When Drama in the Lab is a GOOD Thing

This past semester, I had the fortunate experience to have an extra A&P lab session relative to previous semesters. I decided to take a page from my Microbiology courses and find a movie on an A&P topic to show for the last day of lab and (of course) have food. In Microbiology, I have shown the movie Contagion because it allows us to have a discussion on epidemiology and how outbreaks happen. I was looking for a similar movie in the realm of human A&P, so of course I turned to my HAPS friends for suggestions via the HAPS list-serv! Suggestions I received were: Gifted Hands, Extraordinary Measures, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Double Helix, Hawking (chosen for its coverage of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Fantastic Voyage, Osmosis Jones, and Miss Evers’ Boys.

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I finally decided to go with Something the Lord Made, a 2004 film which discusses groundbreaking work on the Tetralogy of Fallot, more commonly referred to as Blue Baby Syndrome (and also known as cyanotic heart disease). It focuses on Alfred Blalock and Vivien Thomas, whose surgical techniques helped to pioneer modern heart surgery. They first work to recreate the Blue Baby Syndrome in dogs, then learn to alleviate the problem by creating a new duct that shunts much of the subclavian artery’s blood to the pulmonary artery, increasing the oxygenation of this blood. The movie goes into depth on circulation and helps students connect classroom content to real-life applications.

As the (true) story takes place in the 1930s and 1940s, it also allows students to see how things were during the Great Depression and during times of widespread segregation. Since Vivien Thomas is African American, Johns Hopkins University only allows him to be hired as a janitor, and Thomas must enter through a separate entrance. The movie goes on to show how Thomas, through persistence and hard work, rises above the poverty and racism to become a teacher of other surgeons. Although Thomas is never able to go to college, his work with Blalock allows him to become supervisor of surgical laboratories. Later, Johns Hopkins names him an instructor of surgery and bestows on him an honorary doctorate. Thomas’s portrait now hangs in the lobby of the Alfred Blalock Clinical Sciences Building across from that of Alfred Blalock himself.

The students enjoyed the movie, although it took them a while to get pulled into the story. They were shocked by how open the surgical rooms used to be, with a gallery in the room for other doctors to watch. We also discussed the movie’s portrayal of animal research, ethical obligations for physicians, and A&P concepts. Unfortunately, we only had about five minutes for this discussion, since the movie itself took 90 minutes of the two-hour lab period, and I also had to pass out and discuss tests. If I have another “movie day” in the future, I’ll make sure that we don’t have to do anything else that day, so that we can delve more deeply into the movie.


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Julia Schmitz is an Associate Professor of Biology in the Natural Sciences Department at Piedmont College as well as director of their Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). She teaches courses in microbiology, medical microbiology, general biology, and anatomy and physiology. She is a member of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, The American Physiological Society, The American Society for Microbiology, and the Association of Biology Laboratory Educators.

 

Don’t Get All Hyper!

One of the most challenging aspects of anatomy for new students is the specialized terminology. We use these terms so we can communicate effectively. But, achieving this goal requires a shared understanding of standard terms and their meanings.

Last fall, there was a robust discussion on HAPS-L about defining “hyperextension”. In general, the contributors agree that extension increases the angle between segments of a common joint. But, defining hyperextension was trickier.

Some sources define hyperextension by the angle of the joint. However, there is disagreement over whether the “neutral” (normal anatomic) position should be designated as 180° or 0°. Furthermore, in some joints, extension normally exceeds the neutral position. So, an arbitrary limit based on the angle between adjoining bones will be difficult to apply universally.

Another option is to use the basic definition of extension as movement relative to normal anatomic position without reference to specific angles. While this is more practical, it makes the definition of hyperextension more complex. For example, the metatarsophalangeal, talocrural, and acetabulofemoral joints all normally extend past NAP.

At a minimum, the definition is in the name:  ‘hyper’ means ‘beyond’ or ‘over’, so generally, it is extension beyond the normal range of motion. However, even that definition has its own difficulties. Consider for example the degree of back or hip extension in this contortionist…

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…this range of motion is far beyond what any of us would consider normal (or even desirable), but it is quite within the “normal” range for individuals trained for this activity.

Less extreme examples of “enhanced” extension can occur in cases of general ligamentous laxity and or of variations in joint surfaces that result in being able to extend (and in some cases, flex or rotate) beyond the range we have defined as normal. Elite athletes and other performers may often produce movements that exceed the textbook descriptions of “normal” ranges of motion.

