Monthly Archives: June 2020

Cultivating a growth mindset for the work of diversity and inclusion
Lisa Carney Anderson, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN

I live in Minnesota and work at the University of Minnesota.

I’m sure you have read and heard about the Twin Cities in the news.  George Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis. In addition, in the past few years, members of the Minneapolis Police have killed other Black citizens.  Consequently, a large number of people of all ages, colors and creeds poured into the streets to protest police brutality.  I am a White cis woman with privilege. Though I feel confident about my abilities as a physiologist and an educator, I’m not confident about the work of diversity and inclusion. Nonetheless, I am trying to figure out how I can use my privilege to provide a better learning and life experience for my students of color.

In 2018, at the Institute on Teaching and Learning, Katie Johnson of Trail Build, gave a powerful presentation on diversity and inclusion (2).  In her talk, she met us where we all lived.  She started by saying that she was a scientist and teacher.  If it was her job to be objective, what could she possibly do to promote diversity and inclusion?  Then she said something amazing.

We as physiologists ask our students to think in new ways.  We ask them to learn a lot of new terms: homeostasis, contractility, permeability, peristalsis and clearance.  Then we ask them to learn a lot of concepts.  Negative feedback mechanisms can maintain the cellular environment. Increased intracellular calcium increases the strength of a cardiac contraction.  Permeability is related to the number of open ion channels in a membrane. Peristalsis is a wave like contraction that moves contents along the gut lumen. Clearance is defined in terms how much plasma per unit of time is cleaned of a given substance.  Then we ask our student to put the terms and concepts into a framework that explains how the body works.  And we don’t ask students to do this sequentially, we ask them to accomplish this simultaneously.  Holy Smokes. That is hard work.  We ask our students to struggle with physiology.

So here is the amazing part.  If we ask our students to think in new ways to learn physiology, then we, as faculty, should be willing to think in new ways to address racism and equity in science and education. 

Dr. Johnson also gave us insight into the student experience.  For example, cold calling students is not a fair classroom practice.  I’ve learned that this is where small group discussion or Think-Pair-Share exercises (3) can be very helpful. If students have a chance to try out their ideas on a peer, then they may gain confidence to share an idea with the whole class. 

For example, I’ve also learned to be intentional when I set up student groups.  Here in very White Minnesota, I might have a few students of color.  I look at my class list and I look at the students’ pictures and try to make sure there are at least two students of color in a group even if that means some groups are all White. My process for assigning groups is far from perfect because, I may not recognize that a student identifies as non-white.  I don’t assume to know the comfort level of my students but my sense is that this practice addresses at least some of the stress of being the only person of color in a small group.  I have a colleague that calls imperfect classroom interventions like this, “filling in the gaps when a systemic solution is not available to address stereotype threats.”

So, what is a stereotype threat?

Before Mr. Floyd was murdered, I read the book, Whistling Vivaldi: how stereotypes affect us and what we can do, by Claude M. Steele (4).  From his work I have learned universities are power structures that can be very intimidating for students.  Through rigorous experimentation, Dr. Steele demonstrated how stereotype threat, or the stress of feeling marginalized interferes with a student’s performance. The burden of constantly feeling like you don’t belong is exhausting.  As I read this book, I thought back on my own experience as an undergraduate, first-generation, female. I was the only female in physics lab.  I felt like no one wanted to be my lab partner and no one wanted me there.  The lab teacher made jokes at my expense. I got Cs in physics.  Was it because I’m bad at physics?  Was it because I felt marginalized?  Is this how my students of color feel?

First of all, I’ve learned from Dr. Steele in Whistling Vivaldi and Dr. Johnson from Trail Build that there are things I can do to help my students with stereotype threats.  I can help them practice affirmation.  I’ll share with you how I do this in my Clinical Physiology Class.  This is a two-course series in which students from nursing anesthesia, biomedical engineering, physiology, kinesiology and other biological sciences come together to learn about pathophysiology and clinical physiology.  I assign the students to interdisciplinary groups such that representatives from all majors are distributed as evenly as possible throughout the groups.  I try to balance genders and make sure that no student of color is alone in a group of White students.  Then I encourage them in their discussions to think about the assets they bring to the conversation: leadership, math ability, problem solving, biochemistry knowledge, clinical experience, research experience, practicality, being a peacemaker and so on.  Because, as the American humorist, Will Rogers, is reported to have said, “We are all ignorant, only on different subjects.” I try to get them to see that they have knowledge their peers don’t have and that is why it is important for them to be present.

