HAPS-I: Rational Course Design

Image from http://www.zazzle.com/rational_as_pi_tshirt-235552823010272068
Maybe I need some lessons on being RATIONAL.
(Tshirt available at Zazzle.com)

I am sometime surprised by the way I can squeeze time out of an apparently packed week. But just like students often “need” the pressure of a quiz to remain diligent in their studies, I find tasks easier to complete if they are linked with looming deadlines.

So! In a moment of brilliant justification, I decided to sign up for Margaret Weck’s HAPS-I course on rational course design. Ready for the justification? It is simple. I will be teaching Human Physiology in the spring semester and have already decided to re-work the entire course. I’ve taught Physio many times in the past and feel it needs a giant overhaul. This means new labs, new lectures, new projects…the whole deal. And of course, I’ve been wondering where I would come up with the time to DO this overhaul—(insert heroic music here!)—HAPS and Dr. Weck to the rescue!

The course description states:  Participants will produce syllabi for new or existing courses that demonstrate the principles of rational course design.  As part of this process sample assignments and assessments will also be developed that could be used in any course to demonstrate student achievement of the A&P Learning Outcomes.  Clearly, this is the perfect opportunity to learn from the amazing Margaret Weck, complete a comprehensive overhaul of my course, and  take advantage, yet again, of all the ways HAPS helps me become a better teacher.

So join me!  This will be a fun class!  You can earn two graduate credits for the course, or just take it for professional development.  And remember—you can still apply for a HAPS-I scholarship to help you pay for the course.  The deadline to apply for this generous award is Friday August 15.

 

Musings on Video Lectures…

In this lecture, I received 2 phone calls,  1 text message, dropped my phone, and had a sympathetic nervous response when something fell off the wall in my office.  I think I should re-record this lecture.
In this lecture, I received 2 phone calls, 1 text message, dropped my phone, and had a sympathetic nervous response when something fell off the wall in my office. I think I should re-record this lecture.

Summer is such a luxurious time to reflect on my teaching and get fired up to make improvements.  It is so nice to feel my excitement growing as I get my class materials together for the fall semester, which is only a month away.

After settling into the decision NOT to flip Human Biology this fall, I decided to make use of all the extra time I would have to re-record my Human Anatomy video lectures.  I feel this is a little bit insane…this will be my 4th time teaching (and flipping) Human Anatomy and my third time re-recording my flipped video lectures.  It seems more than mildly insane to re-record lectures this often, but I understand that I am not only ironing out the wrinkles in my flipped pedagogy, but I am also ironing out the wrinkles in my presentation of CONTENT.  I have taken it for granted that in a traditional classroom I get to re-work my lectures and improve on my craft every time I teach the course.  This is a fantastic assurance that I will constantly GET BETTER.  But in the flipped scene, improving the lectures is much more time consuming.  Nonetheless,  I am clearly in need of creating a “new edition” of my lectures, though I am sincerely hopeful that THIS set of videos will last more than one semester.

As I prepare to record lectures, I can already tell that the videos will be better.  I have a better understanding of the big picture, which will make the individual pieces fit together more cleanly.  I have more experience with the tricky parts which allows me to emphasize the concepts that will be most helpful to my students.  And I am hoping to record the lectures at a more leisurely (and reasonable) pace, without the imminent deadlines that inevitably means I end up trying to present content in front of a video camera in my office by myself, exhausted and delirious, at two in the morning.  Ahem.  My fingers are crossed.

Why Join HAPS? So Many Reasons…

Join HAPS.
Check out the list of reasons why you should be a member of HAPS.

Are you a member of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society?  If not, it is time to make it happen.  Being a member of HAPS is, without a doubt, the single most important thing I’ve done in my career to become a better teacher.  Two years ago, when I was deciding to flip my Anatomy class for the first time, I posed several questions to the email listserv, requesting input and pedagogical advice that helped define and hone my approach.  Once, I asked the list about the wisdom of comprehensive exams.  Dee Silverthorn sent me a copy of her comprehensive exam as an example.  And I can’t even count the number of times that Valerie O’Loughlin has pumped me up with enthusiastic pep talks.  My students get wide-eyed when I tell them the authors of their textbooks are answering my questions (and theirs).   To me, this alone is worth the price of membership.  And yet this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the benefits of being a dues paying HAPSter.

We will soon begin a series on the blog describing all the benefits of joining HAPS.  You might be surprised at some the resources you have access to as a HAPSter.

As the chair of the Communication Committee, I am excited to help increase membership.  So tell me true.  Why are you a member of HAPS?

23- A Decision

"Sanity" and "Insanity" signs
Hmmm…left or right…left or right?

I’m a stubborn human.  I also have some pretty grave questions about my sanity.  Because it was just this morning as I chatted with my mom on the phone during a very slow jog through my neighborhood, that I AGAIN lamented about whether or not I was going to flip Human Biology in the fall.

Really??!  Does anyone else get the feeling that we’ve been here before?

But I think this time, I really did work through the issue (though I did ask my mom to remind me of this decision should I somehow lose focus before fall).

So here’s the ultimate reason I am firmly committing to NOT flipping Human Bio this fall.  There are only 17 students enrolled in the course at this time and the course will not be offered again until next summer at the earliest.  There.  So if I were to flip the class, I would invest the ridiculous amount of flipping energy for 17 students (whom I’m sure I will love very much, and who are probably quite deserving of the educational advantages that the flip offers).  But 17 students in 1 year just doesn’t justify the time it would take to prepare for an effective flip.