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After teaching A&P within and among several programs and majors, I have found that different disciplines often “flavor” terminology to highlight the issues most relevant to their professional concerns. For example, students of athletic performance or rehabilitation are concerned with the potential or actual injuries that often occur with hyperextension. However, even though hyperextension can cause injuries, as the examples above indicate, injury is not always the result.

The one element that all definitions have in common is that hyperextension is extending beyond the normal ROM. So, if we agree that this concept is essential to the general definition, we have a minimal standard of reference in the commonality in how the concept is expressed. Borrowing a page from C.S. Lewis, let’s call this “mere hyperextension”.

For “mere hyperextension”, we take the literal meanings of the prefix and root: hyper means “above” or “beyond” and “extension” is the movement of the joint in a way that increases the angle between structures on opposite sides of the joint. Thus, hyperextension would be extension beyond the usual anatomic range of motion.


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Andrew Petto recently retired as Distinguished Lecturer Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee where he taught anatomy and physiology beginning in 2004. He began teaching human anatomy and physiology (to mortuary students) in 1989, and has since taught A&P to massage therapists, dancers, physical therapists, nurses, and herds of undergraduates at UWM, His PhD is in Biological Anthropology (comparative functional morphology) with post-doctoral studies in primate behavioral biology at Harvard Medical School (NERPRC) and in primate ecology in the Department of Anthropology at UW-Madison, supplemented by graduate studies in curriculum and instruction at Drexel University. His latest book, Human Structure and Function—an interactive textbook for students outside the sciences—was published by Tophat in 2017. His next book, Humans, is a collaboration with Alice Beck Kehoe of an introductory textbook on our species

The Rule of Threes: Self-care advice for A&P Instructors, Part 2

Back in October, I shared a personal anecdote in part 1 “The Rule of Threes: Self-care advice for the A&P instructor”. In the post, I mentioned a list I created over the summer while preparing for the fall semester. This list included three behaviors to stop and three behaviors to start, both for the sake of my students and myself. I have always found stopping behaviors to be more challenging than starting new ones, so I thought it was best to first clear the space in my head (and my calendar) for new behaviors! As I wound down from the fall semester and reflected on what went well and what might need to change, I thought it was a good time to finish what I started.

My Three Things to Start:
Start off on the right foot
Many of us have (or have at least heard of) “syllabus day”. Traditionally, this is the first day of class, where no material is presented, but all policies and course expectations are reviewed. This might include reading through the syllabus with the students, page by page or administering a syllabus quiz…..  the possibilities are endless! Over the years, I have relied on this day to reassure myself that my students were clear on their schedule and all course policies, but (as I referenced in part 1) there is no guarantee of that. Over the summer, I sat back and thought to myself, “How quickly would I zone out if someone was delivering a presentation on policies and procedures to me? Is there a much more important message to send on my first interaction with my students, which for most of them is their first meeting with a professor in college?” After my experience this semester in A&P 1, my overwhelming conclusion is YES.

This year, I created a presentation on the first day that was primarily focused on welcoming them to my classroom and to the study of the human body. I told them who I was, and why I love being a teacher. I shared my endless fascination and passion for A&P, and how much I hoped that they would leave my class feeling the same. I spent time being honest with them about how often students struggle in A&P, and why that is so that they knew from day one that this course would demand a lot of time and attention from them. I shared several best practices/strategies for success that both I, and former students, have used. I even created a Monday-Sunday A&P work schedule for them (which several of my students have followed) to help them feel less overwhelmed while simultaneously making them aware of the amount of work necessary to be successful. Throughout the presentation, I shared many personal stories of my struggles and triumphs as a student so that they knew I understood how they might be feeling. I even addressed academic integrity in a different way. Rather than running down the penalties for cheating, I talked about why it ultimately hurts them to cheat, even if they are never caught. I ended my presentation asking my students to repeat aloud the phrase “You are NEVER bothering me”, which I have reinforced in every one-on-one or small group meeting, and in nearly every class period. This was easily the simplest, but most effective thing I’ve ever done as an instructor.

Start pulling back the curtain
One of the most controversial discussions I see in higher education is about instructor vulnerability, meaning, how much we let our students “in”. This applies to letting them in on both who we are outside the classroom and on our reasoning behind course design. I think we can all agree on one point: no one likes criticism, and all of us struggle with how to handle it. This year, I started talking openly with all my students about the rationale for each assignment, or the form of an assessment. I am sure we have all had end of semester course evaluations in which students lamented that there were too many, or too few exams, or that there wasn’t enough time on an exam, or that an assessment counted for too much. It’s easy to assume that these comments are only coming from students not achieving the grades they want, but what student wants their time wasted? Are grades the only thing that matters? Of course not! We want our students to enjoy themselves in a course, and to trust that we are not wasting their time.

