Learning – Always in Style

Take Rational Course Design with Margaret Weck!
A message from HAPS President Emeritus, Margaret Weck!

Have you ever noticed how variable the depth of learning is amongst students in your classroom – even when you have students with very similar backgrounds and levels of preparation?  Perhaps you’ve looked for patterns or specific characteristics that might help explain this variability.  After all, if you can find consistent and predictable behavioral patterns, you might discover the key to motivating and assisting those who are struggling with coursework.  One useful tool for doing just that is to identify each student’s preferred “learning style,” a method that groups students based on their preferred means of learning.  Interestingly, this very topic was the focus of a HAPS –L discussion forum this past summer.   Following is a brief summary of the main points of that discussion supplemented with a little additional information.

A 2004 book by Coffield, et al. (1) identified 71 different learning style models, most of which are variations of two particular general themes. One of these themes is psychologically-oriented and looks at how individuals make sense of their personal experiences.  Examples include David Kolb’s Learning Styles Inventory (LSI) and Zubin Austin’s Health Professionals Inventory of Learning Styles (H-PILS).  The second major theme focuses more on neurological sensory information processing.  Examples include the right-brain vs. left-brain dominance tests and Neil Fleming’s Visual, Aural, Read/Write, Kinesthetic (VARK) inventory, a tool that indicates a person’s preferences for sensory modalities that most smoothly facilitate the mastering of new information.  

Will I be able to definitively resolve the central issues of learning styles in this post?  Of course not.  As we all know, it is notoriously difficult to “prove” anything, even without the additional handicap of measuring psychological processes through self-report.  In my opinion, it’s not worth the necessary paper or electrons to engage in a heated debate over this, especially since the take-home message is pretty much the same regardless of the outcome.  

Even those who strongly advocate the use of learning styles are aware of the limitations of each specific model and the instruments used to categorize individual learners.  Furthermore, the results of every inventory are full of questions of validity, reliability, and stability.  In other words, what does it really mean for someone to be an “assimilator,” or a “kinesthetic learner,” or “right brained?”  Are people with one tendency actually incapable of learning in any other way? Are these tendencies fixed, or can one improve or broaden native capabilities or preferences with enough effort and exposure to new types of learning?  The questions are endless, and addressing them is beyond the scope of this article; however, Edutopia (2015) has an overview of the various opinions and positions held by education leaders on learning styles: http://www.edutopia.org/article/learning-styles-real-and-useful-todd-finley.  

Since 2008 (2) rigorous educational research has not shown that specific instruction targeted toward a student’s learning style produces any statistically significant improvement in measured learning as compared to a non-preferred learning style.  Yet the debate over the usefulness/uselessness of learning styles persists.  

As far as course design is concerned, “universal” instructional design already encourages the use of multiple delivery modes to both present and assess student understanding of the most important ideas in our content.  Using multiple forms of representing and expressing key information automatically helps students find at least one point of entry into the content. So if preferred learning styles are real facilitators of learning, universal design already addresses them to a large degree.  Additionally, multiple presentation and assessment modalities provide reinforcement and a variety of possible retrieval cues which should help everyone – regardless of learning style.

One big positive offered by learning styles is that they are a non-threatening way to engage students in conversations about their learning.  Many students do not routinely participate in systematic self-reflection, but we can encourage them to talk about how they learn and what it means to demonstrate their own understanding of a subject by using easy-to-understand terminology found in the learning styles inventory.  As long as we don’t affix permanent labels to our students, which in effect “excuses” them from mastering the material, learning styles can provide students with insight into their own learning and offer a source of concrete strategies for engaging with course material.

  1. Coffield, F., Moseley, d., Hall, E., & Ecclestone, K. (2004) Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 Learning: A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.
  2. Pashler, H., McDanierl, M., Rohrer,  D. & Bjork, R. (2008) Learning Styles: Concepts and Evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9(3):105-119.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The preliminary result yielded three key results:

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

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

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

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

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

What can we do with this information?

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

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

Do Our A&P Students Know How to Read? PART 1

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

Years ago, I took a graduate level educational class called “Teaching Reading in the Content Area.”  This class was geared toward elementary and secondary schools; I never dreamed the information presented would be relevant to me later as a professor in a college classroom.