I think I feel peaceful about this decision.  The true test will be to see what the blog topic is NEXT week.  If I’m still talking about whether or not to flip Human Biology in the fall, you’ll know this peaceful sense is an illusion.  But if I’ve moved onto a new topic, then we’ll all happily put this one to bed and I’ll start trying to remember how NOT to flip a class!   HA!

19- Get the Conference APP!

The HAPS App!  We can do THAT!
The HAPS App!  We can do THAT!

I’m super excited about the HAPS Annual Conference APP.  This little app, which can be run on your computer OR phone, is a fantastic tool to ensure you make the most of your Jacksonville adventure, which begins next weekend.  (It isn’t too late to decide to crash the HAPS party next weekend…online registration is available until May 26!)

The APP is a power-packed wonder of a tool to keep you organized and informed at the Annual Conference.  And even if you can’t attend next week (we’ll miss you), you can use the app to keep up with what’s happening at the conference.  So let me just tell you a few of the cool things I can do with my app:

  1. I can build a personalized schedule of conference events using the amazing app!  While this will certainly keep me organized and efficient, I am already finding the process to be particularly painful, especially as I attempt to figure out which workshops I plan to attend on Tuesday and Wednesday at Florida State College.  This process is painful because during most sessions, there are at least 5-12 workshops I really Really REALLY want to attend.  Last year I found it extremely challenging to narrow down the workshop options during each session to ONLY ONE. I am optimistic that the amazing APP will help me sleep in peace as I maximize my professional development potential.  (I wonder how many times I will revise my personal schedule on my app???)
  2. With the app, you can set alarms to remind you to get where you want to go.  This will be particularly helpful for the morning sessions, because I am NOT a morning person.
  3. We can TWEET!  There is a Twitter part of the app that lets us follow the Twitter-ific commentary from other HAPSters. Just tag your tweets #HAPS2014.
  4. Have a question?  The app can do that!  There are maps, exhibitor lists, sponsor information, and even a link to this fabulous blog.

So download the app and get ready for FUN TIMES AHEAD.  See you in Jacksonville!

See you there!
See you there!

18- Let’s Share

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Logo_Share_Your_Knowledge.png
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
piracy
but
obscurity.
-Tim O’Reilly

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

17- The Magic Assessment Machine

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:EEG_recording.jpg
The magic assessment machine…please build it for me!

I want a magic machine that scans a student’s brain and tells me EXACTLY what s/he learned in my class.  I want the machine to accurately make all the decisions and judgement calls around grade assignment and I want it to offer rich and meaningful feedback to the student.  I want this glorious machine to be connected to the student’s brain all semester long, so it can deliver a constant stream of personalized guidance…it would be like each student would have a tiny ME in their heads!  The machine would assess the ability to THINK, so that robot-like efforts to simply check off a list of requirements would never lead to an “A.” My magic machine would be completely “BS” proof, flawlessly detecting any attempts to defraud the assessor.  My machine would not be fooled!

I really wish I had this magic machine today, because assessment is really hard.  I know that someday I will no longer feel like a “baby teacher” and I will transition into a place where I am more sure of my methods…and maybe then my classes will feel like less of a daily experiment.  But right now, as I set my sights on final exams and research papers, I am confounded by the confounding factors that blur my ability to assess whether or not my students “got it.”  Physio has been tricky this semester.  I am not satisfied with the flipped lectures, the pace of content delivery, or the in-class activities.  Frustration levels (for all parties involved) have been high and exam scores have been low.  And our culminating research paper project has been a barely salvageable train wreck (though much improved from the last time I tried it!).  I struggle between owning responsibility for the difficulties (“my fault”) and requiring student accountability (“your fault”). Many students capitalize on this ambiguity and I find lots of fingers pointing my way.  It is a fine line to walk between acknowledging your mistakes and getting pushed into a defensive corner.

Today, I think the appeal of the magic assessment machine is the way it would first shift many of those fingers away from me…but perhaps the more important value is that it would also give me confidence that I KNOW what my students KNOW and their grades absolutely reflect this.

I’m pretty sure my magic machine is a dream (regardless of how hard textbook companies are working to make it a reality!)  Maybe I don’t really need the machine at all…maybe I will someday turn into a “grown-up” teacher and find myself just sitting more comfortably in my ability to accurately assess what students KNOW.  Yeah…I think this is the more likely outcome.

16- HAPS Annual Conference

April is drawing to a close (whaaaat???) which means May is almost here and there are about 500 reasons why that is REALLY fantastic news.  First, it means that SUMMER IS NEAR (oh glory days)!  And second, it means that we’ll all be celebrating teaching and learning in Jacksonville in just a few short weeks.

Image
May 24-29

So sign up for the conference and meet us in Florida.  You still have 2 days to register for the conference at regular rates (late registration rates go into effect Thursday May 1). There is a conference app (thanks Wiley!) that includes the entire conference schedule as well as relevant maps and even exhibitor contact information.  The dynamic app updates instantly to keep you apprised of schedule changes and I noticed it even has a link to this blog on the front page!  (I better start thinking of some good posts to share from Jacksonville…) While I haven’t quite mastered the elusive art of Tweeting, I am hoping to become a Tweeter by the time I arrive in Florida so that even if you can’t make it to Jacksonville, you can follow our adventures using the hashtag #HAPS2014.

The HAPS Annual Conference is an amazing event and I think it is because HAPS is like a giant a family.  I was a first-timer last year in Vegas, though I’d been participating on the HAPS-listserv for about 2 years.  And it was such a kick to meet the people I’d been learning from on the listserv.

Make it happen—you won’t regret it a bit.

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.