Author Archives: Lisa Carney Anderson

What is the Physiology-Majors Interest Group (P-MIG)? Who are we?

Lisa Carney Anderson, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

Unlike other disciplines who have a national society that manages undergraduate curriculum guidelines, Bachelor’s degree programs in Physiology, which largely serve pre-health students, do not.  Therefore, a grassroots consortium of dedicated educators self-organized to support the development of curricular guidelines for physiology and related undergraduate programs worldwide. P-MIG’s mission is to enhance the success of physiology students/majors on a programmatic level.  We are working to achieve this goal by collecting data from physiology faculty, physiology students, advisers and conference attendees and holding conferences for peer BS/BA programs in physiology and related fields. The goals are to share ideas and resources among programs, to develop and share tools for program evaluation, and ultimately to work toward curricular guidelines and support new program development.

Our group started with concerned educators asking about physiology students who were not finding successful careers after graduation.   Beginning in 2012, these individuals started coming together, collecting data about physiology programs and presenting their findings at physiology conferences.  Today we have a website (https://www.physiologymajors.org/), a list-serve of over 218 physiology educators, an NSF grant submitted (Wehrwein, Aquilar-Roca, Crecelius, McFarland, Rogers) and have just held our 3rd annual meeting.

The Integrative Biology and Physiology (IBP) Department at the University of Minnesota hosted the 3rd Annual meeting of the P-MIG from June 18 -20th

The meeting started on Tuesday evening, June 18, 2019 with a poster session on physiology education including topics such as program organization, learning progression of physiology concepts, active learning activities within physiology courses, surveys of physiology curricula, surveys of physiology students and teaching interventions for helping students.

On Wednesday, June 19th, our group spent a full day engaging in presentations and discussions. Dr.  Joseph Metzger, Chair of IBP, and Dr. Lisa Carney Anderson, Director of Education in IBP, welcomed our 51 attendees to campus.  Our conference consisted of representatives of 17 states and 3 countries (USA, Canada and Portugal). 50% were new attendees! The University of Minnesota has a state of the art active learning classroom building which provided an innovative setting for our conference.

Dr. Erica Wehrwein, P-MIG Director, set the scene by presenting the history of P-MIG and gave an overview of the extensive data collection P-MIG members have done. Data collection and analysis is an essential part of guiding the future actions of P-MIG.

Preparing Physiology students for a meaningful career

Dr. Laurence Savett, Author of the Human Side of Medicine, gave a talk entitled Preparing physiology students for a meaningful career: the role of the teacher/adviser.  Dr. Savett pointed to the similarities between the doctor-patient relationship and the teacher-student relationship.  Through stories and his experience, he shared many pearls of wisdom about 1) developing a relationship with advisees, 2) helping advisees see how school/work experiences are transferable to many professions, 3) considering the past experience of the student in tailoring advice, 4) listening without interrupting  the listening, 5) looking at a situation from different perspectives, 6) encouraging advisees to reflect on lessons learned, 7)  recognizing that advisers can learn from their students, 8) helping advisees to open up and finally 9) viewing academic problems as a presenting complaint with differential diagnoses. 

Good advising leads to good outcomes.

Dr. Anne Crecelius & Dr. Patrick Crosswhite led a session on advising.   First, good advising practices are supported by professional organizations such as National Academic Advising Association (NACASA) and National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAANP). Furthermore, useful data can be derived from online application services and web resources such as http://explorehealthcareers.org/.  They also shared the perspective that career advice has to wait if students are experiencing financial and health distress. 

Dr. Crosswhite presented survey data from 31 institutions.  Many advisors are working with a lot of students, sometimes with very little training and experience. Student passivity and scarce resources (time and money) exert challenges to advising.  P-MIG could have an important role in addressing advising gaps and barriers.

After the advising session, conference participants divided into discussion groups to discuss advising programs of different sizes and types of advising offices (centralized, de-centralized, informal).  The analysis of the discussions are ongoing.

Mindfulness and Physiology

Dr. Aviad Haramati, Professor in Integrative Physiology and Director of the Center for Innovation and Leadership in Education (CENTILE; https://centile.georgetown.edu/) gave an inspiring talk entitled Managing stress in the curriculum and the culture: the unique opportunity for physiologists.  He presented the metaphor of a fish tank filled with beautiful tropical fish.  He asked the group to imagine that half the fish were sick.  Would we conclude there is something intrinsically wrong with the fish or would we conclude there is something extrinsically wrong with their environment?  We would think something is wrong with the tank!  Why, then, do we not recognize that the stress of our students is due to their environment rather than the students themselves?

