The prompt asks us to describe our initial thoughts on designing an entire course or a single assignment, and my very first reaction is included in the subject line. Having said that, I think I need to clarify – I’m thinking mostly about the undergraduate prerequisite science courses that I’ll be responsible for in the upcoming academic year. These courses (Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II) are foundational for almost everything that comes afterward in a nursing or allied health professions curriculum. These courses are often listed as 100 / 1000 – level courses (introductory) with no prerequisites of their own, however, they are taught at a 300 / 3000 – level (sophomore or junior). Content and learning objectives in these courses are broad AND deep. My Oxford College and Emory College students are projected to be freshmen or sophomores. Given the cognitive development of these students, coupled with the breadth and depth of content, I don’t believe a completely learner-centered course would not be the best approach. Alison Head and John Wihby stated in their recent Chronicle article, “…It turns out that students are poorly trained in college to effectively navigate the Internet’s indiscriminate glut of information.” (http://chronicle.com/article/At-Sea-in-a-Deluge-of Data/147477/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en). I’m wondering if students who require more structure in assignments would find a completely learner-centered environment to be, “an indiscrimate glut of information,” and have difficulty in making progress in any of the objectives. Further, the time, effort and creativity that are required to develop novel, authentic and alternative assessments that are part of a completely learner-centered approach make this seem completely daunting. Silverthorn, Thorn and Svinicki (2006) found that even when instructors were highly motivated to include alternative assessments and approaches in life science classes, only 22% of those instructors were able to overcome the significant barriers they encountered to actually introduce and utilize active learning modules in their courses.
Reviewing the Blaschke article from the M4 readings, there is an image that really resonated with me (below) where I see these particular students taking the Human Anatomy and Physiology course sequence falling somewhere between Level 1 and Level 2.
Certainly, as students progress through the undergraduate BSN program we can describe them as gaining maturity and autonomy, and requiring different structure from the instructor. As an analogy here – in some ways anatomy and physiology is like learning multiplication tables: there are some things that just need to be learned as facts because they are foundational to other concepts. Students need to be able to see that there is stratified squamous epithelium in the esophagus but simple columnar epithelium in the stomach; that epithelium is different from other tissue types and that each type of epithelium has characteristics that contribute to the overall structure and function of the organ / organ system. Students in Mary Jane’s classes may need to understand how acid reflux from the stomach can damage the epithelium in the esophagus, symptoms that are manifested in patients and appropriate treatments for patients with GERD (particularly pregnant patients), while Phyllis’ students may need to understand how to implement a unit-wide or hospital-wide treatment algorithm for GERD based on the insurance available, evidence-based outcomes and cost analysis between proton-pump inhibitors and H2 blockers; both need to have an understanding that the lining tissue in the esophagus is differently protected than that in the stomach because the function of each organ is different.
Understanding the characteristics of the learner is a part of the instructional design, as we
discussed earlier. (See Kemp’s model below.) Matching the structure of your course or assignment to the learner optimizes the learning experience (and promoting students’ continued learning and development of self-efficacy). Student characteristics are not superior or inferior, but they should help drive the development of everything else in the course.
However, having my students come into these particular courses requiring more structure and input seems to imply that assignments could be included that develop the skills and attitudes needed for self-directed learning. Interestingly, I’m finding there is a real wealth of already-developed, online support material for Anatomy and Physiology courses in particular, typically packaged with the textbook (animations, e-books with linked content, clinical images, self-testing programs, etc.) Two strategies that I would like to include are formative testing and building a bibliography.
Including formative tests, or self tests, that students must complete throughout the course, allow students to assess their mastery of the content at various points in-between more formal, summative tests. These will be online, timed, automatically graded short tests that students can take multiple times until they reach a minimum level of mastery (for example, selecting the correct answer 80% of the time). I used this particular strategy during the spring 2014 in Human Anatomy and Physiology II, replacing paper-and-pencil lab quizzes. Each quiz was low-stakes (worth only 10 points out of a total of 300 points allocated to the lab component) and the 5 best quizzes (out of 9 or 10) were included in the overall course grade. Building the online quizzes in a variety of formats took significant time and required several iterations before it worked smoothly. My intent was to have students prepare more completely for the in-class practical lab exam. To my surprise, students commented favorably on the inclusion of this strategy.
The second assessment strategy I’d like to include is having students build a course bibliography. In this approach, I would post a prompt related to a particular clinical issue, and have students post their research related to this topic, with a short summary of the piece they’ve posted. For example, in the module where we are studying tissues, I might have students post some research on cystic fibrosis, a disease where the clinical symptoms result from dysfunction at the tissue level. This strategy appeals to me as a way to include student research into my course, and to have students work collaboratively in building the works they can all read. I would include this as a low-stakes assessment, like the quizzes described above.
So, while my initial response to developing my Human Anatomy and Physiology courses as completely learning-centered was, “No way can I do this,” I can see how I can develop components of the courses that are learning-centered alternatives to the largely multiple-choice and short-answer tests that right now are the mainstays of students assessment. Using the technology with which I’m already familiar (Blackboard) and products that have been developed for instructor use by the publisher give me some places to start.