Monthly Archives: November 2014

Creating Core Concepts in Animal Physiology

What happens if you put together a group of instructors who teach animal physiology and ask them to generate core competencies for their particular sub-discipline?  Well, Dee Silverthorn found out when we assembled ourselves in her workshop on Core Competencies at last summer’s APS Institute on Teaching and Learning in Bar Harbor, Maine.   What our group produced in that short session was a list of distinctive core concepts in animal physiology that we believe are essential for student learning in animal physiology (see Table 1).  It is important to note that these concepts are fundamentally applicable to the teaching and learning of ALL of physiology and are most easily distinguished through the study of comparative animal physiology.  By using a comparative approach toward these core concepts, students can be successful in their learning.

Table 1.  Core Concepts in Animal Physiology















Motivated by this rationale, our group has begun to elaborate and fill in our original brainstormed list.  Following the pattern set by AAAS/Vision and Change (2011) and AAMC/HHMI SFFP (2009), we’ve used our core concepts to produce a matching set of student competencies.  For each competency we have created specific learning objectives that would demonstrate student level mastery of concepts in different areas of animal physiology.  We have started to unpack some of the concepts (e.g. tradeoffs) into their constitutive ideas and sub-concepts (see Table 2). We have also begun to examine the introductory chapters of commonly used textbooks in animal physiology to determine the extent to which these concepts are presented and explained.  All of this has involved an interactive collaboration among instructors who teach animal physiology to a diverse group of students in a variety of educational settings.  And it all got its start during a 60-minute workshop at the APS ITL!

Table 2. Core Concept of “Trade-Offs” Unpacked

















APS ITL – Animal Physiology Group

Beth Beason-Abmayr (Rice University)                      Patricia Halpin (Univ. New Hampshire)

Jason Blank (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo)                      Kerry Hull (Bishop’s University)

Sydella Blatch (Stevenson University)                        Patricia Schulte (Univ. British Columbia)

Bill Cliff (Niagara University)                                        Alice Villalobos (Texas A&M)


Have we missed major concepts/competencies that faculty expect from their animal physiology students? Please share your comments and questions below.





Patricia Halpin is an Assistant Professor of Biology and the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. She teaches Principles of Biology, Cell Biology, Animal Physiology, Medical Terminology, Biotechnology & Society, and Diseases of the 21st Century. She also teaches in the summer EXCELL program at UNHM for middle and high school English language learners. Her current research focus is on adding technology and active learning to her teaching as well as bringing science to elementary and middle school students. Patricia is a LifeSciTRC Scholar, PECOP Fellow, and a member of the American Physiological Society (APS). She serves on the APS Education Committee and is active in the APS Teaching Section.

The Physiology Education Community of Practice (PECOP) wants YOU!

 Are you a physiology educator? Are you someone who is interested in physiology education or has been a physiology educator in the past? We want you to join the Physiology Education Community of Practice (PECOP)!

shutterstock_210979459What is PECOP?

PECOP is a community for individuals at any academic level who are excited about physiology education. PECOP seeks to:

  • Expand and support a community of practice of physiology educators committed to evidence-based scientific teaching and scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) and discipline based education research (DBER)
  • Empower physiology faculty from diverse institutions to become leaders in physiology education reform efforts (evidence-based teaching practices, current issues in physiology education and physiology education research, available leadership roles)
  • Catalyze collaboration among physiology professionals in education reform and research to enhance student learning.

How Do PECOP Members Interact?


This PECOP blog will discuss issues in physiology education including: physiology education transformation, developing and using core concepts and competencies, designing, testing, and using evidence-based innovations in student centered learning, aligning teaching and assessment, building educational research skills, facilitating educational research collaboration, publishing and funding educational research, and building teaching skills. Look for new blog posts every other Monday.


PECOP forums are open to all registered members of the LifeSciTRC (registration is free). In the forums you can post a question or discussion topic and join in ongoing discussions. Please subscribe to any thread of interest by using the subscribe tool at the top of the forum page.


PECOP members first met at the inaugural APS Institute on Teaching and Learning (read more about PECOP’s beginnings below). There are plans to offer additional face-to-face activities for the PECOP community including an APS Institute on Teaching and Learning every other year, the teaching section lunch and other activities at the Experimental Biology (EB) annual meetings and regional activities in physiology education sponsored by PECOP members.

How Do I Join?

Are you ready to be a part of the PECOP community? Go to “My LifeSciTRC”, click on “Edit My Profile”, and select “PECOP Member.” Then join the PECOP discussion in the forums and check back here for future blog posts.

PECOP’s History

The APS Teaching Section with the support of the APS Education and Meetings Departments offered its first Institute on Teaching and Learning June 23-27, 2014 at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME. A National Science Foundation Research Coordinating Network for Undergraduate Biology Education incubator grant of $50,000 to Marsha Matyas, Barb Goodman, and Jenny McFarland, enabled the ITL to recruit and host 15 new Physiology Education Community of Practice (PECOP) fellows primarily from two-year or minority-serving institutions as full participants in the ITL.  The NSF grant also partially supported institute leadership including thought leaders and thought leader helpers who facilitated activities during the institute and will continue by seeding and encouraging communications among PECOP members over the next two years of the community.





Barb Goodman received her PhD in Physiology from the University of Minnesota and is currently a Professor in the Basic Biomedical Sciences Department of the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota. Her research focuses on improving student learning through innovative and active pedagogy.