I teach a second semester combined Anatomy and Physiology course nearly every term. My students are primarily freshmen planning to pursue programs in Nursing or other Allied Health Fields.  Early in the semester, I tell them this class is like learning a new language.  So, I try to emphasize word roots while pointing out the meanings of Latin prefixes and suffixes.

Even though studious students focus their efforts on memorizing anatomy-specific vocabulary, they surprisingly have difficulty on exams with the meanings of English words that I assume all students know. After seeing a discussion about this issue on the HAPS listserv in December 2015, I realized I wasn’t alone.

Over the course of a few days, A&P professors all over the country added basic vocabulary words their students struggled with to a list I compiled.

Table 1 includes some of the non-content-specific words with which A&P students routinely have trouble.



Table 2 includes many content-specific words that A&P students often confuse.  


Quizzing students on the meanings of these words, on the first day of class, might be an effective tool for encouraging students to assess their current level of preparation and readiness for the course.  

Thinking back to my educational class, I realize this is not a new problem. So, what does the literature have to say about the problem and what steps are suggested to provide solutions to the problem?  Molly Theus, one of my former students and now a first year veterinarian student at UGA, prepared a literature review on the subject. To read Molly’s review, stay tuned for next week’s blog.

HAPS Web 12- Travel Award Applications DUE Monday 12/1!

Skully in San Antonio
Are you planning to hang with the HAPSters in San Antonio? Apply for a scholarship now!

If you’re looking for financial assistance in getting to San Antonio in May, HAPS has your back.  There are four awards available to help you make it happen.

ALL of these applications are DUE by December 1, so get your things together and apply now!

The Sam Drogo Technology in the Classroom Award
This award is given to someone who demonstrates innovative use of technology to engage undergraduates in human anatomy and physiology. Two awards are available, both sponsored by ADInstruments.
Award: Awards up to $500 to attend the HAPS annual conference.

Robert Anthony Scholarship
This award is given to new instructors in A&P with the goal of helping new faculty network with seasoned professionals during their first five (5) years of teaching anatomy and physiology by attending the HAPS annual conference.
Award: Pays for registration fee at the annual conference.

Contingent Faculty Scholarship
This award is set up to encourage Contingent Faculty to network with seasoned professionals by attending the HAPS annual conference.
Award: Covers registration fee at the HAPS annual conference.

HAPS Graduate Student/Postdoctoral Travel Award
This award is given to graduate students or postdoctoral students who attend and present at the HAPS annual conference.
Award: $400 cash and annual conference registration fee is waived.


HAPS Leadership (#16): HAPS-Institute

140205 (2) HAPS-i-LOGOAre you looking for graduate credit in the field of Anatomy & Physiology?  Are you looking to share your expertise on a specific A&P-related topic with peers who are as passionate as you about the subject matter?  If the answer to either question is “yes”, then the HAPS-Institute is the place for you.

140205 (1) Peter EnglishHi, I’m Peter English.  As the Executive Director of the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society, I serve as the Director of the HAPS-Institute.  I oversee the curriculum that we develop, the schedule of courses that we offer, and the enrollment of great individuals such as yourself.

At HAPS-I, we have maximized salary and minimized tuition to make this the best possible service to the HAPS community.  With all of the issues surrounding accreditation, it is becoming increasingly important that faculty have graduate credit in A&P, and our credit is earned through Alverno College in Milwaukee.  HAPS-I is one way in which HAPS is helping members meet the evolving needs in the changing landscape of higher education.

Every HAPS member has his or her specialty, and HAPS-I is taking advantage of this.  In most cases, HAPS-I courses center around an educator teaching the class of his or her dream: a specific, incredibly rich understanding of a topic being taught by an expert with an amazing depth of knowledge.  Courses can be completely online or can be a mix of online and in-person instruction.  Many of the in-person components are tied to Regional Conferences or the Annual Conference.  For 2014, we are offering four courses.  Looking ahead, we will have our first traveling course with participants studying A&P in Italy this summer.

Future groundbreaking of our western campus.
Future groundbreaking of our western campus.

