Inimary Toby-Ogundeji, PhD Assistant Professor University of Dallas
The use of JupyterLab notebook provides a user-friendly method for learning data analysis. It is easy to work with and also provides a variety of datasets for direct use and case study data discussions. One example follow-up task that can be used to extend this data analysis activity is performing logistic regression. An example approach using Firth’s logistic regression method is provided here (https://bit.ly/31gb7vG). JupyterLab provides a temporary workspace to accomplish basic tasks in R. One consideration is that it doesn’t maintain the user’s data and/or work once they close the browser. Analysis performed in JupyterLab cannot be saved to the virtual platform, however files from the work session can be exported out and saved externally. For users wanting to have the capabilities of saving work sessions and transferring between JupyterLab sessions in a streamlined manner, they can establish a freely available account.
The activity described in this article highlight a user-friendly method to learn some basic data analysis skills. It is ideal for students with little to no experience in Biostatistics, Bioinformatics or Data Science. The article provides an opportunity for students to reflect and practice analysis of data collected from biological experiments within an online learning environment. The activity is suitable for an instructor led session (using an app with screen sharing capabilities). This article provides basic knowledge about how to use R for simple data analysis using the JupyterLab virtual notebook platform.
The goal of this activity is to familiarize the user with the basic steps for importing a data file, retrieval of file contents and generating a histogram using R within a JupyterLab environment. The workflow steps to accomplish these tasks are outlined below:
Perform summary statistics
Workflow Step-by-Step instructions and screenshots from JupyterLab
Dr. Toby holds a PhD in Biomedical Sciences (specialization in Organ Systems Biology) from Ohio State University, College of Medicine. Her postdoctoral training was in Functional Genomics at the FAA-Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Biology at University of Dallas. She teaches several courses including: Human Biology, Bioinformatics and Biostatistics. She enjoys mentoring undergraduate students and is an active member of The APS. Dr. Toby’s research program at UD is focused on cell signaling consequences that occur at the cellular/molecular interface of lung diseases. She is also leveraging the use of computational methods to assess immune sequencing and other types of high throughput sequencing data as a means to better understand lung diseases.
Mari K. Hopper, PhD Associate Dean for Biomedical Science Sam Houston State University College of Osteopathic Medicine
Disruption sparks creativity and innovation. For example, in hopes of curbing viral spread by moving classroom instruction outdoors, one Texas University recently purchased “circus tents” to use as temporary outdoor classrooms.
Although circus tents may be a creative solution… solving one problem may inadvertently create another. Moving events outdoors may be effective in reducing viral spread, but it also increases the skin’s exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The skin, our body’s largest organ by weight, is vulnerable to injury. For the skin to remain effective in its role of protecting us from pollutants, microbes, and excessive fluid loss – we must protect it.
It is well known that UV radiation, including UVA and UVB, has deleterious effects including sunburn, premature wrinkling and age spots, and most importantly an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Although most of the solar radiation passing through the earth’s atmosphere is UVA, both UVA and UVB cause damage. This damage includes disruption of DNA resulting in the formation of dimers and generation of a DNA repair response. This response may include apoptosis of cells and the release of a number of inflammatory markers such as prostaglandins, histamine, reactive oxygen species, and bradykinin. This classic inflammatory response promotes vasodilation, edema, and the red, hot, and painful condition we refer to as “sun burn.”1,2
Prevention of sunburn is relatively easy and inexpensive. Best practice is to apply broad spectrum sunscreen (blocks both UVA and UVB) 30 minutes before exposure, and reapply every 90 minutes. Most dermatologists recommend using SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Generally speaking, an SPF of 30 will prevent redness for approximately 30 times longer than without the sunscreen. An important point is that the sunscreen must be reapplied to maintain its protection.
There are two basic formulations for sunscreen: chemical and physical. Chemical formulations are designed to be easier to rub into the skin. Chemical sunscreens act similar to a sponge as they “absorb” UV radiation and initiate a chemical reaction which transforms energy from UV rays into heat. Heat generated is then released from the skin.3 This type of sunscreen product typically contains one or more of the following active ingredient organic compounds: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Physical sunscreens work by acting as a shield. This type of sunscreen sits on the surface of the skin and deflects the UV rays. Active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide act in this way.4 It’s interesting to note that some sunscreens include an expiration date – and others do not. It is reassuring that the FDA requires sunscreen to retain their original “strength” for three or more years.
