forever. See Fig.1. Is that your laptop?

Figure 1: Me 1/ Laptop 0 from steviep187 on flickr

Wait!  Check this out. There I was. Venturing into this strange webcam world. I knew just enough from the Spring 20 EMERGENCY TRANSITION that “certain” online formats are greasy fast food, dumpster blazes (more on that in upcoming installments). But this…this synchronous stuff. Rarely advertised. Some say it’s urban myth stuff, but it does exist. And…it actually, kinda, weirdly works. 

Synchronous online learning: Teaching an online course with scheduled live meeting times. There’s more to it, but that’s enough for this blog.

My synchronous A&P class (25ish students) met mornings from 8am till 930am. I had no idea what to expect, but within a few class meetings I found a rhythm and quickly established a quirky community: My floating webcam-head (ball cap, unkempt quarantine beard) teaching to geometrically organized panels of cartoon avatars, filtered selfies, and anonymous blank nothings.

Figure 2: Author’s own work with contributions from Tarak Zadark ..Just a Pop.. (Vampyre Warrior) and Ape Lad (Hell Kitty Twitter Avatar) on flickr

But there we were…

And for all the online software and interactive programs peddled through (borderline harassing) emails, the best tool was talking. Yes, talking. Here’s how I think I pulled it off…presented as a few tips for the reader:

 ●     I quickly recognized the students’ preferred method of communication. They loved the text-chat option. So, I engaged each and every text. Called them by their names. Laughed. Let them know I appreciated the absurdity of the situation. Let them know I was alive. If I went longer than 10 minutes without a student text, I knew I lost them. I often got the “slow the #$%@ down” text. So, yeah, I had to slow things down. Surprisingly, no one really wanted to use the microphone to actually speak. Kids these days!

 ●     Most webinar (arrrggghhh that term) software allows for small break-out sessions. I used it. I let the students talk to each other and not just me. I’d poke my head into some of their break-out sessions. Chatted with the small groups. Did it early in the semester. Started connecting everyone immediately and creating that wonderfully weird community.

 ●     I had to keep them busy. Chat messages only goes so far. The trick: I used the virtual whiteboard and let them draw on my PowerPoints. Yeah this slowed down the lecture and I had to jettison some material…but so what. They, not surprisingly, really liked drawing on things. ALERT:  Some of those drawings started dangerously morphing into…err… some inappropriate anatomical structures…kids these days.

Notice some common themes here? One being the pace. I had to slow down. That 200-page chapter on the cardiovascular system (slightly exaggerating)? I couldn’t cannon-blast it in a single breath. I broke it down. I used student sharing options and reviewed their notes during the lecture. I held Q&A sessions during lecture.

Of course, there is much more detail that is better suited for an elaborate keynote speaker presentation. But this is a blog so I’m laying down the basics. And though these tips may be a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget the students on the other side of your laptop. Plunging deep into your web lecture, totally oblivious of time and space. You must adjust your style. Strategies used in a lecture hall may not work when teaching from your dining room table (I really need better lighting in my house). Remember, life is a little wonkier on the webcam. Glitches, drops, crashes, Window updates (let’s not go there).

Unfortunately, as I have discovered, the synchronous format may not be an option at your institution. I’ll address that in upcoming installments. If it is….go for it! I actually loved my surreal virtual family. It’s almost 2021. This is the here-and-now of commo. Dare I say we bonded? I’d like to think we formed some kind of bizarro kinship. They opened up in ways not experienced in a lecture hall. Did I have to remind them to keep the text comments clean? Often…but, you know…kids these days. 

*I’ll talk synchronous labs in the next installment.  

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.

A&P Cyber Style Part 1: My Experiences in the New Virtual Norm of Remote Teaching

Growing up in the 1980’s, I was constantly reminded that one day “it’s all gonna be computers and robots.”  What did they mean by “it?” Did “it” mean entertainment, jobs, transportation, teaching? Surely not teaching. 

Original photo by Jordan Clark

As a child, I embraced all things computers and robots. I dreamed of being derezzed and transported into a virtual world, racing light cycles on the grid. Oh yeah, there was even this thing called videoconferencing. Every deep space vessel came fully equipped with such communication instruments.

Remember “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan?” When Khan pops up after 15 years and surprises Kirk…..with a videoconference call? Classic!

Turns out, Khan and Kirk were forecasting the evolution of classrooms. So those around the early-80’s me were right, it has become all computers and robots and the “it” is teaching. Online. Virtual environments. Videoconferencing (Ok…maybe not the robots, yet).

I actually entertained the idea of creating a virtual A&P course about 5 years ago. I could see it kinda, maybe being successful for the ultra-dedicated. The eager and ambitious. This “plan” was largely relegated to thought bubbles floating above my head. Nothing ever came to fruition as the general consensus was “meh”. To be honest, I never really took a consensus. I think I asked a colleague his opinion in the parking lot. Case closed.