Physiologists are equipped to support the biological basis of mindfulness and stress management, according to Dr. Haramati.  Stress activates the hypothalamic – pituitary – adrenal axis.  With acute stress, the body returns to baseline.  With chronic stress or multiple stressful events in succession, cortisol levels remain elevated and then the individual is less able to mount a response over time.  Mindfulness training is essential for enabling individuals to return to baseline and developing resilience in the face of stress.  As faculty, we must address mindfulness in the curriculum and model good stress management for the sake of our work and the sake of our students.

Professional Skills Development is as important as Teaching Physiology Content

The professional skills working group has been developing and revising a list of skills that our physiology graduates should hone during their undergraduate programs.  From their work, a baccalaureate prepared physiology major should be able to think critically, communicate effectively, behave in a socially responsible manner and demonstrate laboratory proficiency.  Dr. Michelle French, Dr. Julia Choate and Dr. Randy Bryner crafted an inventory with several examples/descriptors of each main category.  The attendees broke into small groups for discussion of the skills listed in the inventory.

Themes from the discussion centered on the following:

  • Mastery versus familiarity.  There are some skills that we may expect our students to master and other skills we would expect our students to be familiar with.  Mastery versus familiarity might vary from program to program depending on the program goals and department facilities.  PMIG might suggest an inventory of skills and departments could choose which are relevant, doable and measurable for their program.
  • What kinds of lab skills?  Hands on data collection experience is important so that students can understand the essentials of keeping a lab notebook, documenting their work, measurement and error, and ethical interpretation of data. Is there a set of lab skills our students need so they can be employed by academic or industry labs?
  • Reading and analysis of the primary literature.  Should undergraduates be familiar with reading primary literature whereas mastery would come in graduate school?  What are ways we can hold our students accountable when we assign primary literature readings?
  • Assessment.  We can directly measure student’s ability to write and evaluating data by assigning projects in which they perform these skills. There are two aspects of assessment: how students are performing in the classroom and the success of the program in teaching professional skills.  There are validated tools that measure some of the “soft skills” such as empathy, teamwork, and self-efficacy.

Attendees provided written feedback on the paper copies of skill inventories and the professional skill group will revise the inventory based on the feedback.  P-MIG will invite feedback from recent graduates and disseminate the results in journals, faculty meetings and future conference presentations.

The Future of Physiology Panel Discussion

Dr. Luis Rodrigues, Professor and Chair of Human Physiology and Pathophysiology at Universidade Lusófona, led a panel discussion with about 20 of the conference attendees (Chairs, researchers, consultants and educators) regarding the future of physiology.  Dr. Rodrigues is gathering data for a global strategic plan for the discovery and dissemination of physiology knowledge.  A list of panel questions can be found on the P-MIG meeting site (https://www.physiologymajors.org/2019-info). We look forward to reports of his research at future P-MIG meetings.

What are the Core Concepts, how should we use and assess them?

Dr. Claudia Stanescu presented the history of the Core Concepts of Physiology. Physiology core concepts were identified from surveys of physiology faculty at 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges & universities and medical or other professional schools.  The development and unpacking of core concepts has been published in Advances in Physiology Education and captured in The Core Concepts of Physiology: A new paradigm for teaching physiology by Michael, Cliff, McFarland, Modell, and Wright.   The core concepts include: causality, cell-cell communication, cell membrane, cell theory, energy, evolution, flow down gradients, genes to proteins, homeostasis, interdependence, levels of organization, mass balance, physics/chemistry, scientific reasoning and structure/function.  The physiology core concepts are not meant to define the science of physiology, rather they are concepts to guide the 1) teaching of a physiology course, 2) offering of a physiology curriculum or 3) learning by a physiology student.  Data collection from 6 physiology programs thus far suggest that different programs stress different core concepts.  The objective is not for all programs to be the same; the objective is for there to be tools and resources for programs to use core concepts in a way that makes sense to their students.

The Core Concepts working group has been collecting data on the perceptions and use of the core concepts through faculty, program, and student surveys.  This group has developed a framework for using the core concepts in national guidelines.  Dr. Chris Shaltry is developing and testing curricular mapping software to identify gaps and content overlap; Dr. Shaltry presented his work via videoconferencing.  The goal is to better understand our physiology programs and provide evidence that student achievement can be tracked and compared to standards that align with course and programmatic objectives.

Dr. Jennifer Rogers presented data from the student survey.  Several issues from the data stand out.  First, 60% of student respondents have taken course work at community colleges; transferring coursework presents challenges in terms of assessing if and when students have met programmatic outcomes.  Second, student respondents plan to engage in 3 or more experiential learning activities such as job shadowing, volunteering, internships, employment, research, service-based learning or study abroad experiences; P-MIG may be a resource for educating students and programs about experiential learning as students complete their degrees or take gap years.  In this sample, 17 to 29% of the respondents report that they have mastered each of the core concepts, think they are important for their future careers and expect to remember the concepts in 5 years, though there was not a large difference between the core concepts.  Of the 15 core concepts, homeostasis scores the highest, which is consistent with faculty and program rankings which also stress homeostasis. 