Second, I try to help my students have an incremental mindset rather than a fixed mindset.  This comes from the work of Carol Dweck (1) also described in Whistling Vivaldi. An incremental mindset is one in which a student might think “today, not possible but tomorrow, POSSIBLE.”  I tell my students that physiology is a way of thinking and you have to practice it.  No one is born knowing physiology and just because physiology is hard does not mean it is the wrong field for them. I want my students to realize I have had failures but they don’t define me. For example, I tell my students about the first time I took biochemistry when I was a senior in college.  I got a D and not because I didn’t work hard. I spent many lonely hours going over my notes but when it came time for the test, and I just couldn’t remember a single glucose molecule.  Then in graduate school, I took biochemistry again.  I got some large pieces of butcher paper.  I drew molecules and pathways and enzymes.  I drew them over and over from memory.  While I rode the bus, I reflected on how the pathways were related.  For fun I would predict what would happen if a particular enzyme did not work.  I used retrieval, mental models and reflection (though at the time I did not realize that’s what they were called).  I learned a lot of biochemistry, I earned a lot of confidence, and I got a good grade.  Now people call me Dr. Anderson.  Not because I’m a genius but because I know it is possible to grow into goals and aspirations.

Leading a classroom with an incremental mindset (also called a growth) mindset, in my opinion, is a powerful way for me to promote equity in my educational mission.  If I am honest with them about the struggles I’ve had, they might be willing to come into office hours and get some help. If students know that I went from a D to an A, they might think that they can do it too. Instead of seeing a poor grade on a test as the limit of their knowledge, they might see it as room to grow and work they need to do.  If they stay in the class, they can realize that improvement; if they drop the class, they are behind in completing their program and behind financially. If I can keep a student of color from dropping the class and help them with study skills, then that is one small step for equity.

Finally, as we make our way towards the fall, it is important to acknowledge that some of our students, especially our students of color and our Black students may have experienced trauma in their lifetimes.  They are traumatized by the isolating effects of the pandemic. They are traumatized by seeing repeated airings of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. They are traumatized due to societal inequities that value their lives and bodies and education less than others. We must acknowledge their experience.

Two weeks ago, one of my medical physiology students invited me to a rally at the St. Paul State Capitol as part of “White Coats for Black Lives.”  At first, I didn’t want to go. I was scared of getting exposed to the Covid-19 virus.  But nonetheless I found myself typing in an email, “How can I participate?” My student invited me so I had to be part of the solution. So, I put on my black mask and my white coat and I headed to the State Capital.  I spoke to my students, and they offered me a sign. “SILENCE IS COMPLICITY.”  I found my spot on the lawn and I held up my sign. The lawn was full of health care providers and educators from all over the Twin Cities.   I listened to an inspiring student-led protest in favor of providing health care access for all, increasing the diversity of student and faculty bodies and ending race-based medicine.  I was deeply moved by the experience and I was glad I came.  Our students of color and their allies are demanding more of us as faculty, departments and institutions.

I’m getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’m ready to listen because I am not an expert in anti-racism and I’m ready to work even though I might make some mistakes along the way.  I’m hoping to cultivate a growth mindset around issues of racism and spending my time listening to experts, reading on my own and learning. We ask this of our students every day and we as faculty can do no less.


  1. Claro S, Paunesku D, Dweck CS. Growth mindset tempers the effects of poverty on academic achievement. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(31):8664-8668.
  2. Johnson, K.M.SInclusive Practices for Diverse Student Populations. Plenary. APS Institute on Teaching and Learning, Madison, WI, June 18-22, 2018.
  3. Lyman, F. “The responsive classroom discussion.” In Anderson, A. S. (Ed.), Mainstreaming Digest. College Park, MD: University of Maryland College of Education, 1981.
  4. Steele, C.S. Whistling Vivaldi: how stereotypes affect us and what we can do, W.W Norton & Company: New York, 2010.