In addition to sunscreen, clothing is effective in blocking UV skin exposure. Darker fabrics with denser weaves are effective, and so too are today’s specially designed fabrics. These special fabrics are tested in the laboratory to determine the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) which is similar to SPF for sunscreen. A fabric must carry a UPF rating of at least 30 to qualify for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. A UPF of 50 allows just 1/50th of the UV rays to penetrate (effectively blocking 98%). Some articles of clothing are produced with a finish that will wash out over time. Other fabrics have inherent properties that block UV rays and remain relatively unchanged due to washing (some loss of protection over time is unavoidable) – be careful to read the clothing label.
Some individuals prefer relying on protective clothing instead of sunscreen due to concerns about vitamin D synthesis. Vitamin D activation in the body includes an important chemical conversion stimulated by UV exposure in the skin – and there is concern that sunscreen interferes with this conversion. However, several studies, including a recent review by Neale, et al., concluded that use of sunscreen in natural conditions is NOT associated with vitamin D deficiency.5,6 The authors did go on to note that at the time of publication, they could not find trials testing the high SPF sunscreens that are widely available today (current products available for purchase include SPFs over 100).
Additional concern about use of sunscreens includes systemic absorption of potentially toxic chemicals found in sunscreen. A recent randomized clinical trial conducted by Matta and colleagues investigated the systemic absorption and pharmacokinetics of six active sunscreen ingredients under single and maximal use conditions. Seven Product formulations included lotion, aerosol spray, non-aerosol spray, and pump spray. Their study found that in response to repeat application over 75% of the body surface area, all 6 of the tested active ingredients were absorbed systemically. In this study, plasma concentrations surpassed the current FDA threshold for potentially waiving some of the additional safety studies for sunscreen. The authors went on to note that the data is difficult to translate to common use and further studies are needed. It is important to note that the authors also conclude that due to associated risk for development of skin cancer, we should continue to use sunscreen.
Yet another concern for using sunscreen is the potential for harmful environmental and human health impact. Sunscreen products that include organic UV filters have been implicated in adverse reactions in coral and fish, allergic reactions, and possible endocrine disruption.8,9 In some areas, specific sunscreen products are now being banned (for example, beginning January of 2021, Hawaii will ban products that include oxybenzone and octinoxate). As there are alternatives to the use of various organic compounds, there is a need to continue to monitor and weigh the benefit verses the potential negative effects.
Although the use of sunscreen is being questioned, there is the potential for a decline in use to be associated with an increase in skin cancer. Skin cancer, although on the decline in recent years, is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. It is estimated that more than 3 million people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancers each year (cancer.net). Although this is fewer than the current number of Americans diagnosed with COVID-19 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 20, 2020) – changes in human behavior during the pandemic (spending more time outdoors) may inadvertently result in an increase in the number of skin cancer cases in future years.
While we responsibly counter the impact of COVID-19 by wearing masks, socially distancing, and congregating outdoors – we must also continue to protect ourselves from damaging effects of the sun. As physiologists, we are called upon to continue to investigate the physiological impacts of various sunscreen delivery modes (lotion, aerosol, non-aerosol spray, and pumps) and SPF formulations. We are also challenged to investigate inadvertent and potentially negative impacts of sunscreen including altered Vitamin D metabolism, systemic absorption of organic chemicals, and potentially adverse environmental and health outcomes.
Again, solving one problem may create another challenge – the work of a physiologist is never done!
Stay safe friends!
Lopes DM, McMahon SB. Ultraviolet radiation on the skin: a painful experience? CNS neuroscience & therapeutics. 2016;22(2):118-126.
Dawes JM, Calvo M, Perkins JR, et al. CXCL5 mediates UVB irradiation–induced pain. Science translational medicine. 2011;3(90):90ra60-90ra60.
Kimbrough DR. The photochemistry of sunscreens. Journal of chemical education. 1997;74(1):51.
Tsuzuki T, Nearn M, Trotter G. Substantially visibly transparent topical physical sunscreen formulation. In: Google Patents; 2003.
Passeron T, Bouillon R, Callender V, et al. Sunscreen photoprotection and vitamin D status. British Journal of Dermatology. 2019;181(5):916-931.
