Can We Teach Physiology Without a Textbook?

teacher booksI was going to teach an undergraduate Exercise Physiology course titled Biology of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases this fall and per usual, I searched for the best textbook available.  I was excited when I identified a textbook with approximately 1400 pages that covered almost all of the topics that I intended to cover but I noticed that I was only going to use about 1/10th of this text’s content, and the cost of the book would be over $100! By the time I was assigned to teach this course, the deadline for the textbook request from the university bookstore had past, and the faculty member who also taught this course used supplementary readings.  I was lost! I have always depended on a good textbook for teaching both physiology and pathophysiology courses. I love the illustrations in the text, and in my opinion, each of the images are worth thousands of words. Another advantage of using the text is the organization of the content. I had to take matters in my own hands. Recent technological advances and easy access to resources led me to create my own e-book using open resources in the past for the undergraduate physiology course. Still, that text would not have been everything for this course. Consequently, I had no choice but to pull the details from a variety of sources and pack PowerPoint slides full with details. After all this, I can see the need for developing an e-book specifically for this course. It certainly has its advantages as there is no cost for the students and is designed by the professor teaching this course so that the content is organized in the manner it would be taught. Department led peer-review could strengthen the e-book framework further.

There is no doubt that there are excellent audio and video resources besides readings to complement teaching today but the reading level of the articles may be way beyond the target audience.  Moreover, the variations in the writing style—some technical, some anecdotal—can turn students away.  Students in the medical sciences do need dependable resources, and there are excellent textbooks to choose from to support their learning.  Unless one can create course material utilizing open resources that would mimic a standard text, the use of a textbook simply provides much assurance to the students besides relying solely on lectures.

I would certainly assign a textbook, whether it is created using various resources or not, for my graduate and undergraduate students who are pursuing health careers to ensure that the information is in the text even if I were not able to discuss every topic in class. Some students depend on it more than others but if it helps students learn, why take it away?







Chaya Gopalan received her PhD in Physiology from University of Glasgow and completed two years of postdoctoral training at Michigan State University. Chaya is interested in pedagogical research studying innovative teaching methodologies to include Team-based Learning (TBL), Case-based Learning and Flipped Classroom. Her current project is related to the use of recorded lectures to replace live lectures on student performance and the
impact of flipped classroom style of teaching on student performance.

One thought on “Can We Teach Physiology Without a Textbook?”

Nowadays so many textbooks offer numerous online study resources including animations and videos that I like to have a textbook so that students who need more visual reviews of material have a chance to learn.

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