And then last spring…well, you know. Over the span of a few days in March, I was ambushed by emails and phone calls from veteran publishers, software wizards, and scrappy overnight start-ups. All were dazzling me with sales pitches on how to online this and virtual that. I actually listened to a couple of them.

Remember those fluffy thought bubbles from 5 years ago? They violently burst into fragments on my office floor. Half-baked ideas that needed serving ASAP because: Emergency Spring Semester Transition.

And there I was. Transported from my cozy, flesh-and-blood classroom into a virtual vacuum. Yep. I was derezzed. But, hey! Just like Kirk, I was videoconferencing…with my dog barking, daughter stair-stomping, wi-fi dropping, neighbor’s roof replacing.

And just like that the spring semester abruptly ended in a complete haze.

What the #@$! just happened?

Redemption came in the name of the summer semester. A full-on dress rehearsal for the inevitable Fall Overhaul. I went whole-hog online right from my dining room (the only room in my house with actual lighting).

Starting in June and into the foreseeable future, my syllabus would embrace first ballot hall-of-fame cringe terms such as:

  • F2F
  • Webinar (ugh, this one especially)
  • Hybrid
  • Zooming
  • Asynchronous (never even heard this term before)

At the time of writing this, I’ve earned my stripes teaching synchronous and asynchronous online A&P and am slated to teach 240 online students for the Spring 21.  Over the next few installments, I’m going to share my experiences and offer some unfiltered advice. From quirky virtual gatherings with students, their pets, and questionable wall art to smoldering dumpster fires of abandoned learning systems, this is my adventure in the A&P cyber zone.


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. 

Community College Anatomy Physiology Education Research (CAPER) 2.0: Looking for Participants

This post is from the CAPER Team, including Chasity O’Malley, Murray Jensen, Kerry Hull, Ron Gerrits, Kyla Ross, Suzanne Hood, and Betsy Ott. 

A Few Questions and Answers

Community College educators are busy people, especially in the new normal that we are currently living in and making the best of with COVID-19.  One aspect that rings true just as much now as in the recent past is that there rarely is time or opportunity for meaningful professional development.  That’s where the Community College Anatomy Physiology Education Research (CAPER 2.0) project comes into play. The goal of the CAPER 2.0 project is to help educators become involved in a small community of dedicated educators who wish to explore different ways to run a classroom in more engaging ways.  If funded, and that’s a big “if,” participants will have the opportunity to explore evidence based instructional practices including clickers, small group learning, guided inquiry, and more.  We had a good response to our first blog announcing and describing this project, and below we are answering a few frequently asked questions that have arisen from those interested folks.  If you are interested in signing-up, fill out this form or contact Chasity O’Malley or Murray Jensen.  