Neale RE, Khan SR, Lucas RM, Waterhouse M, Whiteman DC, Olsen CM. The effect of sunscreen on vitamin D: a review. British Journal of Dermatology. 2019;181(5):907-915.
Matta MK, Florian J, Zusterzeel R, et al. Effect of sunscreen application on plasma concentration of sunscreen active ingredients: a randomized clinical trial. Jama. 2020;323(3):256-267.
Schneider SL, Lim HW. Review of environmental effects of oxybenzone and other sunscreen active ingredients. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2019;80(1):266-271.
DiNardo JC, Downs CA. Dermatological and environmental toxicological impact of the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone/benzophenone‐3. Journal of cosmetic dermatology. 2018;17(1):15-19.
All images from: Royalty Free Stock Pictures – Public Domain Images www.dreamstime.com/
Prior to accepting the Dean’s positon at Sam Houston State University, Dr Hopper taught physiology and served as the Director of Student Research and Scholarly Work at Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM). Dr Hopper earned tenure at IUSM and was twice awarded the Trustees Teaching Award. Based on her experience in developing curriculum, addressing accreditation and teaching and mentoring of medical students, she was selected to help build a new program of Osteopathic Medicine at SHSU. Active in a number of professional organizations, Dr. Hopper is past chair of the Chapter Advisory Council Chair for the American Physiological Society, the HAPS Conference Site Selection Committee, and Past-President of the Indiana Physiological Society.
The American Physiological Society (APS) is pleased to announce a new webinar series focused on our educator community. The monthly series includes live webinars focused on education best practices, synchronous and/or asynchronous teaching, establishing inclusive classrooms and publishing. Educator town halls will also be featured as we strive to support and engage the educator community throughout the year.
Starting this month, take advantage of the educator webinar series by visiting the events webpage on the APS website. Register for each webinar, learn about speakers and their talks today!
As we head into an uncertain academic year, spend an hour with us to consider strategies which will help you and your students navigate our changing academic, professional, and personal lives. Participants will work through pragmatic and concrete strategies they can transition into their own work to promote student learning and minimize stress.
Josef Brandauer, PhD from Gettysburg College (Penn.)
Katie Johnson, PhD from Trail Build, LLC (East Troy, Wisc.)
This session will be a chance to encourage all who have adapted their teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic to share their work. This topic also ties in to the Teaching Section featured topic for EB 2021.
Doug Everett, PhD from National Jewish Health (Denver, Colo.)
A Framework of College Student Buy-in to Evidence-Based Teaching Practices in STEM: The Roles of Trust and Growth Mindset October 22, 2020 12 p.m. EST
This topic is relevant to building trust, which goes hand-in-hand with inclusion and diversity. Trust is essential for the different modalities of teaching which educators and students will experience in the fall.
Educators Town Hall November 19, 2020 12 p.m. EST
A chance to talk about what happened during the fall semester and also plan for the upcoming year
Jennifer Rogers, PhD, ACSM EP-C, EIM-2 Associate Professor of Instruction Director, Human Physiology Undergraduate Curriculum Department of Health and Human Physiology University of Iowa
First, a true story. Years ago, when my son was very little, he and his preschool friends invented a game called “What’s In Nick’s Pocket?” Every day before leaving for school my son would select a small treasure to tuck into his pocket. The other 3- and 4- year olds at school would crowd around and give excited “oooh’s” and “aaah’s” as he presented his offering, which had been carefully selected to delight and amaze his friends. And so it is with the PECOP blog forum—as each new post arrives in my inbox I wonder with anticipation what educational gem has been mindfully curated by colleagues to share with the PECOP community.
My contribution? Thoughts on the balance between coursework, student engagement, and time. Student engagement in this context refers to a wide range of activities that exist outside of the traditional classroom that offer valuable opportunities for career exploration and development of professional skills. Examples include:
Internships: either for course credit or independently to gain experience within a particular setting
Study Abroad opportunities
Participation in a student organization
Peer tutor/mentoring programs
Research: either as a course-based opportunity or as a lab assistant in a PI’s lab (paid or unpaid)
Job experiences: for example, as a certified nursing assistant, medical transcriptionist, emergency medical technician
Volunteer and community outreach experiences
Job shadowing/clinical observational hours
These are all increasingly popular co-curricular activities that allow students to apply concepts from physiology coursework to real-world scenarios as an important stepping stone to enhance career readiness and often personal development. At the same time, however, students seem to more frequently communicate that they experience stress, anxiety, and concerns that they “are not at their best,” in part due to balancing coursework demands against time demands for other aspects of their lives. If you are interested in learning more about the health behaviors and perceptions of college students, one resource is the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II (ACHA-NCHA II) Undergraduate Student Reference Group Data Report Fall 2018 (1). Relevant to this blog, over half of the undergraduates surveyed (57% of 11,107 participants) reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do within the past two weeks.