Think about your own life experiences – how much more motivated are you in any activity when you truly understand the value of the activity, no matter how challenging? Conversely, how quickly will you doubt, or give up on an activity if you can’t see the benefit? Share your rationale with your students for what you ask them to do. For example, I had one student this quarter ask me why there was a time limit on their weekly, open book quiz. She reported that this caused her some anxiety which she felt was negatively impacting her performance. This was a great opportunity to talk about the importance of building stress-tolerance, especially as a future nurse! Since the midterm and final exam, all exams in her future courses, and eventually, the NCLEX are timed we talked about viewing the quizzes as an opportunity to prepare for all these higher stake situations. After this talk, she felt differently about the time limit. Share your rationale with your students. If you can’t come up with a clear rationale behind an assessment or its design, it might be an opportunity to re-evaluate.

Start scheduling fun
This is the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. Every day, there are incredible conversations about best practices in teaching A&P, new teaching tips, and inspiring stories. I could add another piece of advice for the classroom, but I would likely be repeating someone else’s words, or thoughts you’ve already had!  What is not talked about nearly enough is life outside of the classroom. I don’t know about you, but left to my own devices on a weekend, I will work. Plans with friends fell through? No problem! I can read those journal articles or work on next semester’s presentations! Ah, the endless pursuit of the dopamine hit that comes with checking a box off on the to-do list. The problem is that the to-do list is endless. Our careers are not like home improvement projects, where once the crown molding is up we can finally relax. The perpetual fear I spoke of in part 1 about not being “enough” also comes with anxiety that I will somehow not get everything done. This fall, I decided I needed to make a weekly appointment with myself, whether to watch movies all day, bake any of the recipes I collected, go roller skating, or decorate the house we built last year that I’ve barely done more than sleep in! The point was, to do nothing “productive”.

If this sounds plain crazy to you, congratulations, you have a healthy balance to your life! For a long time, anything that didn’t have a clear “result” left me feeling guilty that I wasted precious time. In only a few short months, I am happy to report just how wrong I was. When I started scheduling fun, and being just “me” for even one day a week, I had time to rest and reflect on everything I was doing, and what I actually wanted to be doing at work. Now, I cannot wait to get back to the classroom every Monday. Despite (on paper) being busier than I have ever been in my career, I somehow feel calmer than ever, and confident that it will all get done. I have no doubt that this is easier said than done, otherwise, I would have done it years ago! If you too are living in a perpetual cycle of work, or guilt about not being “productive” enough, consider the idea that investing in yourself is the most productive thing you can do for everyone around you.


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Krista Rompolski is an Assistant Professor in the Health Sciences Department at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA. She is an active member of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society and the American Academy of Anatomists. Her teaching interests include pathophysiology, gross anatomy, and anatomy and physiology.

Action Potential Tip from the Hundred Acre Wood

Last month we explained some of the outlets available with HAPS for publication. This week we are bringing you a glimpse of a Teaching Tip. The analogy provided below is a portion of a Teaching Tip recently submitted by HAPS member Micah Meltzer and his student Megan Spears. To see the full tip, visit the HAPS website

The Curriculum and Instruction Committee welcomes tip submission in all content areas; however, they are currently especially interested in tips for the following areas, which could use more tips to support our HAPS outcome guidelines.

  • Muscular system: skeletal muscle metabolism, characteristics of muscle tissue types, principles and types of whole muscle contraction (twitch, motor unit or contraction types)
  • Nervous system: neurotransmitters and their role at the synapse, sensory and motor pathways in CNS, ANS functions, body system survey
  • General A&P introduction: body cavities/regions, directional terms in A&P

Undergraduate physiology students seem to relate well to A.A. Milne’s characters Tigger & Eeyore from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. The different behaviors of the voltage-gated Na+ & K+ channels can be likened to the personalities of Tigger & Eeyore, respectively. Tigger has a bouncy, excitable personality which is similar to the behavior of the voltage-gated Na+ channels (VGNC) responsible for rapid depolarization. In contrast, Eeyore is a mopey, sluggish character who behaves more like the voltage-gated K+ channels (VGKC) responsible for repolarization & hyperpolarization. These character associations can help students remember the differences between the two different voltage-gated ion channels involved in the generation of the neuronal action potential, which is a fundamental concept of neurophysiology.