Lisa Carney Anderson is an Associate Professor and Director of Education in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at the University of Minnesota. She completed her doctoral training in muscle physiology at the University of Minnesota. She directs the first-year medical physiology course. She also teaches nurse anesthesia students, dental students and undergraduates. She is the 2012 recipient of the Didactic Instructor of the Year Award from the American Association of Nurse Anesthesia.  She co-authored a physiology workbook called Cells to Systems: Critical thinking exercises in Physiology, Kendall Hunt Press. Dr. Anderson’s teaching interests include encouraging active learning through retrieval and assessment of student reflection.  She has joined the APS Teaching Section Steering Committee as Secretary.

Keeping the Connection Alive During Remote Instruction
Candace Receno, PhD
Assistant Professor, Exercise Science & Athletic Training
Ithaca College

As a first year Assistant Professor, making the shift to remote learning during COVID-19 was certainly a gamechanger. As many previous blog posts have highlighted, the way we needed to look at instruction changed and forced both students and faculty to rapidly adapt. There were so many things that needed to be considered when making the transition. How flexible can our students be, now that some have become primary caretakers or have fallen ill or need to seek employment? How do instructors tackle making significant changes to their course, now that they are also dealing with similar issues? How do both groups create and participate in a high-quality course experience with fewer resources and a very short amount of time to adjust? Many of the insightful blogs posted have really highlighted how to keep these considerations in mind in order to create online courses that still meet course objectives and foster a high-quality learning experience. I have learned so much through reading these posts, in addition to numerous resources provided to our community. Through integration of these resources into my own courses, I found myself also trying to think of ways that I could keep the courses inherently “me”. Engaging and connecting with students on a personal level has always been something that I found helpful to my own teaching, but becomes hard when the mode of communication has shifted. This can also be difficult when some classes must be delivered asynchronously, in an effort to accommodate the changing lifestyles of our students. Perhaps just as important to a high-quality learning experience as shifting our instruction methods, is finding new ways to create the human connection that is much easier developed with on-campus learning. Here, I highlight some of the methods I found to be successful in making sure that I was able to keep my students engaged in the course while miles apart. While these may sound like really simple ideas, I’ll admit that I didn’t realize how important they were to the student experience until I had reflective conversations with many students after the Spring semester. With times of uncertainty still ahead, I plan to continue using these methods in the future.

1. Staying online after the class has ended.

This is probably the simplest of the suggestions to integrate, but really seemed to make a difference in getting the students more comfortable opening up over the computer screen. For my synchronous courses, I always ended class time by reminding the students I would stay in the virtual classroom to answer any questions or just to chat. I found that once students realized I would be sticking around for a few minutes regardless of if anyone else stayed, they were more willing to hang around and ask questions they might not have felt comfortable asking in front of other students or e-mailing me about. This also gave me another opportunity to reflect on how I was constructing my online course materials. Hearing what points students needed extra clarification on forced me to consider how topics that were ordinarily well understood in the physical classroom needed to be shifted with remote instruction.

2. Integrating video/audio into online discussion boards.

I needed to teach asynchronously for a particular course where students had concerns about internet availability and meeting other personal obligations, which came with completely different issues from my synchronous course. Posting notes in addition to pre-recorded lectures allowed me to successfully get course material across, but it was still missing the personal component that is fostered via in class discussion. The use of discussion boards where both the students and I posed questions to one another helped with that. Importantly, I asked students to record their questions/answers for the discussion board via video or audio whenever possible. Students continually reported that it was nice to actually hear and see one another even though live sessions were not possible. Moreover, they described how it was nice to laugh and share with one another, as responses did not have to be rehearsed and could closely mimic what might have happened in the physical classroom. 

