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.


clark-headshot

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.