I recently gave an undergraduate physiology education presentation that included this slide. It was an initial attempt to reconcile how my course, Human Physiology with Lab, (a “time intensive course” I am told), fits within the context of the undergraduate experience.
I was genuinely surprised by the number of undergraduates in the audience who approached me afterward to essentially say “Thank you for recognizing what it feels like to walk in my shoes, it doesn’t seem like [my professors, my PI, my parents] understand the pressure I feel. “
In response, and prior to the changes in higher education following COVID-19, I began to ponder how to balance the necessary disciplinary learning provided by formal physiology coursework and participation in also-valuable experiential opportunities. The Spring 2020 transition to virtual learning, and planning for academic delivery for Fall 2020 (and beyond), has increased the urgency to revisit these aspects of undergraduate physiology education. As PECOP bloggers and others have mentioned, this is a significant opportunity to redefine how and what we teach.
It has been somewhat challenging to me to consider how to restructure my course, specifically the physiology labs, in the post COVID-19 era when lab activities need to be adaptable to either in-person or virtual completion. My totally-unscientific process to identify areas for change has been the “3-R’s” test. With regard to physiology lab, there may be many important learning objectives:
An ability to apply the scientific method to draw conclusions about physiological function
The act of collecting data and best practices associated with collection of high-quality data (identification of control variables, volunteer preparation/preparation of the sample prior to testing, knowledge of how to use equipment)
Application of basic statistical analyses or qualitative analysis techniques
Critical thought and quantitative reasoning to evaluate data
How to work collaboratively with others, that may be transferrable to future occupational settings: patients, clients, colleagues
Information literacy and how to read and interpret information coming from multiple resources such as scientific journals, online resources, advertisements, and others, and
Science communication/the ability to communicate information about human function, in the form of individual or group presentations, written lab reports, poster presentations, formal papers, infographics, mock patient interactions, etc.
Arguably, these are all important lab objectives. Really important, in fact.
So, what is the 3 R’s test, and how might it help? The 3 R’s is simply my way of prioritizing. In order to triage lab objectives, I ask myself: What is Really Important for students to master throughout the semester versus what is Really, Really Important, or even Really, Really, REALLY Important? For example, if I can only designate one activity that is Really, Really, REALLY Important, which one would it be? The answer for my particular course is science communication. It is obviously a matter of semantics, but I like being able to justify that all course activities are still Really Important, even if it is only my inner dialogue. Going into the unknowns of the Fall semester, this will help me guide how course activities in physiology lab are transformed.
Another worthy goal, in light of academic stress and allocation of effort for maximum benefit, is to improve the transparency of expectations for students. A common question that arose during the spring semester was if students would still learn what they needed to in preparation for future coursework or post-graduation opportunities. The identification of one or two primary learning outcomes (the Really, Really, REALLY important ones) may attenuate feeling overwhelmed by a long list of lab-related skills to master if there is another abrupt shift to virtual instruction mid-semester; course objectives can still be met even if we discontinue in-person lab sessions.
To return to the original topic of balancing time demands allocated to formal coursework and valuable experiences, the two broad conclusions I have reached fall under the categories what I can do in my own courses and suggestions for conversations to be had at the program level.
In My Courses: COVID-19 has sped up the time course for revisions I had already been considering implementing in physiology labs. Aligning course activities with what is Really, Really, REALLY important will help me manage preparation efforts for the coming fall semester (and hopefully keep my stress levels manageable). Another important goal is to improve the transparency of course goals for students, ideally alleviating at least a portion of their course-induced stress through improved allocation of effort. Ultimately, I hope the lab redesigns reinforce physiology content knowledge AND provide relevant experiences to promote career readiness. *It is also necessary to emphasize to students that both will require focused time and effort.
At the Program Level: Earning a degree in physiology is not based on acquired knowledge and skills in a single course, rather it is an end-product of efforts across a range of courses completed across an academic program. Here are some ideas for program-wide discussion:
Faculty should identify the most important course outcome for their respective courses, and we should all meet to talk about it. Distribute program outcomes throughout the courses across the breadth of the program. (Yes, this is backward design applied to curriculum mapping.) From the faculty perspective, perhaps this will reduce feeling the need to teach all aspects of physiology within a particular course and instead keep content to a manageable level. From the student perspective, clear communication of course objectives, in light of content presented within any particular course, may promote “buy in” of effort. It may also build an awareness that efforts both inside and outside of the classroom are valuable if the specific body of content knowledge and aptitudes developed across the curriculum, relevant for future occupational goals, is tangibly visible.
Review experiential/applied learning opportunities. Are there a sufficient number of opportunities embedded within program coursework? If not, are there other mechanisms available to students, for example opportunities through a Career Center or other institution-specific entities? Establishing defined pathways for participation may reduce student stress related to not knowing how to find opportunities. Another option would be to consider whether or not the program would benefit from a career exploration/professional skills development course. Alternatively, could modules be developed and incorporated into already existing courses?
Lastly, communicate with students the importance of engaging in co-curricular activities that are meaningful to them; this is more important than the number of activities completed. Time is a fixed quantity and must be balanced between competing demands based on personal priorities.
As we consider course delivery for Fall 2020, the majority of us are reconsidering how we teach our own courses. There are also likely ongoing conversations with colleagues about plans to navigate coursework in the upcoming semesters. If everything is changing anyway, why not take a few minutes to share what is Really, Really, REALLY important in your courses? The result could be an improved undergraduate experience related to balancing the time and effort allocations required for success in the classroom along with opportunities for participation in meaningful experiences.
1. American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Undergraduate Student Reference Group Data Report Fall 2018. Silver Spring, MD: American College Health Association; 2018.
Jennifer Rogers completed her PhD and post-doctoral training at The University of Iowa (Exercise Science). She has taught at numerous institutions ranging across the community college, 4-year college, and university- level higher education spectrum. Jennifer’s courses have ranged from small, medium, and large (300+ students) lecture courses, also online, blended, and one-course-at-a-time course delivery formats. She routinely incorporates web-based learning activities, lecture recordings, and other in-class interactive activities into class structure. Jennifer’s primary teaching interests center around student readiness for learning, qualitative and quantitative evaluation of teaching strategies, and assessing student perceptions of the learning process.
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.
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.
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 (www.stokeslab.com) and in her free time enjoys cycling, hiking, and yoga.
Kristen L.W. Walton, PhD Biology Department Missouri Western State University
COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) is caused by infection with SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Coronavirus-2). Current evidence suggests that this zoonotic coronavirus originated in China in late 20191, and it subsequently spread rapidly across the globe, causing significant morbidity and mortality. To help contain the spread of this virus, many countries have implemented policies and orders aimed at reducing contact between people. The terms “social distancing” and “flatten the curve” have been rapidly imbued in our culture. Indeed, a Google Trends search shows a significant surge in searches for “social distancing” between the week of March 1-7, 2020 and the week of March 29-April 4, 20202. In the United States, to help mitigate the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, a few colleges and universities began to announce in early March that they would be suspending face-to-face classes and shifting to all-online instruction, and soon most postgraduate institutions in the USA followed suit, including my institution.
In early March, as the situation became recognized as increasingly urgent by the higher education institutions in our region, the administration at my institution, Missouri Western State University (MWSU), made a decision to extend spring break by one week, through March 22. Then, in the middle of that second week of spring break, the university administration announced that MWSU would cancel all face-to-face classes for the rest of the semester, and students would have several options regarding their grades for the spring 2020 semester3. Higher education institutions across the USA have grappled with how to handle grades in this unprecedented time. Students who did not sign up for online classes are finishing their face-to-face courses, in many if not most cases, as hastily-constructed online versions. Many institutions have chosen to make all classes pass/fail, others have opted to keep letter grades as the only option, and still others, including MWSU, have given students flexible options to choose a pass/fail option or a letter grade. The MWSU administration also gave faculty flexibility in determining whether to create a “culminating experience” for students who elected to complete their courses. This could mean anything from reducing the amount of content and/or assessments, changing the format of assessments (for example, a final paper in lieu of a final exam), or essentially continuing as originally planned but with online course delivery and assessments. This flexibility for faculty was intended to recognize that some types of classes are more amenable than others to a shift to online delivery. Students whose midterm grade was a C or higher could elect to choose the “credit” (pass) grade option for the course if they chose not to complete the culminating experience; students who chose to complete the culminating experience earned a letter grade based on their course grade at the end of the semester. To increase flexibility for students, this option was available to students up until the last day of classes, April 24. The deadline for a withdrawal from the class was also extended to April 24.
For me, as a biology faculty member, the flexibility allowed by our administration in how to structure the last five weeks of my classes led to a lot of thought about my courses and how to best achieve the course objectives for each of them. I spent many hours considering this, discussing options with my colleagues in a socially distant manner, through emails and our first Zoom department meeting, a somewhat difficult transition for our close-knit group of faculty used to frequent in-person conversations. I also spent time reading a flurry of articles and blog posts about the importance of being understanding of the major disruption to our students’ lives and college experience4; the importance of recognizing the difficulty in creating a high-quality online course experience with a few days’ notice5; and, not to be overlooked, the importance of tending to one’s own needs, both professional and personal, in this high-stress time.
Depending on one’s personal situation, a faculty member could also be dealing with changes in family schedules and responsibilities due to children who were suddenly not attending school or day care. Illness could strike any of us or our friends and family members, certainly adding to the stress and anxiety experiences. Partners could be furloughed as businesses shuttered their doors due to the pandemic. While some academics touted their ability to be highly productive during the quarantine and even cited the invention of calculus by Sir Isaac Newton during the black plague as inspiration, others pointed out that quarantine is not universally a time when one can focus solely on work and scientific discovery. This is true for me, on a personal level. I have two elementary school-aged children whose school closed a week after my university suspended face-to-face classes. I have had sole responsibility for child care and helping them with their school work at home, while also moving my classes online and maintaining other work responsibilities. Many of the students in my classes are non-traditional and have similar child care and “home school” responsibilities. Others have financial stress due to job layoffs, or, conversely, increased work stress and time demands for those working in the health care field. Another concern is that many of our students have poor access to broadband internet and technology to access class materials online. Several of my students emailed me during the transition stating that they were using only a smartphone to access course materials and had no access to a laptop or desktop computer, printer, or other technology, and no high-speed internet.
Consideration of my students’ access to technology, stress, and other burdens, as well as the other factors described above led me to make different choices for each of my three classes this spring. For my honors colloquium, titled, ironically enough, Plagues That Changed the World, my co-instructor and I decided not to try to coordinate the student-led presentations that were scheduled for the last 6 weeks of the semester and instead only required a final paper. Seven of 13 undergraduates in this course chose the credit grade based on their midterm grade, and did not complete this rather minimal culminating experience. For my upper-division biology majors course, Molecular Basis of Disease, which is a capstone-type elective course that is not a prerequisite for any other classes, I chose to culminate the lab portion by keeping a scheduled lab quiz, but not attempt to recreate the planned five-week group research project. For the lecture portion of that class, students who elected to complete the culminating experience wrote a literature review article as originally planned and were given one online exam instead of two in-class exams. Even with this reduced workload, 6 of the 15 undergraduates enrolled in the course chose to take a credit grade and did not complete the course. My third course this spring, Pathophysiology, is primarily populated by pre-nursing majors and population health majors, with a few pre-health-professions biology majors. It would not have been appropriate to drop content or assessments of content knowledge from this course, because the overwhelming majority of students in the course needed to learn that content for success in later coursework. As it happens, I have taught this lecture-only course in an online format in the summer for several years, so transitioning it to an online delivery mode was relatively easy, with a few exceptions: increased modes of accessing the material, and exams. I have structured the all-online previous version of that class to be asynchronous, based on knowledge of my student population, many of whom work full time while also taking classes. I felt that was still the best choice in these uncertain times. However, in addition to posting video lectures, I downloaded the audio-only podcasts and posted them separately for students who did not have regular high-speed internet access or were working solely from a smartphone with a small screen. I also made additional course notes available.