  1. When does CAPER begin?
    • Tentative start is for Fall of 2021 if the grant is funded.  The project proposal is due in December, 2020, and we hope to receive word (funded or not funded) from NSF by June or July of 2021. 
    • We aim to have 12 participants in the first cohort (one cohort per year), depending on availability, schedules, and workloads of the interested faculty. Opportunities for those who are unavailable for this first round will have opportunities to join in the 2nd -4th rounds (years) of the projects.  There are a lot of opportunities to work with us, so hopefully one of the cohorts will fit into your schedule. 
  2. What would the time commitment be for the CAPER program?
    • When educators are involved in this program, they can still be teaching full time and do the work for this project.  They will be busy, but everyone in the first CAPER project has found the workload to be manageable.  
    • We are proposing that instructors are involved for two years in this project.
      1. The first year will involve the HAPS-I courses and research design for the project. 
      2. Year two will be implementation of the research project to collect data and to publish the results.
  3. What’s involved with the HAPS-I courses?
    • Typically, we meet online and then we hope to meet in person for a day or two at a HAPS Regional conference in the Fall.   The grant would cover tuition and expenses for the conference. 
    • Class is anticipated to meet 1 time per week, in the evening, for about 2 hours for 2-3 months. Participants will be expected to attend the lectures, do the pre-readings and assignments, and participate in discussions during class. 
    • Participants from CAPER 1.0 found the workload manageable for the course, but does indeed require time and effort to complete.
    • There will be two 1-credit classes that will both be completed in one semester.  The first class is titled Teaching Practices for Anatomy and Physiology and will cover basic learning theories, such as constructivism, and examine how those theories fit into different teaching strategies, such as cooperative group work, guided inquiry learning, and other Evidenced Based Instructional Methods (EBIPs).  The second class is titled Introduction to Educational Research Methods and will examine how education researchers collect and interpret data, and also learn how to design a classroom research project. The final project of the second class will be a research proposal, to examine the effectiveness of an EBIP of your choosing, that you will then implement the following semesters.
  4. How are research topics chosen? Are the projects individual or group projects?
    • Participants get to pick their own topic for their classroom research project.  Some instructors might do “clickers” and others might do “guided inquiry.”  A wide range of options exist.  We will provide help in the decision-making process, and with the research design, but we want instructors to pick their own topics.  What instructional practice do you wish to explore?
    • There will be two products completed by each participant. First, a poster that will be presented at an annual HAPS Conference.  Posters will be completed on an individual basis, but you will have help from mentors and education research experts.  Second will be a research paper documenting your results that will be submitted to The HAPS Educator, or other peer reviewed journal.  The papers might be individual, or might involve a small group of participants who have similar research projects.  Keep in mind that mentors will help with writing, research design, statistics, and other parts of the publication process.
  5. What does the grant provide for participants? 
    In addition to extensive support from the CAPER grant personnel, the grant will provide the following:
    • Tuition and supplies for the two, 1-credit, HAPS-I courses.
    • Stipends to cover food, registration, accommodation, and travel to attend three conferences over the 2 year period: a Fall HAPS regional conference in year 1, the SABER West conference in January of Year 1, and the HAPS National Conference in Year 2. Participants will have to pay these expenses up front and will receive the stipend after the conference.
    • An additional small stipend for completing the program.
  6. What is needed from me at this time?
    • Your interest is all we need at this time. As we get closer to submission, we will ask for a letter of support from you and a school administrator.  (Administrative support is vital for success in this project).
    • Finding out the name of the IRB contact at your institution would be very helpful at this time as well. We will have quite a bit of work to do with your school’s IRB administrative committee, but we will be providing considerable help with that process.
  7. Is this opportunity open to K-12 instructors? 
    At this time, we are focusing only on two-year community, or technical, college Anatomy and Physiology instructors.
  8. Is this opportunity open to adjuncts?
    Yes, adjunct instructors are welcome to become involved. This could be a wonderful opportunity for adjuncts looking to attain full time employment to be able to demonstrate their commitment to improving their teaching craft and the experience for the students. This would look GREAT on a CV for employment.  However, adjuncts must have administrative support from a college. 
  9. I still have questions that weren’t covered here. Who do I contact?
    • Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Chasity or Murray. Contact information: Chasity O’Malley ( or Murray Jensen ( )
    • If you haven’t filled out the form to share your interest with us, please fill it out and put your questions in the box that asks for questions. 

As questions emerge about the project and new information become available, a live Q&A document can be found here.


CAPER 2.0 Interest form (Sign up here)

CAPER 2.0 Initial Blog Posting

CAPER 1.0 Description

Anatomy and Physiology Education Research Project – Call for Participants!

This post is from the CAPER Team, including Chasity O’Malley, Murray Jensen, Kerry Hull, Ron Gerrits, Kyla Ross, Suzanne Hood, and Betsy Ott. 

Have you thought about making changes in your classroom, but lacked the time and resources to do it?  If so, keep reading, because we have an opportunity for you. 

 What’s this about?

We are in the final year of the NSF-funded Community College Anatomy and Physiology Education Research (CAPER) program, in which we worked with twelve community college instructors to expand their knowledge base about teaching and learning and conduct a simple education research project.  We are now planning for CAPER 2.0, and hope to give the opportunity to at least 30 new participants. 

 Who can participate?

A&P instructors who want to improve their classroom teaching skills, especially those teaching at community and technical colleges with large numbers of underserved student populations.  We are also recruiting instructors at four-year colleges, especially those with links to nearby community colleges. Experience in education research is not required. 

What would I do?

Over a 2-year period, participants will engage in the following activities: 

  • Complete two 1-credit HAPS Institute hybrid courses covering best practices in Anatomy and Physiology education and the fundamentals of education research.
  • Conduct a small research project in their own classrooms and present their results at a HAPS annual conference and in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • Participate in a multi-institutional research project investigating the impact of different teaching practices in different student populations

 What are the benefits?

  • Involvement in a supportive community of engaged instructors 
  • Mentorship from experienced researchers, as needed, to complete all stages of the research project (experimental design and implementation, statistics and qualitative analysis, poster construction, and article writing)
  • Funding to attend at least three conferences:
    • Year 1 (September-November):  the in-person portion of the teaching and learning course will be combined with a HAPS Regional meeting
    • Year 1 (January): the in-person portion of the education research course will be combined with a SABER West meeting in Sunny California
    • Year 2 (May): participants will present their poster at a HAPS Annual Meeting
  • Funding for the two HAPS-I courses
  • A modest financial reward for completing all the components of the CAPER 2.0 project. 
  • Potentially, the provision of funds for teaching buy-outs (i.e., course load reductions)
  • Opportunities to support the teaching and research goals of future participants by acting as a mentor (which would involve additional funded travel)


How do I join in on this amazing experience?

A survey for interested individuals can be completed here

If you are interested in learning more, contact Chasity O’Malley ( or Murray Jensen (   

For more information on the first CAPER research project, see these references: