HAPS and Twitter

HAPS_TwitterSo I think I might be finally starting to figure out Twitter.  I have been trying to climb aboard the Twitter train since January.  I took my first step and created an account in February.  (My twitter handle is @wendyriggs47.)  I tweeted my first shy tweet in March, and was hacked a week later.  Slowly my tweet-rate increased as we neared the HAPS annual conference and peaked somewhere during the middle of the conference. My tweet-rate then plummeted shortly after I returned home from the event.  I’ve been trying valiantly to re-tweet the twitterings of Kevin Petti and the Anatomia Italiana crew as they adventure through Italy (@AnatomiaItalian), but until recently, I continued to feel generally baffled by the whole Twitter scene.

And then, for some unknown reason, everything seemed to click and instead of dreading my Twitter-time,  I actually started looking forward to seeing who said what on my Twitter feed.  I think it took me awhile to figure out who to follow and who to NOT follow.  For example, back in February, (under the advice of my young brother), I started following the tweets from “Politico.”  I’m not kidding—those guys must have been tweeting something every 30 seconds.  I was horrified and overwhelmed by the massive quantity of their tweets and couldn’t even begin to sort through what things I might be interested in exploring more fully.

But lately, I’ve honed the list of tweeters I follow (bye bye Politico, hello Valerie O’Loughlin) and I actually enjoy checking out what is reported.  In the last few days of Twitter-time, I found an interesting blog post on flipping the classroom entitled 4 Tips for Flipped Learning by Joe Hirsch, a fantastic TED talk on the adolescent brain by cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, and a set of classroom-ready case studies for A&P from the Life Science Teaching Resource Community.  (Seriously?! How is it possible I’ve never seen this before?!)  It is exciting to see potential like this and I’d love to see the HAPS twitter feed (@HumanAandPSoc) become such a valuable and dynamic source of ideas.

So take this week’s poll to share how YOU engage with Twitter.

18- Let’s Share

Teachers share. It is what we do.

Information is cheap.  Teachers are no longer holders of ALL knowledge.  Instead, we help organize the massive quantities of information that are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.  Our task has clearly shifted from “Let me TELL YOU everything I know!” to “Let me show you how to understand all this information that is available to you RIGHT NOW.”  We do this by creating a path through the information that ultimately helps students build their own understanding inside their own brains.  The way the information is organized cannot be copyrighted…it cannot be “sold.”  And maybe because of this, many teachers are eager to share their ideas and methods.

I think by nature, teachers are a generous bunch.  The HAPS email listserv is an excellent example, as are the contributors to the Life Science Teaching Resources Community.  I know that I am extremely complimented when someone is interested in using my teaching resources.  It somehow adds additional validity to my work, making the investment feel more “worth it.”  And I think we all remember what it is like to teach a class for the first time (or to TEACH for the first time!)  We start out with nothing…but if someone shares with us, we start out with a glimpse of their experience and perspective, which can be invaluable.  This is what is so great about the HAPS Annual Conference.  It is an amazing opportunity to SHARE!

I do understand being shy to share…because it is easy to feel like our materials aren’t “perfect” yet.  But I know someone else’s imperfect materials are STILL a start for me!  (And I’m sure many of you are like me and don’t ever use anything AS IS.  We always have to tweak things!)

For most authors,
the greatest risk is not
-Tim O’Reilly

Sharing makes us all better educators.  What a lovely thing!

13- Flippin’ Crazy?

This is my little rah-rah support team.  Pretty sure they don't feel neglected!
This is my little rah-rah support team. Pretty sure they don’t feel neglected!

I was in my office the other day when a colleague stopped by unexpectedly and began offering advice.  I always appreciate hearing different perspectives, but when he started telling me that I spend too much time flipping my classes and not enough time home with my kids, I had to struggle to maintain objectivity.  Perhaps his comments hit a nerve simply because I am (of course) engaged in the familiar, guilt-ridden battle between motherhood and career.  But I found it really interesting that he focused particularly on the FLIP.  So I spent some time thinking about the flip…and whether or not the time I’m investing in the pedagogy is WORTH IT.

While I do not in any way shape or form agree that I’m neglecting my family, I do agree that flipping my classes requires a ridiculous amount of time and I’m far from satisfied with the results. My list of complaints about my approach is lengthy.

  1. My video lectures are long and I tend to ramble.
  2. If I change the order in which I cover content, the video lectures end up filled with confusing references.
  3. Sometimes I say things that are incorrect…and these mistakes are on my PERMANENT record, unless I re-record the lectures!  Yikes.
  4. I’m a relatively new teacher and I always want to improve my stuff. Updating video lectures is really time consuming!
  5. Even with the amazing resources in the APS Life Science Teaching Resources Community, my class activities are sometimes too basic and become boring.
  6. My class activities are sometimes too complicated and become overwhelming.
  7. I never really feel like I have enough time to completely PREPARE for any week.
  8. I never EVER feel like I “nailed it.”  EVER.

So as my colleague criticized my priorities, I took a tired breath and wondered WHY I keep flipping.  But in spite of every single imperfection, I honestly cannot imagine going back to the traditional approach.  I get to assume my students have covered the content when they come into my class.  I feel good about holding them to a higher standard than I might otherwise.  And I love the opportunities to talk about the content in a curious and meaningful way, every single time I see them, because  I don’t have to “cover everything.”  I’ve already covered it!

The simple fact is that my students are more engaged now than they were before I started flipping.  Yes—it is far from perfect.  But I guess it is worth it to me.

12- Flippin’ Activities: Variety is Good

Even spider variety is good...(or interesting, at least!)
Even spider variety is good…(or interesting, at least!)

It is hard to believe that I have almost two years of flipping experience under my belt.  Sometimes flipping feels so crazy that I forget to acknowledge how much extra work is required to pull it all together. And there are so many layers in a successful classroom, flipped or not, that it is often quite challenging to effectively steer the ship.

During my first year of flipping, I spent most of my time recording video lectures.  This left the actual class time VERY unstructured, and I relied primarily on student questions posed DURING class to fill that time.  I struggled with low attendance throughout my first flipped year and I was chronically dissatisfied with the quality of student engagement during the “new” lecture hour.  In my second year of flipping, I reused most of my video lectures (for better or for worse).  This freed up my time to use the Life Science Teaching Resource Community (the Archive of Teaching Resources has a new name!) to improve the quality of my class activities. This, in conjunction with the fact that I also started using clickers (for which students earn 5% of their course grade), has improved the class tremendously, in my opinion.  But my students expressed a different opinion the other day when I failed to prepare a set of clicker-activities for my class on “Blood.”

First, I did NOT admit to my students that I was unprepared.  (Ahem.)  Instead, I started class by asking them what they thought was the most important concept in the lecture.  This began the discussion and I capitalized on their questions and confusions to engage them in a 90 minute review session.  At the end of the 90 minutes, several of them made a pronounced effort to tell me how helpful the class had been that day.  They actually explained that sometimes the interesting and creative activities I facilitate require so much application and critical thinking that, in their minds, they don’t get a chance to really review the material from the previous night’s lecture.  This was such an interesting perspective and while I can not concede that the “easier” review session was BETTER than the more challenging application tasks, it did make me think about the value of VARIETY in the flipped class.  We all know that Anatomy and Physiology are really challenging courses.  But we’re coaches, and good coaches push their players hard, but they also know when to let up and make sure their players know they can be successful.  The take home message for me?  Variety is good.

11- Be Heard!

Even if you DON’T have access to the world’s biggest microphone (!), you can STILL make your voice heard!

I’ve talked about how valuable the HAPS email listserv is  (join HAPS and sign up for the listserv to see for yourself!) and I’ve analyzed WHY the listserv is so valuable.  It comes down to the active engagement of a knowledgeable community.  The APS Archive of Teaching Resources has the tools necessary to facilitate a similarly engaged community.

I noticed this when I was browsing the Archive.  I created an account with them which allows me to personalize my interactions with the archive via a tool called “myAPSarchive.”  This tool shows up on the left side of the website when I sign in, and posts suggestions for things I might like, based on the preferences I set when I registered.  I was delighted to find a collection of resources on “Interactive Lectures” posted there tonight.  Once you have an account, you can create your own collections.  This is a fantastic option for saving a group of resources related to similar topics!  But even if you don’t create your own, it is really fun to explore the collections posted by OTHERS.  I usually find topic-based collections (check out this cool collection on “Diabetes“), but I was excited to find this  collection based on pedagogy.

Here is where I so clearly see the value of the COMMUNITY.  The “Interactive Lectures” collection was rated by 3 people and had earned a total “star” score of 4.7 out of 5 (the rating  asks you how helpful the resource will be for your teaching).  Once you’ve created an account, rating the collections and activities is as simple as clicking on the stars.  And the more people that rate a collection or activity, the more valuable those stars become.  But  you can also comment on the resources at the bottom of the page.  These comments are very helpful and often provide insight into how the resource can be used.  The “Interactive Lectures” collection has two very thoughtful comments.

I think it is important that if we JOIN the archive community, that we also CONTRIBUTE to the community.  It is easy to do…and we HAPSters are good at it!  So be heard!

9- Blood Pressure

Image of an alarm clock (in the public domain)
This device is not my friend.

It is late.  We lost an hour this morning, which means my alarm clock is going to be particularly vile when it cheerfully erupts in about 6 hours.  And I can’t go to bed quite yet, because I am still preparing for my physiology class on Blood Pressure in the morning.  I started my preparations by reviewing my flipped video lecture on the topic.  This was a painful task, as I quickly found about 62 improvements I would LOVE to make to that set of video lectures.  (This is an unfortunate aspect of the flip: improving one’s lectures requires a significant input of time that is usually unavailable during the semester.)

As I watched my lecture with steadily increasing disgruntlement, I decided to look for interesting activities to engage students in my  morning class.  I turned to the APS Archive for inspiration and when I resurfaced an hour later, I had about 62 new activities that I was really excited to try (out of 151 hits on my very broad “blood pressure” search).  (This is another unfortunate aspect of the flip: developing/vetting activities to replace “lecture” requires a significant input of time that usually is subtracted from the sleep column.)

While it is highly unlikely that I will be able to pull any of these activities together for class in 7 hours, I thought I’d share the WEALTH that is OUT THERE for you flippin’ crazies who are trying to add more active learning to your lecture time.  Here are three of the 151 hits on my “blood pressure” search.

  1. Laboratory activity: This article from Advances in Physiological Education describes a medical school’s efforts to replace a cardiovascular physiology lab that made use of anesthetized critters with one that makes use of fully conscious med students instead.
  2. Flow diagrams: This resource contains complex flow diagrams that are visually interesting and informative.  I have a very VISUAL brain and I love the idea of students building flow diagrams like these.
  3. Case study: This case focuses on neural control of the cardiovascular system.  It is extremely comprehensive and describes a scenario with a pregnant mama going into labor.

This is just a smattering of the amazing resources cataloged in the Archive of Teaching Resources.  Anyone else out there interested in adding MORE hours to each day?  Ahhhh, one can dream.  Enjoy the week!

6- Case Studies

The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science Logo
The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science is an absolute treasure trove of interesting cases!

After spending nearly a year recording video lectures for my flipped classes, I have finally arrived at a semester in which MOST of the lectures have been recorded (for better or worse) and I am able to focus my time on improving the quality of the ACTIVITIES we do during class time.  Although I am painfully critical of the quality of my existing video lectures, I am grateful to finally have more time to work on the class activities.

I am always intrigued by case studies and if you haven’t taken a look at the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, you really need to check it out.  This resource is included in the APS Archive and it is literally a gold mine of interesting cases.  I’ve signed up for their email listserv and receive monthly updates describing new cases they’ve recently posted.  When I get these emails, I usually end up wishing I taught more classes, because the topics are so engaging.  I was particularly interested in checking out a relatively recent case about Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees.

The group also facilitates an annual summer workshop where participants explore different kinds of case studies, and then write and deliver their own cases to a guinea pig group of undergrads who offer feedback on the experience.  Someday, when I figure out how to squeeze 48 hours out of each 24, I would LOVE to participate in this conference.   But there are other sources of case studies for use in the flipped classroom.  One of my favorite workshops at the HAPS Annual Conference last year in Las Vegas was Cherie McKeever’s workshop on writing your own case studies.  She also offers an online summer class on how to write and implement fun cases.

I am going to experiment with a clicker-based case study on hearing loss this week in Human Physiology.  I will keep you posted!


4- APS Archive Activity: The Dead Rats

Reinforce student understanding of the endocrine system by using “Virtual Rats”! This activity is described in a journal article posted in the APS Archive of Teaching Resources.

I wonder how many Physiology students dropped my class this semester when they saw the “Dead Rats” activity on the course schedule.  There certainly have been many who tentatively ask me about that particular activity.  After briefly traumatizing them with visions of dead rats piled high to the ceiling, I inform them that the activity actually makes use of PAPER dead rats.  I can SEE that great sigh of relief as it exits their lungs!

I found this activity through the APS Archive of Teaching Resources.  It simulates an actual physiology lab in which students treat rats with various hormones, then kill the rats and weigh their organs to learn more about how the hormones affect different body systems.  The activity eliminates the need to kill rats (for which I am extremely grateful) and also adds a bit of authentic mystery into the mix, because the students in the scenario forgot to label the hormones before treating the rats.  My students are then tasked with figuring out which hormone was used to treat each rat.

This activity works fantastically in the flipped class.  My students will watch their lecture on the endocrine system and complete the lab handout based on the article from the Archive, all before coming to class on Wednesday.  Then they will get into groups and examine their packets of “dead rats.”  There are many skills students use in this activity.  First, they have to have a working understanding of each hormone and the different ways the hormones affect each other and body organs.  I do not require them to memorize these interactions or details, YET.  I just want them to be able to APPLY what they’ve learned about the hormones to help them understand the dead rats. One of the most challenging things for them involves HOW they organize their data.  This is tricky and I have to be careful about giving them instructions that are too specific, because then the activity becomes an exercise in following a recipe, instead of an opportunity to practice critical thinking skills.

I piloted this activity in my class a year ago, and perhaps because it was done so early in the semester, students found the open structure of it quite frustrating.  I am used to this kind of frustration when I try something new, mostly because I don’t yet understand the pitfalls they will tumble into.  In class tomorrow, I will warn them about the importance of effectively preparing for the activity by watching the lecture AND completing the lab handout.  I will also remind them to make sure their brains are optimally engaged as they study and prepare.

Finally, I’d love to say I have a sophisticated assessment planned to accompany this activity…but unfortunately, I do not.  That, however, is one of the GREAT things about teaching…I get to constantly improve my craft.  Adding a rock-star quality assessment into the mix will be my goal NEXT semester.