Tigger Channels

Tigger is known for being friendly, energetic, and more than a little rambunctious. Tigger can be seen in the Hundred Acre Wood bouncing around and engaging excitedly with the world. Tigger’s exuberant and enthusiastic qualities are analogous to the rapid-open/rapid-close properties of the VGNC (Voltage-Gated Na+ Channel).

Neuronal VGNCs each contain a voltage-dependent activation gate & a time-dependent inactivation gate. The activation gate is triggered to open once a certain membrane potential, the threshold voltage, is present across the local membrane. The activation gates open rapidly allowing a significant influx of Na+ ions, causing depolarization and the rapid upstroke of an action potential, much like Tigger is known to suddenly burst into short-lived activity.  After a brief period of time (1-2 ms following activation), the inactivation gate rapidly “plugs” up the ion pore from the inside of the cell. This event abruptly stops Na+ ion influx, ending depolarization and defining the peak of the upstroke. The inactivation gate can easily be remembered by likening it to Tigger’s tail getting in the way.

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Eeyore Channels

And then there is the gloomy Eeyore. Oh bother. In this mnemonic, his tail can be thought of as the sole activation gate swinging open and closed in response to changes in voltage. Eeyore is often seen moping around or moseying behind his friends around the Hundred Acre Wood. Eeyore’s slow and deliberate manner is analogous to the slow-to-open/slow-to-close nature of the VGKC (Voltage-Gated K+ Channel).

The VGKCs contain a voltage-dependent activation gate but, unlike VGNCs, do not contain an inactivation gate. The kinetics of the VGKC activation gate are slower, responding less quickly to changes in membrane potential when compared to the VGNC’s activation gate. The repolarization phase begins at the same time as the peak of the depolarization upstroke.  It takes that long to get most of the VGKCs opened allowing for significant K+ efflux. Once the membrane potential returns toward threshold voltage, the VGKCs begin to close, also slowly. If K+ continues to exit the cell after threshold voltage has been reached there will be a hyperpolarization phase.

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Micah Meltzer M.D. is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Contra Costa Community College (CA). He teaches Human Anatomy & Physiology, through a clinical lens, to students who are interested in (mainly) pursuing careers in the healthcare field.

 

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Megan Spears is an Anatomy Teaching Assistant and student at Contra Costa College. She is on track to apply to medical school next Spring.

Publishing with HAPS

You know that old, grim academic saying, “Publish or perish”?  We at HAPS prefer to say “Publish and flourish!” While your home institution may have specific expectations regarding scholarship, we offer several options for “publishing” (in the broad sense of the word) that will make communicating with your fellow A&P professionals fulfilling and fun!  Some of these resources are only available for HAPS members (HAPS Discussion Group and Teaching Tips) while others are publicly available for the benefit of the entire A&P community (HAPS Blog and HAPS Educator). Details of each publication venue are provided below.

HAPS Discussion Group (HAPS-L Listserv): Maybe you don’t really want to write up anything formal — you just want to share a link to a cool news item and comment on it. Or maybe you have a question for your fellow educators.  Great for getting rapid feedback, often from experts like A&P textbook authors.  Why do some texts refer to a “dorsal body cavity” while others do not? How does pelvis shape vary according to geography?  The listserv has you covered.

Teaching Tips: As the name implies, teaching tips are concise pieces of practical teaching advice. Teaching tips can be submitted here; submitters choose appropriate learning outcome tags to assist others in locating their tip for usage in class or lab.  Each submission is reviewed by Curriculum and Instruction Committee members to assure that it is posted in an optimal location.

Blog: Want feedback during the early stages of a research project?  Want to provoke discussion that is more extensive or more timeless than the typical listserv chit-chat? The blog is the place for you. Blog posts are published once a week during the academic year and contain a wide variety of ideas from short teaching tips (see above) to descriptions of unique A&P-related experiences. Each post is edited before publication, so no need to worry about minor errors or incomplete thoughts. Ideas and drafts can be emailed to hapsblog@hapsconnect.org. Please include a headshot or other picture and a short author bio.