3. Holding several office hours, varying in day and time.

Disclaimer: This may be harder to implement for some individuals because with COVID-19 comes a host of additional responsibilities and stresses that need to be attended to. But, if possible even for one day, I highly recommend it. The traditional times for which we hold office hours may not be feasible when we take into account the added responsibilities of needing to stay at home. So, why not hold office hours at different times that lend themselves to our new schedules? I found that holding office hours much later than I normally would resulted in many more students coming to them. Moreover, similar to my first suggestion, I made sure that students knew I’d be in the meeting room for my virtual hours regardless of if students signed up or not. Previously, I had always had an “open door policy” where students knew they could stop by my office without prior notice as long as my door was physically open. The new virtual office hours I held helped to mimic that. By having drastically different hours on different days, I tried to make sure that students could stop in whenever suited them. An important memory that stuck with me about this particular method was an instance when I was available at 7 pm on a Tuesday night. I had a student who showed up just wanting to talk, and stated, “I figured I wasn’t bothering you since you were on here anyway.”  Prior to COVID-19, she often stopped in to talk about how things were going. Through our virtual conversation, I learned that this student wasn’t seeking any help related to the class, but just wanted to talk because it helped things feel “normal” again. Even if you can’t hold a large variety of office hours, I truly think that doing something that helps mimic the ways you previously interacted with your students is so helpful during this time.

4. Holding “unofficial” hours.

This was a tip that I originally learned from a colleague, and adapted to fit my own subject matter. This colleague would host “unofficial”  hours, where she would sporadically e-mail students to let them know she would be in an online meeting room partaking in some fun activity. For example, on a random weeknight, she e-mailed students and said they could join in on her quest to make enchiladas. Several students took her up on that offer, and she used it as a time for the class to come together without any defined learning expectations. This gave her students the opportunity to connect as they would have previously, in a class that was now asynchronous during remote learning. She began to take sessions one step further, and would ask her students to describe ingredients in her cooking sessions in the context of her speech language pathology lectures. In an effort to take her advice and put my own spin on it, I began asking students to join me when I would participate in online workouts. It became a great way to have students connect with their classmates using an activity that we all had some interest in. With students in my pathophysiology course, I’d sneak in questions about how students felt after participating in a particular exercise and how this might impact the clinical populations they work with, giving me a way to reiterate what they had learned in a real-world context. 

In my experience, a large part in keeping students engaged was understanding that the human component to a course has the potential to impact student learning irrespective of how well we can pivot our course formats to meet remote instruction needs. No matter how it’s done, showing the students that you are still on the other side of that WiFi signal is an important consideration for all of us. I hope that my experience helps to identify other ways you might do this, and I’d appreciate you sharing your own ways to cultivate the student-instructor relationships via online methods.

Candace Receno is an assistant professor in the Exercise Science & Athletic Training department at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY. She earned her PhD in Science Education from Syracuse University and served as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Biological Sciences department at Le Moyne College for two years. Candace just completed her first year as an Assistant Professor at Ithaca College, where her undergraduate and graduate courses include Advanced Exercise Physiology, Cardiopulmonary Assessment for Exercise, Pathophysiology, and Foundations of Human Performance and Wellness. She also hopes to continue engaging undergraduates in research related to exercise performance in special populations.

Teaching an Integrated Human Anatomy and Physiology Course: Additional Lessons Learned and Online Course Adjustments
Jennifer Ann Stokes, PhD
Assistant Professor of Kinesiology
Southwestern University

In my previous blog post, I outlined the lessons learned in my first run teaching a year-long integrated upper-division human anatomy and physiology course. It has been about a year and a half since the original post and after having taught the course for a second time I will review and add to my list of initial lessons learned. Additionally, this spring semester brought new challenges with a very swift move to online coursework due to COVID-19, so I will also comment on the resulting course alterations. As a reminder, this course sequence (A&P I and II) is an upper-division junior and senior level course at my college and class sizes are very small (20-24 students) allowing for maximum time for interaction, questions, and instructor guidance both in lecture and lab.

First, I will review the previous lessons learned and add additional commentary based on what I learned in my second year. If you haven’t yet, I would check out the previous blog for the initial notes.

1) Use an integrative textbook.

