Monthly Archives: October 2022

Incorporating Conference-Based Assignments into Coursework

Attending professional conferences is an excellent opportunity for students to network, learn, and gain a greater understanding of how science works. Undergraduate students often attend conferences because they are presenting their work; however, attendance at professional conferences even if not presenting can open a variety of opportunities for students (Gopalan et al., 2018). Potential benefits of participation include content knowledge or application gains, exposure to different ideas, better understanding of how different areas of a field integrate, networking building, career exploration, and practice with professional interactions.

 

Prior to attending the conference, instructors should consider preparing students for attendance. Instructors should explain the purpose of professional conferences, highlighting the importance of the exchange of ideas and building professional networks. First time undergraduate attendees, especially, may be unsure of what to expect and how to interact with others professionally. Just as faculty mentors would practice with student presenters, practicing with and mentoring non-presenting student attendees can optimize the student conference experience. Holding a pre-conference information session with students will help them be prepared and make the most of their experience. Informational session topics can include: how to ask questions, talking to poster presenters, what to expect from grad school admissions tables, how to earn continuing education credits, developing or revising a resume to have on hand, identifying presenters in attendance to connect with, and creating a conference schedule. Additionally, instructors can help students create and practice an “elevator pitch” to describe their work and professional goals (Das & Spring, 2022). Das and Spring (2022) recommend students set goals for the conference in advance so their time at the meeting is intentional. In addition to pre-conference instruction and conference-based assignments, a general follow up with students after the conference can provide insight into what students learned, what challenges they encountered, and what they found interesting. Student insight can be helpful in planning for future meetings.

 

Incorporating conference attendance into a course can significantly add to the student course experience. Using conferences to augment a course is a great opportunity to help students integrate course content with development of professional and communication skills. What follows is a list of potential assignments instructors might consider to encourage student participation in conferences. Many of the suggestions below would work well for in person or virtual conferences. The assignments can be implemented for any type of conference; however, encouraging students to attend smaller, regional conferences first is an excellent way to prepare them for larger, national and international conferences. Conference- based assignments could be evaluated for credit, extra credit, or as an additional demonstration of engagement or understanding.

 

 

  1. Make a spotlight box, similar to one you would find in your textbook, about one of the conference presentations. Include background context, important points from the speaker’s talk, and practical applications. Add relevant figures or graphs from other research papers or the speaker’s presentation to frame the spotlight and make it visually appealing to the reader. Be sure to cite your sources.
  2. Make a short YouTube video that summarizes the general topic presented by one speaker. After summarizing the broader content area, highlight information from the speaker’s presentation. Feel free to be creative- present it as a news story or host a debate with fellow classmates! (Heffernan, 2020)
  3. Design a proposal for a talk for next year’s meeting. Choose an area of exercise science you are interested in learning more about. Describe 3-5 learning objectives of the presentation and identify 3 experts in the field who would serve as your speakers. (Heffernan, 2020)
  4. Tell a young child about what you learned at the conference. Choose one of the keynote speakers’ presentations and make a short children’s story about the topic. Make the content fun and easy to understand. Include illustrations which help kids visualize the ideas you present.
  5. Watch/read 3 poster presentations. For each one, summarize the presentation. What are the strengths and limitations of each study? What would you do differently if you were the researcher? Why? What would your next study be and why? (Heffernan, 2020)
  6. Take visual notes on one of the presentations you watch. Your goal is to make your notes about the content visually appealing and make connections between ideas. Because you are connecting ideas, the notes do not need to be in top to bottom order, but organized according to themes. Include questions asked by the audience members and the speaker responses in your notes. (Google “visual note taking” for some cool ideas and pictures).
  7. Write a 2 page scientific summary of a presentation, locate 2-3 peer reviewed resources (preferably by the speaker) related to the talk and infuse them into the summary. (Heffernan, 2020)
  8. Make an infographic (Try programs like Canva, for example) about one of the presentations- include the main points, supporting evidence, conclusions, and practical applications. Be sure the infographic includes figures, is easy to read, and is visually appealing.
  9. Write a poem or song about one of the presentations. For example, write a series of haiku or use a rhyming scheme in a poem. Put your own song lyrics about the talk or content area to the music of another song or use refrains/verses to your own lyrics. For example: “you’re a vein” to “You’re so vain”.
  10. Create a movie trailer (iMovie works great and has pre-made templates) about one of the talks. Use open access videos and pictures from the internet in the movie or make your own with 2-3 classmates (groups of 4 or less). Include info about the presentation as if you were publicizing the talk. Be sure to include the main ideas or conclusions and relevant contextual information.
  11. Ask one or more of the speakers about their career path(s). Write up a 1-page summary of their responses to the following questions. How did they get to where they are? Did their path change and how? Did their interests change as they moved through their careers and if so, why? Was it different or the same as what they expected at your stage in your career? Why is it important to recognize our paths might take different directions than expected?
  12. Create a “BINGO” style card or scavenger hunt to encourage students to communicate with people or investigate different aspects of the conference. (Gopalan et al., 2018)
  13. Use twitter to react to the presentation. Tweet key points from the talk. Tag the speaker or use the conference hashtags in your tweet. (Heffernan, 2020)
  14. Write a short reflection, 1-2 pages, on what you learned about HOW science works. You may want to think about the following: What is the purpose of a conference like the one you attended? How do different presentation types advance research in the field or clinical practice? Why is dissemination of research important?
  15. After learning about different areas of research, what might you be interested in researching? What new ideas were sparked for you from the presentations you attended?