HAPS Educator: The most formal of these four options, but run by friendly editors! HAPS Educator aims to foster teaching excellence and pedagogical research in anatomy and physiology education.  This open-access journal publishes peer-reviewed articles under three categories. Educational Research articles discuss pedagogical research projects supported by robust data.  Perspectives on Teaching articles discuss a teaching philosophy or modality but do not require supporting data. Current Topics articles provide a state-of-the-art summary of a trending topic area relevant to A&P educators.  All submitted articles undergo peer review. Educational Research articles will additionally be reviewed for the quality of the supporting data. HAPS Educator is the official publication of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS) and is published online three times per year: on March 1, July 1, and November 1.

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The Rule of Threes: Self-care advice for A&P Instructors

For most instructors, the Fall term brings a fresh start with our courses. It also tends to bring a sense of feeling overwhelmed with all the things we could be doing. As much as I enjoy and look forward to the HAPS annual conference every year, I usually leave filled with motivation and self-doubt in equal measure. It is all too easy to forget that every university, college, and department will vary, whether in funding, faculty to student ratio, program focus, or appreciation for quality A&P education. Many of us simply cannot execute a number of the innovations we see at HAPS. Some activities require a great deal of extra work on top of our already full plates, and at the end of the day, we can’t quite motivate ourselves to go those extra miles. Could there be a middle ground?

Over the summer, I was making a long list of new strategies to try in my courses, both in and out of class. Shamefully, I was “multitasking”,  watching “The Crown” on Netflix at the same time. In the episode I was watching, the queen was feeling overwhelmed by criticism, and unsure how to address it to regain public favor. In an unprecedented move, she met with an outspoken critic to hear his thoughts on the public image of the monarchy. To keep things simple, he suggested “three things to start, and three things to stop.” Perhaps it is my obsession with British history, or maybe it was just what I needed to hear at that moment, but for whatever reason, I stopped writing my list. I realized that if I did all of the things I listed, I would never know what actually worked and didn’t work well in my class. I threw out that list, and pulled out two fresh pieces of paper. After some non-distracted reflection I wrote three things to start and three things to stop on each of these papers. Since I’ve always been the “bad news first” type, in this post, I share my three things to stop.

My Three Things to Stop:

It’s in the syllabus” and other associated phrases

I have to admit, I never said these phrases often at all, but I’ve decided that they are all officially on my do not say list. Jokes, sarcasm and a variety of venting sessions abound in academia about this topic. We are easily frustrated when students bombard us with questions that we have already answered (often in obvious places), or questions they could have easily answered for themselves with a little effort. Other tempting phrases include; “as I said earlier”, “per my email”, or anything else referencing the fact that students should already know the answer to the question, or could easily find it. I encourage all teachers to take a moment to ask yourself four questions, before hitting that reply button:

  1. What harm does it really do to just answer their question?
  2. is using one of my phrases just going to embarrass them?
  3. Will it take me just as long to respond that they should have already known the answer, as it will to answer the question
  4. Honestly, how often do carefully read directions?

I think if we are honest with ourselves, this simply stems from annoyance that we wasted our own precious time on something that was either unnoticed or ignored by the students. Or, perhaps this triggers a fear of what other questions are to come and an immediate assumption that the students will struggle in the class if they are this “helpless” already. This is making assumptions we have no business making. Instead, answer their question and simply add, “if you need more information later and I am unavailable….” while referring them to whatever they should have read in the first place. They’ll get the message and won’t be afraid to approach you again.

The candy shop effect

When treating a condition, the best course of action is to add one new medication or make one change at a time, see the effects, and gradually add another. Otherwise, any changes to your well-being cannot be attributed to any one new variable. The challenge I face every fall is wanting to add everything I think will help my students. While this sounds fine at face value, there are pitfalls. First, exhaustion on my part! Second, the risk of overwhelming my students. Third, I cannot attribute any changes in my students’ outcomes directly to one, or a combination of the changes I made. For example, in the 2017 school year, we decided to add weekly quizzes for retrieval practice that were open book, 2 attempts, highest grade kept. This year, we are also adding an adaptive reading assignment to increase metacognition. By waiting a year and doing the quizzes first, we will be able to see if that made a difference and if there is a need for any more retrieval practice. In an effort to remain a reflective teacher I will examine if these changes made any meaningful difference, or if they were just more work in a student’s already very demanding schedule.