My textbook of choice is still Physiology: An Integrated Approach by Dee U. Silverthorn. For anatomy, I continued to supplement the anatomy information, such as the specifics of the skeletal system and joints, muscles, histology, etc., through the use of models and other reference material in hands-on lab activities. One addition made in the second year was the use of AD Instrument’s Lt online learning platform.  I discuss the addition of Lt in more detail later in this post, but I think it is important to note here too since the Lt lessons directly complemented the textbook material and helped bridge the gap between lecture and lab for the students.

2) Start building and assessing students’ A&P knowledge from the ground up, and build incrementally.

Laying the foundation for the core concepts is critical to the student’s understanding, application, and mastery of the complex integrative content that this course builds. I took this foundation building more seriously the second time around and, in the end, I did not have to spend more time on the basic content but instead I provided more formative assessment opportunities. This helped the students who did not have as strong a background or understanding of the basic material to recognize that they needed additional assistance. In addition to the weekly homework assignments which were graded for completion only, I added weekly low-stake quizzes using our learning management system (LMS). At first I thought the students would dislike the extra work, but an end-of-the-year survey indicated that they appreciated the extra practice and that the quizzes helped them feel better prepared for the exams.

3) Create a detailed course outline, and then be prepared to change it.

This lesson holds true for just about any course, but I found it especially true for an integrated A&P course – even when teaching it a second time. And it is even more important when you have to switch to online delivery. In the second year, I learned to appreciate that no two cohorts of students are the same and what took the previous cohort a day to master took the next cohort up to two days in some cases. Having the “flex days” at the end of each section was crucial for concept review and content integration. These are days where no new content is introduced, but instead we review and practice together.

4) Constantly remind your students of the new course format.

I cannot emphasize this enough: students will want to revert back to what they are comfortable with and what has worked for them in the past. I constantly remind students that their “cram and forget” method will not serve them well in this course and provide them with ample opportunity to practice this both on the formative and summative assessments. In the second year I continued the individual meetings with each student after their first exam to discuss study strategies and new ways to approach this material, but I also implemented additional check-ins throughout the year particularly with those students who were struggling. I continued to remind the students that the course content not only builds throughout the entire semester but also the entire year! I hammered this point home a bit more with the addition of “retention” quizzes which were delivered unannounced throughout the year and tested major core concepts and application.

5) Solicit student feedback.

Students can be brutally honest, so use that to your advantage. A lot of the new things I added in my second year teaching this course came from the first year-student feedback. I send out my own surveys with specific questions throughout the year which the students fill out anonymously. I find that students are happy to help, especially when they can see a course alteration mid-semester which was based on their feedback.

6) Be prepared to spend a lot of time with students outside of the classroom.

Still very true, but that’s probably my favorite part of this job. Even when we switched to online course delivery the virtual office hours were busy and students took advantage of the extra review and time to ask questions. 

In this second section, I will add additional lessons learned in my second year of teaching this course and comment on the changes made when the course moved online mid-way through the second semester.  

7) Over-communication.

One of the things I am known for with my students is consistent and clear communication, probably to the point of over-communication. I also emphasize that communication is a two-way street, so just as I am constantly communicating information to them, I expect them to do the same to me, including any accommodations, sports travel, or general course questions. I model this behavior with regular use of our LMS announcement page and I use the start of each class to review important deadlines and open the floor for questions. The move to online instruction only made this over-communication even more important. Early on in the transition period I checked in often to let them know the new plan and opened discussion pages to allow them to ask questions and express any concerns. I checked in multiple times a day using the LMS announcement page, posted a “live” course schedule and tables of new homework and quiz due dates all in one central location, and I added silly memes to the discussion boards to up engagement. I also added resource pages on the basics of Zoom and how to be an online student since this was very new territory for them (and me). Looking back this was a lot of information that was constructed and disseminated very quickly, but an end-of-the-year survey indicated they appreciated the information and that it told them that I was prepared and willing to help them during the transition.

8) More assessments. More practice. More activity.