The Core Concepts working group is a larger group and discussions after the presentation led to the proposal that the group be split into two subcommittees: one for implementing core concept based teaching in the classroom and a second for curricular mapping and assessment of the core concepts.

University of Minnesota Career Readiness Team: A Model Curriculum for Teaching and Assessing Career Readiness Skills

The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) at the University of Minnesota has 32 departments, 14000 undergraduate students and 69 majors.  CLA invested in a career readiness curriculum because the CLA faculty want desirable graduates who can articulate the value of their degrees.  The focus of the curriculum is to help students translate their educational experience into a language that others, particularly employers, can understand. Development of the curriculum is explained in the U of MN’s curricular guide which can be found at the P-MIG 2019 meeting site. 

Administrators and advisers use various levels of communication to tell students about career readiness and explain the use of an online RATE tool (reflect, articulate, translate, and evaluate).  Students can use online exercises to reflect upon their college experiences, articulate the value of the experience, translate the experience to a professional skill, and evaluate their own progress toward professional skill mastery.  However, students need an incentive to use the tool. Given that faculty have the most contact with students, use of the RATE assessment activities and career readiness outcomes should be embedded in course work. Currently the readiness team is working to help faculty and departments integrate the career readiness tools and assessments into CLA programs.  Faculty can become Career Readiness Teaching Fellows to help other faculty incorporate career readiness into their programs.

WOW what a meeting!

P-MIG brings together many groups and people. This conference allows us to talk about our issues. The grassroots nature of P-MIG speaks to the need and desire for this community.

Questions that often come up:

Are you forming a new society?  No, our group cuts across already established societies such as The American Physiological Society (APS), Association of Chairs of Departments of Physiology (ACDP), Human Anatomy and Physiology Society (HAPS), Society for the Advancement of Biology Education Research (SABER), and others.  We are not a competing society; we are simply a grassroots collective of undergraduate physiology educators creating a space for ideas and innovation.

Why don’t you join your meeting with another conference?  We have given this a lot thought and discussion.  Many of our educators may be teaching during the meeting time of other conferences.  Those that attend other conferences may have students with them.  It really feels right to us that we should find a time when our members can attend when their teaching loads are not as high and they are not supervising students.  We are making a concerted effort to provide opportunities for teachers who may have limited travel funds.  If our group reaches a consensus that joining another conference is the right thing to do, then we will join another conference.

How is P-MIG different than HAPS?  One of our conference attendees who is a member of HAPS, said it best. “I love HAPS!  When I want to learn about what is going on in the classroom, I go to HAPS.  When I want to know what is happening on the program level, I look to P-MIG.”

Will you share your data? Yes!  The data we have collected is freely available to anyone who asks by contacting Erica Wehrwein (wehrwei7@msu.edu) or by visiting the website to listen to recordings of the presentations from all 3 conferences.

Come Join Us!

The 4th annual meeting will be held at the University of Oregon in Eugene Oregon, July 11-13, 2020.  Opportunities abound!

Lisa Carney Anderson Biography

Lisa Carney Anderson is an Associate Professor 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 governance as Secretary.

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking

 

A few mornings ago, I was listening to a television commercial as I got ready for work.  “What is critical thinking worth?” said a very important announcer.  “A whole lot” I thought to myself.

But what exactly is critical thinking?  A Google search brings up a dictionary definition.  Critical thinking is “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue to form a judgement.”  The example sentence accompanying this definition is “professors often find it difficult to encourage critical thinking among their students.” WOW, took the words right out of my mouth!

Have any of you had the following conversation? “Dr. A, I studied and studied for this exam and I still got a bad grade.  I know the material, I just can’t take your tests!”  The student in question has worked hard. He or she has read the course notes over and over, an activity that has perhaps been rewarded with success in the past.  Unfortunately re-reading notes and textbooks over and over is the most common and least successful strategy for studying (4).

In my opinion, as someone who has been teaching physiology for over 20 years, physiology is not a discipline that can be memorized.  Instead, it is a way of thinking and a discipline that has to be understood.

Over the years, my teaching colleague of many years, Sue Keirstead, and I found ourselves during office hours trying repeatedly to explain to students what we meant by thinking critically about physiology.  We asked the same probing questions and drew the same diagrams over and over.  We had the opportunity to formalize our approach in a workbook called Cells to Systems Physiology: Critical Thinking Exercises in Physiology (2).  We took the tough concepts students brought to office hours and crafted questions to help the students work their way through these concepts.

