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!

22- To Flip or not to Flip?

Fair use image of Bart Simpson.
I will NOT flip the classroom upside down…I will not…really…I will not…

I’m slowly settling into the swing of summer…and it is time to pull the trigger on a decision I have been struggling with for a couple of months now.

In the fall, I will be teaching a new class that I have never flipped:  Human Biology.  This is a non-majors course that is general bio, anatomy and physio, IN ONE SEMESTER.  Obviously, we must do a very light survey of these three courses, all of which I’ve taught multiple times before.  I do not anticipate the prep being too difficult, from a content perspective.  But I am having an ongoing internal battle about whether or not to FLIP the class.

There are a million points on the “FLIP IT!” side of the equation.  Students love it.  I have more time to work with them during class.  We can do more FUN STUFF!  Plus, I’m the flipping QUEEN, right?  I’ve been flipping all over the place for 2 years now.  I’m a flipping phenom!

But maybe I’m growing up a little bit (!) because I am not sure I can handle the stress of DEADLINES that inevitably accompanies the decision to flip a new class.  I’ve spent two years under the “gotta get a lecture recorded before I go to bed TONIGHT” mandate.  Even my YouTube students who don’t’ even know me comment on the scattered and unfocused rambling in my video lectures that is directly proportional to the lateness of the hour (and hits a peak around 1am).

Besides that, fall already promises to be a very busy semester.  It will be my first semester as a full-time tenure-track professor (after 5 years as an adjunct in this institution).  Plus, I will be teaching Human Anatomy again, which I find to be pretty intense.  Add to that the fact that we have two brand new cadavers (who will be with us for the next 3-5 years)…and I am utterly confident my fall plate will be overfull.

Every cell in my body says, “Make the smart flippin’ decision, Riggs.”  And my cells have been saying this for, oh, a couple of months now.  So what part of me is still refusing to pull the trigger and admit that I will NOT be flipping Human Biology in the fall?  I know it is time…and I know what I need to do…it just makes me sad, because I really love flipping.

So I’ll probably just end up agonizing over the summer until it really is too late to pull off a quality flip, and then the decision will be made for me.  Ask me again in August.

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.

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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.

10- What if Students Don’t Flip?

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Sometimes The Flip flops…

One of the most common questions I field about flipping my classes relates to handling the non-flippers.  I had a conversation with a colleague the other day about strategies for dealing with students who don’t flip course content before attending class.  She is a speech teacher and as we talked, I realized how LUCKY I am to teach Anatomy and Physiology.  My students often demonstrate an intense level of intrinsic motivation to understand the material, because most of the course content relates directly to the careers they are choosing to pursue.  So when she asked what I do when my students don’t flip, I hesitated.  Because the fact is, I do nothing.  If my students fail to come to class prepared, they will be fundamentally confused by the activities we are doing in class.  Most of my students don’t like this.  Additionally, the questions asked by the non-flippers (if they dare ask any) often reveal that they didn’t adequately prepare for class. I try to be kind when I tell them that I covered their question in detail during the video lecture and gently remind them that in a flipped class, they should probably watch the lecture BEFORE coming to class.  I’ve had some students confide in me that they DIDN’T watch the online lecture…ONCE.  And they were so lost and confused that they never repeated that mistake.  But this is in a class full of really motivated students.  So how can instructors ensure students come to class prepared?

I’ve been playing with the idea of making my clicker questions count for real points.  Right now, I give students 100% of their clicker points just for showing up to class and participating. (Clicker points count for 5% of their total course grade.)  Honestly, the idea of holding students accountable for correct answers on these clicker questions makes me really tired, because in addition to being very motivated to understand the material, my students are also very motivated to collect every single possible point, even if it means fighting to the death with their exhausted instructor (that would be me).  I find that my clicker questions (mostly multiple choice) often initiate extremely interesting debates and I gain insights into the thinking that guides their decision making.  I also get to vet my questions–and my students are excellent critics.  I’m not sure I could handle the bookkeeping drama that would accompany a change in my clicker policy.

Other instructors require quizzes or other pre-class assessments to “prove” students flipped the content.  I also think this would be an amazing thing to do…but only if I had the time to build really meaningful, interactive, and challenging assessments that easily fed into my LMS and required no grading.  Ahem.

I think one of the best things to do is to simply facilitate activities during class time that are so engaging and interesting that students really WANT to come to class prepared.  I’d say I get a C- in this area right now…which I suppose just means I have lots of room to improve!

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!

7- Active Learning Makes Me Happy

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Sometimes my class is a party…

Maybe you are starting to get a sense of this, but I like it when my students are happy. I often use their satisfaction as evidence that a technique or lesson is “successful.”  I understand that happiness may or may not correlate with LEARNING, but I can’t seem to shake the drive to make my students happy (though I am unwilling to give them extra credit or “easy” exams to accomplish this.)  My push to make happy students isn’t linked to the external requirement for positive student evaluations; I am still technically a part-time instructor and we are officially evaluated ONCE every THREE YEARS. But I still find my pedagogy revolves around what students LIKE.  While I think there are some very important reasons to stay true to this intention, I had an interesting experience this week that might provide an important nudge away from the “do what it takes to make students happy” camp.

We began the skeletal system in Human Anatomy on Tuesday.  This lab is notorious on our campus for being the point at which quantity of content PLATEAUS.  The labs prior to the bone lab are progressively more challenging, but none of the labs after the bone lab are MORE difficult (though they certainly are not easier!)  I always note that if you can master the bone lab, you are ready to handle the rest of the course.

Because of the notorious difficulty of the lab, I came up with a task for students to carry out during their three hour lab period.  I divided our bones into 6 stations (skull, superior limbs, pelvis, etc), provided groups with sticker tags, and asked them to create a practical quiz for their assigned station.  I then gave them about 20 minutes to create the quiz for their station, complete with an answer key, and then I had them move through the stations and take each others’ quizzes.  I found the experience a little exhausting in my morning lab, because there was a general undercurrent of disgruntlement about the activity that just made me tired.  So when the afternoon lab came in, I ended up giving them a CHOICE: they could do my activity, or study on their own.  All of the students in the afternoon lab chose to study on their own and the general mood was much more pleasant.

And then I graded their quizzes, which were given to each group at the end of their lab sessions.  Ready?

The early lab (who DID the activity) scored an average of 1.2 points higher on their 10 point quiz when compared to the late lab (who studied on their own).  Now these are students who FIGHT to the DEATH about one point on a 100 point exam…so this difference will be perceived as ENORMOUS for my team.  Of course, I wondered if perhaps my afternoon students were always…more challenged than the early group, so I compared the averages for the two previous quizzes.  One quiz had the early lab leading by 0.2 points and the other quiz had the late lab leading by 0.1 points.  That counts as a wash in Wendy-land.

...and sometimes not.
…and sometimes it isn’t.

This was a “moment” for me. I won’t ever ditch the idea that happy students learn more and I really believe that the ability to motivate students is a powerful teaching tool.  But I do think I need to follow my instincts and require my students to do the same, whether they are happy, or not.

5- The Dead Rats: Success!

In contrast to my first attempt with Dead Rat fun times a year ago, Endocrine Rats lab activity last week was very popular with my students.  I ended up recording a brief lecture to help guide them through the process of determining which rats were treated with which hormones, and also made a few changes to my own lab handout for the next time I use it.  Overall, it was a much more successful experience, judging solely by classroom climate.

I am very aware that just because my students “liked” it, doesn’t mean they learned anything.  To that end, I have to make tonight’s post particularly brief because I am in the middle of writing exams for both my classes (ouch).   On nights like this, I usually conclude that sleep is overrated and then I load up on caffeine and keep going.  However, after Valerie’s email to the HAPSters on the list-serv on Thursday, requesting a HAPS liaison to participate in the National Sleep Foundation’s task force, I realize that perhaps I should revise my general approach to sleep:

You_can_sleep_when_you're_dead!Ahhhh, ok.  Short post it is.