In my second year, I assigned more practice problems from the textbook to help the students prepare for the exams and held problem sessions outside of class for review. This additional time and practice was well received even when it was a greater time commitment for the students. With the move to online instruction I was thankful that I had already established a fairly homework-heavy course as these assignments became even more important. The assigned “lecture” time was switched to virtual problem solving sessions and the course moved even more toward a flipped-classroom model. Since the switch to online occurred after I had already built a pretty solid reputation with this class (about a semester and a half) they were used to reading and problem solving before class, even if that class was now online. All homework and quizzes moved online which allowed for quicker feedback to the students on their progress and, thus, more time for questions before the exams. The switch to fully online homework and quizzes I plan to keep even when the course moves back to in-person as the quick feedback for the students and less time spent hand-grading by me is worth the extra time it takes to set-up the online modules.

9) Utilization of LMS Discussion Forums.

Honestly, the use of the LMS discussion forums did not start until the course moved online, but their quick success made me question why I had not taken advantage of this tool earlier. When the course moved online I added discussion pages with titles such as “What is going on?!? General course questions.” and “What I am most nervous about with the course moving online is…” The goal was to provide an outlet for students to ask questions and share their concerns. I always started the discussion myself, giving them a sort of “jumping off” point and an example. These discussion pages were utilized by almost all members of the course and were rated very highly in the end. Students could comment any time of day enhancing the accessibility of the discussion. I will modify these to be used in my courses moving forward for both in-person and online courses.

10) Online presence for both lecture and lab.

I actually increased my A&P online presence prior to the mandatory switch to online coursework with the implementation of AD Instruments Lt learning platform in the fall semester. My students received free access to both the anatomy and physiology modules thanks to an award from the American Physiological Society. The Teaching Career Enhancement Award supported a year-long study assessing the use of the ADInstruments Lt learning platform and its interactive and immersive lessons aimed at enhancing knowledge, retention, and practical application of the integrative course content. The Lt platform was fully customized to the course material and was used both in the lecture classroom and in the lab. In the lab, students were able to interact with a data acquisition system that is more “game-like” and familiar, while still collecting high-level human physiology data. Lt also allowed for the creation of new lessons that engaged students with the use of embedded questions in multiple formats, including drag-and-drop labeling, drawing, short answers, and completion of tables. These lessons were used in many ways: for pre-lab preparation, in-lab and post-lab assessment, and for active learning activities in the classroom. Lessons were completed individually or in small groups, and questions were set up with hints, immediate feedback, multiple tries, and/or automatic grading.

These modules were also incorporated in the active-learning lecture component of the course, providing additional exposure and practice with the content. The Lt lessons directly complemented the textbook material and helped bridge the gap between lecture and lab for the students. When the course moved fully online I was incredibly thankful that Lt was already in use in my course and that the students were already comfortable and familiar with the platform. I used Lt exclusively for the online labs and supplemental lecture content for the remainder of the spring semester. Just as before, the lessons and modules were customized by me to fit my course learning objectives and prepare the students for their new online assessments. Students could complete the online coursework at their leisure and stop by the virtual office hours for help or post questions on the discussion boards for feedback. Student feedback indicated that the addition of Lt to this course enhanced accessibility of the course content, provided extra practice and exposure to the material, and overall was rated highly by the students.  

And just as I did before, now I turn the conversation over to the MANY seasoned educators who read this blog. What did you learn in your quick move to online coursework? Did you implement any new pedagogical tools which you will continue to use even with in-person instruction? Please share!

Jennifer Ann Stokes is a soon-to-be Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Southwestern University in Georgetown, TX, after spending the last three years at Centenary College of Louisiana. Jennifer received her PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and following a Postdoctoral Fellowship in respiratory physiology at UCSD, Jennifer spent a year at Beloit College (Beloit, WI) as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology to expand her teaching background and pursue a teaching career at a primarily undergraduate institution. Jennifer’s courses include Human Anatomy and Physiology (using an integrative approach), Nutritional Physiology, Exercise Physiology, Medical Terminology, and Psychopharmacology. Jennifer is also actively engaged with undergraduates in basic science research ( and in her free time enjoys cycling, hiking, and yoga.