Students who perform well in our courses make use of the workbook and report in student evaluations that they find the exercises helpful. But we still have students who struggle with the critical thinking exercises and the course exams.  According to the comments from student evaluations, students who struggled with the exercises report they found the questions too open ended.  Furthermore, many of the answers cannot be pulled directly from their textbook, or at least not in the format they expect the answer to be in, and students report finding this frustrating.  For example, the text may discuss renal absorption and renal secretion in general and then the critical thinking exercises asks the student to synthesize all the processes occurring in the proximal tubule.  The information is the same but the organization is different.  Turns out, this is a difficult process for our students to work through.

We use our critical thinking exercise as a type of formative assessment, a low stakes assignment that evaluates the learning process as it is occurring.  We also use multiple choice exams as summative assessments, high stakes assessments that evaluate learning after it has occurred.  We use this format because our physiology course enrollment averages about 300 students and multiple choice exams are the most efficient way to assess the class.  We allow students to keep the exam questions and we provide a key a couple of days after the exam is given.

When a student comes to see me after having “blown” an exam, I typically ask him or her to go through the exam, question by question.  I encourage them to try to identify how they were thinking when they worked through the question.  This can be a very useful diagnostic.  Ambrose and colleagues have formalized this process as a handout called an exam wrapper (1).  Hopefully, by analyzing their exam performance, the student may discover a pattern of errors that they can address before the next exam.  Consider some of the following scenarios:

Zach discovers that he was so worried about running out of time that he did not read the questions carefully.  Some of the questions reminded him of questions from the online quizzes.  He did know the material but he wasn’t clear on what the question was asking.

This is a testing issue. Zach, of course, should slow down.  He should underline key words in the question stem or draw a diagram to make sure he is clear on what the question is asking.

Sarah discovers that she didn’t know the material as well as she thought she did, a problem that is called the illusion of knowing (3). Sarah needs to re-evaluate the way she is studying.  If Sarah is cramming right before the exam, she should spread out her studying along with her other subjects, a strategy called interleaving (3).  If she is repeatedly reading her notes, she should put her notes away, get out a blank piece of paper and write down what she remembers to get a gauge of her knowledge, a process called retrieval (3).  If she is using flash cards for vocabulary, she should write out learning objectives in her own words, a process called elaboration (3).

Terry looks over the exam and says, “I don’t know what I was thinking.  I saw something about troponin and I picked it.  This really frustrates me. I study and study and don’t get the grade I want.  I come to lecture and do all the exercises. I don’t know what else to do.” It is a challenge to help this student.  She is not engaging in any metacognition and I don’t claim to have any magic answers to help this student.  I still want to try to help her.

I feel very strongly that students need to reflect on what they are learning in class, on what they read in their texts, and on the activities performed in lab (3).  I have been working on a project in one of my physiology courses in which I have students take quizzes and exams as a group and discuss the answers collaboratively.  Then I have them write about what they were thinking as they approached the question individually and what they discussed in their group.  I am hoping to learn some things about how students develop critical thinking skills.  I hope I can share what I learn in a future blog posting.

  1. Ambrose SA, Bridges MW, DiPietro M, Lovett M, Norman MK. How Learning Works: 7 Research Based Points for Teaching. San Francisco CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010.
  2. Anderson LC, Keirstead SA. Cells to Systems: Critical Thinking Exercises in Physiology (3rd ed). Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Press, 2011.
  3. Brown PC, Roediger HL, McDaniel MA. Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014
  4. Callender AA, McDaniel, MA. The limited benefits of rereading educational text, Contemporary Educational Psychology 34:30-41, 2009. Retrieved from http://ac.els-cdn.com/S0361476X08000477/1-s2.0-S0361476X08000477-main.pdf?_tid=22610e88-61b4-11e7-8e86-00000aacb35e&acdnat=1499281376_e000fa54fe77e7d1a1d24715be4bbf50 , June 22, 2016.

 

 Lisa Carney Anderson, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology at the University of Minnesota. She completed training in muscle physiology at the University of Minnesota. She collaborates with colleagues in the School of Nursing on clinical research projects such as the perioperative care of patients with Parkinson’s disease and assessment of patients with spasticity. She directs a large undergraduate physiology course for pre-allied health students.  She also teaches nurse anesthesia students, dental students and medical students.  She is the 2012 recipient of the Didactic Instructor of the Year Award from the American Association of Nurse Anesthesia.  She is a co-author of a physiology workbook called Cells to Systems: Critical thinking exercises in Physiology, Kendall Hunt Press. Dr. Anderson’s teaching interests include teaching with technology, encouraging active learning and assessment of student reflection.