“Just being grateful”

Just being grateful to have your job goes by many names. More and more often, it is being called by its true name: Impostor Syndrome. In the past year, I have seen more and more instructors in the A&P field be vocal about this. One of my favorite HAPS moments of 2018 was during the Women in Anatomy panel, when an attendee asked (the one and only) Dee Silverthorn, “How did you deal with impostor syndrome?” and her response was “stay tuned” (or something to that effect). The rest of the panel then chimed in that this is a very real feeling, no matter what stage you are at in your career. In all of my work positions, I spent years not standing up for what I felt was best, or changes that should be made, because I thought I needed to just be agreeable. I was afraid to rock the boat because I was just “so grateful” to have my job. In truth, I am very grateful, but not that someone gave me a job; I am grateful that in all my years of teaching I have never questioned whether or not I’m doing exactly what I’m meant to do with my life. However, my “just so grateful” attitude was conveying that I didn’t believe I deserved or earned every opportunity I had. We all have to be our own biggest advocates. While external validation and recognition feel wonderful, at the end of the day, if we don’t own our accomplishments, who will?

Fellow A&P educators, I urge you to consider this exercise, especially if you are feeling like work-life balance is always out of reach or you’re never quite sure if your actions and outcomes line up. It might help you become a more balanced educator, family member, and friend. Your three things to start and stop will certainly vary, but feel free to steal mine! The most important thing is that the “three things to stop” addresses the behaviors you do or choices you make that most often that lead to undesirable outcomes. Be on the lookout for the next post, “three things to start”!


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Krista Rompolski is an Assistant Professor in the Health Sciences Department at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA. She is an active member of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society and the American Academy of Anatomists. Her teaching interests include pathophysiology, gross anatomy, and anatomy and physiology.

Would you be ready?

Imagine that while preparing those last few materials for the start of the semester you receive a call from Disability Support Services indicating that you will have a student with total blindness in your A&P class. The semester begins in two days.

Would you be ready?

To be accessible for students with disabilities, here are some things you can address:

  • PowerPoint slides need to have high contrast between the background and font colors. The reading order of each slide must be verified, and font sizes should be at least 24 point. Additionally, all visuals must have Alternative Text (aka Alt Text or Alt Tags). Alternative Text is a description that enables an individual with a visual impairment to learn what a sighted person would learn from the image. However, they should not be so detailed as to further increase the amount of time the student would need to acquire the information. Alt Tags for STEM images may require two parts.
  • Word documents must be written in a sans-serif font and be organized with headers. Tables require a repeating header and an Alt Tag. Further, because screen readers pronounce non-printing characters, the document shouldn’t have unnecessary spaces or tabs. If you don’t know what it sounds like to hear text verbalized by a screen reader, listen to Accessible vs. Inaccessible.
  • The physical laboratory space must accommodate students with disabilities, and there must be accessible versions of the lab materials and equipment. Institutions should have policies regarding guide dogs and students requiring wheelchairs and scooters in the science laboratory. A discussion on preparing for students with disabilities in the science lab would require a separate blog post. In the meantime, my website has a link to a study I conducted in 2016 evaluating accommodations provided for students with visual impairments in college biology laboratories. It contains information on accommodations for science labs, and those which study participants found helpful and not so helpful.
  • Textbooks are another consideration. Publishers are working toward full accessibility, but there’s a lot of work yet to be done. Check with the publisher about your textbook’s accessibility. Ask a lot of questions. Some publishers honestly believe they have accessible versions of their texts, when in fact they do not.

Several resources exist to help create accessible course materials. I maintain a website, Accessible Science, that has numerous resources on accessibility and other information you may find useful. Newer versions of Microsoft® Office have built-in accessibility checkers, PC Accessibility Checker and Mac Accessibility Checker, that scan for accessibility issues and indicate how to fix any problems they identify. PowerPoint Accessibility and Screen Reader Accessibility in Word demonstrate how to create accessible PowerPoint slides and documents.

New courses should be developed according to the tenets of Universal Instructional Design (UID), which recommends that accessibility be integrated into courses as they are developed. Adhering to the principles of UID helps students even if you never have a student with a disability in your class. Foreign language students benefit from subtitles on videos, for example, and larger font sizes on PowerPoint slides benefit students seated farther from the screen.

For existing courses, it takes an incredible amount of time to retrofit a laboratory science class so that it is fully accessible. Since increasing numbers of students with disabilities are attending college, my suggestion is to start preparing now so you don’t panic when you get that call. Feel free to email me if I can help.

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Dr. Barbara R. Heard is an associate professor of biology at a community college in NJ. She is interested in supporting students with disabilities in science, especially students with visual disabilities.