Professional conference attendance is an important opportunity for presenting and non-presenting students. Conference attendance can easily be integrated into various courses from introductory level courses which may encourage students to develop research later in their college careers to upper-level students who may be interested in building professional networks for graduate or professional school. Conference-based assignments are useful ways for instructors to integrate course content, professional development, and conference attendance into their courses.

References

Das, B., & Spring, K. (2022, September 22). 11 Tips for Instructors Bringing Students to ACSM Regional Chapter Meetings. ACSM_CMS. https://www.acsm.org/home/featured-blogs—homepage

Gopalan, C., Halpin, P. A., & Johnson, K. M. S. (2018). Benefits and logistics of nonpresenting undergraduate students attending a professional scientific meeting. Advances in Physiology Education, 42(1), 68–74. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00091.2017

Heffernan, K. (2020). MARC in the Classroom. https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/regional-chapter-individual-folders/mid-atlantic/marc-acsm_integrating-into-classroom.pdf?sfvrsn=503ff16e_0

Dr. Mary Stenson earned her B.S. in Biology from Niagara University and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from Springfield College. She is an Associate Professor of Exercise and Rehabilitation Science at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Dr. Stenson teaches exercise physiology, metabolism, and nutrition. Her research focuses on recovery from exercise and improving the health of college students. Dr. Stenson mentors undergraduate research students each year and considers teaching and mentoring the most important and fulfilling parts of her work.
Dramatization: The Marriage of Theater and the Teaching of Physiology

This blog tells a little bit of my personal history as an educator: from a typical boring lecturer to an extroverted educator who has tons of fun playing drama in the classroom with students.

But first let me wonder: wouldn’t it be great if we teach, and our students learned well and far beyond the exams?

What to do when students’ attendance is not required, like most medical schools, and regardless of the time we spend preparing the session only a few students attend it. Or when attendance is required, like in many undergraduate courses, students struggle and only learn enough to pass the exam. Many of us experience frustration.

It is not fun when we invest so much time in preparing to teach, but the students are overwhelmed with too much content, become so consumed with the exams, and end up relying on memorization that many times only works until the exams.

This was especially true in my early experience with teaching. I was a very traditional lecturer with a clear teacher-centered mind. One year I had to substitute for a colleague and taught the pre-requisite course (cell biology) to my class (physiology). I enjoyed teaching them and the students did well with 100% approval.

When I met the same class in the subsequent semester, I started by telling them that the physiology course would be much easier since I knew that they were taught (by me!) all they needed to know in the pre-requisite course. My naïve belief was that because they were taught, the students would have learned and would not have forgotten. I was confident they were all ready to dig deep into physiology. To my dismay and complete frustration, I realized the students did not remember what I taught them when I had them in my class just a few months before. I started doubting my abilities as a teacher and blamed myself for passing those students. I oscillated between feeling depressed and ashamed.

Who in heaven let me teach them!!!

I guess due to my scientific training, I looked for help in the literature and discovered the journal Advances in Physiology Education. Reading papers about research in education, I realized that something was wrong with the method of teaching most of us use. Lecturing and pushing a massive amount of information at the students makes it difficult for them to learn and remember. I wasn’t the only professor whose students didn’t remember what was taught. Richardson (1) showed that naïve students without prior physiology instruction scored the same as students who had learned physiology before.

All students benefit from some fun in their classroom. When we smile, nerves send signals to the brain, releasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin into the bloodstream. Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter in the regulation of motivational processes. It drives us to achieve goals.

Thanks to Advances, the readings opened my mind to explore all forms of learning and teaching – visual, audiovisual, reading, and kinesthetic. Back in 2002, at Unigranrio Medical School in Brazil, the students would come to me struggling to understand action potential and cardiac cycle. The next thing I saw was, that I get them to lift their arms to demonstrate depolarization and step forward to contract the cardiac muscle cell. All of this would happen spontaneously in the corridors and university halls with me telling them to imagine “the depolarization goes from cell to cell, and the electrical signal precedes the mechanical event”. Then with the help of very dear students, DRAMATIZATION was born as a method of teaching that is fun for the students (and teachers) and allows students to better learn new and complicated concepts.

Learning must be fun (2), and we teachers should love teaching. To enjoy teaching we need to create an exciting and relaxed environment for our students. Dramatization is the perfect way to teach while having fun in the classroom. Each participant acts as a cell/structure, and the entire group mimics the organ/system. In this very interactive and engaging activity, every mistake is a learning opportunity (3).

I have been having an extremely positive experience with Dramatization while doing it for two decades. From my first student in 2002, who contacted me years later, to tell me he became a cardiologist due to having fun with cardiac cycle dramatization, from physiology educators who attended my workshop (4) in 2017 at IUPS in Buzios (Brazil), to ITL this year in Madison, WI just to cite a few. Every time I teach other faculty how to do Dramatization, it is a rewarding experience that fills me with the hope that I am contributing as an educator to a better physiology education for a broad learner community.

Art in general is part of our lives, and theater can and should be used for the training of future health professionals. When we think about theater and science education, an aspect that must be considered is the importance of interpersonal relationships between teachers and students. A good interpersonal relationship can contribute as another motivating factor for the fixation on knowledge. A relaxed atmosphere in which humor is present brings the parties involved in the learning process closer together, thus creating an even more favorable space for the process of acquiring knowledge at the same time as creating a moment of relaxation from the usual state of tension experienced by our students. The students might forget what you said, but they will remember what they did.

When students experience this innovative learning modality, it not only promotes retention of information, but it also stimulates a highly engaged class participation. Such an environment favors bonds among classmates and reinforces interrelational intelligence, an invaluable skill for the work of health professionals.

When I first published dramatization, I not even use this name (5).  Then I presented it for medical students at VTCSOM, and one of my students got inspired and developed his own dramatization of the Starling forces (6). Also, very rewarding is to see faculty who attended my workshop, get to develop, and publish their own original dramatizations (7).

I hope you are inspired to try something new in your classroom. If you need data to be convinced how well Dramatization works, the graphs below show the scores of a class of VTCSOM 1st year medical students before doing it (pre-test); for the students who watched it but elected not to actively participate in it (post don’t act); and the students who acted in it (post drama). In summary, simply watching peers doing dramatization already helps to learn, but when the student actively participate in it, they learned even more.

 

 

Next blog I will tell you all about an exciting new project: DramaZoom (8, 9). The lockdown during COVID stimulated us to develop dramatization via Zoom. In collaboration with two physiologists who participated in my workshops before, Patricia Halpin and Elke
Scholz-Morris, we created videos that use dramatization to teach online. Also, Daniel Contaifer Jr designed the background, and Rosa de Carvalho taught us how to do the mimics and facial expressions in DramaZoom.

So, if you want more information on how to bring drama to the classroom, please contact us and let us know how it goes. Finally, if you publish it please cite us, and let’s spread the fun!

Happy teaching

helena@vt.edu

References:

  1. Richardson DR. Comparison of naive and experienced students of elementary physiology on performance in an advanced course. Adv Physiol Educ. 2000 Jun;23(1):91-5. doi: 10.1152/advances.2000.23.1.S91. PMID: 10902532.
  2. DiCarlo SE. Too much content, not enough thinking, and too little fun! Adv Physiol Educ. 2009 Dec;33(4):257-64. doi: 10.1152/advan.00075.2009. PMID: 19948670.
  3. Carvalho, H., McCandless, M. J., 23rd Annual IAMSE meeting, “Dramatization Promotes Learning and Engages Students,” IAMSE, Roanoke (June 11, 2019).
  4. Carvalho, H., IUPS & ADInstruments Teaching Workshop, “The Use of Dramatization to Teach Physiology,” IUPS, Armação de Buzios – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (August 7, 2017). Additional Information: Start Date: August 2017.
  5. Carvalho H. A group dynamic activity for learning the cardiac cycle and action potential. Adv Physiol Educ. 2011 Sep;35(3):312-3. doi: 10.1152/advan.00128.2010. PMID: 21908842.
  6. Connor, B., Carvalho, H. (2019, August). Using dramatization to teach Starling Forces in the microcirculation for first year medical students. 2019;15:10842.https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.10842.
  7. Halpin PA, Gopalan C. Using dramatizations to teach cell signaling enhances learning and improves students’ confidence in the concept. Adv Physiol Educ. 2021 Mar 1;45(1):89-94. doi: 10.1152/advan.00177.2020. PMID: 33529141.
  8. Carvalho H, Halpin PA, Scholz-Morris E (2022). Dramatization via Zoom to Teach Complex Concepts in Physiology FASEBJ 36:S1. https://doi.org/10.1096/fasebj.2022.36.S1.R2956
  9. Carvalho H, Halpin P, Scholtz-Morris E and de Carvalho R (October 28, 2021). Can We Teach Using Dramatization via Zoom? Teach Excellence Academy for Collaborative Healthcare, Teach Education Day Poster Presentations via zoom. Virginia Tech Carillion School of Medicine.
Helena Carvalho is an educator with more than 20 years of experience. She is an associate professor at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, Block Director for basic sciences, a PBL facilitator, and teaches several areas in human physiology for medical and Ph.D. students. The main focus of her educational research is to develop innovative teaching methodologies such as Dramatization, DramaZoom, and Manipulatives. She also enjoys outreach and has been sharing excitement about physiology with all levels of education including middle and high school.

 

Rosa de Carvalho is a theater/drama director, actress and teaches mimicking and acting to children and adults for 25 years.  She has specialization in psych pedagogy and has used her talents to empower low-income communities in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). Her has an incredibly creative mind and uses theater to improve all levels of education and human relationship. Her contribution to education span from elementary school to college level.