In order to attract the best instructors, we pay an above average $2,500 per course based on an enrollment of 6 students (enrollment above this number pays more and pro-rates compensation for fewer students so that low-enrollment courses can still run).  All HAPS-I courses have end-of-course surveys to ensure that we continue to hire only the best instructors.

Be one of the proud, one of the elite!
Be one of the proud, one of the elite!

For the students, tuition is just $550 per credit hour for HAPS members ($750 per credit hour for non-HAPS members), which is less than one-third the cost of some other graduate credit programs.  Most HAPS-I courses are 2-credits, but between now and this summer, we’ll be offering 1-credit, 2-credit, and 3-credit courses to meet everyone’s demands.

The HAPS Foundation has recognized the importance of this sort of continuing education and offers HAPS-I scholarships four times per year.  The scholarships cover the cost of 1-credit of instruction and the next due date for applications is February 15.

So, what do you say?  Ready to be part of something incredible?    The HAPS-Institute is ready for you!

Arrivederci Italia!

IMG_2596Salve i miei colleghi!

In my previous post about Anatomia Italiana 2013 our group had just visited the La Specola anatomical wax museum at the University of Florence. Since then we visited two other collections of anatomical waxes, and the historic anatomy theater at the University of Bologna. Present here also are Luigi Galvani’s tools for his neurophysiology experiments. Amazing! Pictured above, Prof. Alessandro Ruggeri discusses the historic collection of specimens at the Luigi Cattaneo Museum, which is in the present anatomy department at the University of Bologna.

Once we moved onto to a four day stay in Venice, we took a brief train ride for a day visit to the University of Padau. Here we got to see the oldest permanent anatomy theatre (1595), the location of anatomic study by the likes of William Harvey. Was it here that Harvey entertained his first thoughts on the nature of the circulatory system? An added bonus was to sit within the lecture hall of Galileo, and stand before his podium.

The sense of history that our group experienced was personally rewarding, and truly a professional development exercise. We often shared ideas on how to incorporate what we learned on this venture into our classes.

Anatomia Italian 2013 concluded this weekend after two weeks in Italy. Most of us have returned home by now, while a few in the group extended their stay in Europe. All of us, however,  will never forget our journey back in time to the venues where anatomy as a science in medical education began.

The exciting idea about all of this is that in 2014 HAPS members can participate in Anatomia Italiana and also enroll in a three-unit HAPS-I course. A month of online readings prior to the travel experience, followed by the submission of a teaching element after a visit to Italy is the essence of the course. If the 2014 HAPS-I Anatomia Italiana course is something you are considering, you can download the syllabus by clicking here. Details are also on the HAPS-I registration page, which can be visited by clicking here. The entire travel program can be reviewed at the Anatomia Italiana webpage. Keep in mind that it is also an option to travel with Anatomia Italiana and not enroll in the HAPS-I course.

IMG_2709Buona giornata, e ci vediamo a presto,

Kevin Petti, Ph.D.
San Diego Miramar College


Back on May 1st I wrote about professional development and today I would like to expand upon that post and talk to you little bit about the HAPS POGIL project. As some of you may recall one of the leaders of POGIL, Richard Moog, was an update speaker at the Las Vegas conference. HAPS member and newly elected Central Regional Director Murray Jensen of the University of Minnesota also presented several workshops and is facilitating a National Science Foundation grant to develop POGIL worksheets for anatomy and physiology. Once complete and approved as official POGIL worksheets they will be released to HAPS members for one year and then be archived in the APS archives.
This week me, Jon Jackson, Murray Jensen, and about 40 of Murray’s College in the Schools high school teachers have been working to develop more POGIL worksheets. We have been particularly focused on producing laboratory exercises.
There are a lot of exciting things that you can do with POGIL, including partially or completely flipping the classroom. Stay tuned for the release of the approved POGIL activities and development of more. Also if you would like to get involved you can contact myself at jlapres@hapsconnect.org or Murray Jensen at mjensen@hapsconnect.org.
As a reminder these worksheets will be free to HAPS members only. This is just another perk of membership in Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. Below is POGIL facilitator Laura Trout with her class. Laura was kind enough to come to the University of Minnesota this week to help us with POGIL.