As for the exams, I have always required proctored exams in the online version of this course, and structured them similarly to the written exams taken by students in the traditional, face-to-face version of the course. Proctored online exams would not have been feasible in the COVID-19-induced chaos that ensued in late March and early April, as some of my students were moving home many states away, finding themselves under self-quarantine, caring for family members, etc., and I myself had schedule considerations to juggle with children and their school work and Zoom meetings which competed for our limited bandwidth home internet. I tried to strike a balance between several considerations: best practices for online unproctored exams, such as making them open-book and not easily Google-able; the format and level of rigor students were used to from the first two written, face-to-face exams; and being mindful of unequal access to technology among my students. In this class, 81 of 86 undergraduates completed the culminating experience, a high proportion driven largely by the requirement of their specific majors for a letter grade in this required course.
As I write this, I still have several papers to grade and final course grades to enter. I can say with certainty, however, that the choices for assessments and content coverage that I made for my Pathophysiology course did not appear to substantially disadvantage the majority of students, and the course grade distribution will be noticeably higher than usual, aside from the small number of students who did not complete the course. Several of my colleagues have observed similar increases in their course grades this semester. In that course, I erred on the side of leniency with the exams, but since I could not in good conscience drop content from that course – pre-nursing students still need to have learned about diseases of the digestive tract, even if COVID-19 interrupted their semester! – I am comfortable that they will at least have a reasonable degree of preparation for their subsequent courses. For my other two courses, grades will not be higher and in some cases students submitted work that was of lower quality than I expected from their work earlier in the semester. I strongly suspect that many students who chose to complete those courses did not have the focus or the ability to do so as well as they would have in the face-to-face courses. I do not have survey data to help clarify what the students were thinking, but I suspect the students who needed the letter grade for subsequent coursework approached this altered, online part of the semester differently from those who were only taking an elective where a credit grade would suffice or a GPA issue was not anticipated. Informal feedback from all three of my classes included several students commenting about how they did not sign up for online classes because they prefer traditional-format classes, comments about family issues (helping children with school work, moving back home because of job loss, stressful quarantine situations), and comments about missing deadlines because of work or other outside responsibilities.
Although I still need to submit my final course grades for the spring 2020 semester, the summer session is already looming. My institution chose a few weeks ago to offer only 100% online summer classes, so my usual summer online Pathophysiology class will need to have exam structure revamped away from the written, proctored format that I have previously used. In addition, many institutions including my own are having discussions about the fall semester. At this time, we just don’t know what the COVID-19 situation will be in late August. We have been told to prepare for something unusual, whether it will be a fully online semester, a restructured semester with two or three shorter block sessions, or some other plan. In preparing for that, I will be considering these questions for each of my classes:
1. How can the course learning objectives best be accomplished in an altered course format?
2. What are the best ways to transition a heavily hands-on lab course to an online or shortened course format?
3. What are the needs of the student population in this course?
4. What is the appropriate balance between flexibility versus maintaining appropriate expectations in the course?
Considering the course goals and learning objectives is a critical component of any course design or transition to a different format, and the course may need to change if the different format is not amenable to the original goals and learning objectives. In this time of forced transitions to altered course structures and the impacts of COVID-19 mitigation strategies on us and our students, choices might be different from the choices we would otherwise make. It’s also important for faculty, administrators, and students to recognize that different types of courses may be more or less easy to convert to an all-online format. And while online instruction can be excellent and perhaps this experience will encourage broader use of certain online course components in future face-to-face classes for many faculty, it is not the “college experience” that many students expect and there is speculation among higher education administrators that enrollments will be down this fall, adding to the financial distress that many universities and colleges are already experiencing. Although I have read some opinion pieces that higher education should use this spring as a springboard to shift to more online courses permanently, I would argue that it’s also important to recognize that a large proportion of our students and faculty, myself included, strongly prefer those face-to-face classes and hope to return to them as soon as we can. I am certain that as a global community of physiology educators we will continue to interact and support each other as we navigate all of the upcoming transitions.
Coronaviridae Study Group of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The species Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus: classifying 2019-nCoV and naming it SARS-CoV-2. Nat Microbiol. 2020;5:536–44.
Kristen Walton is a Professor in the Biology Department at Missouri Western State University. She earned her PhD in Physiology from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2001 and was a SPIRE (Seeding Postdoctoral Innovators in Research and Education) Postdoctoral Fellow at UNC-Chapel Hill from 2001-2006. In 2006, she began her current position at Missouri Western State University, a primarily undergraduate institution. She has taught a variety of undergraduate courses including animal physiology, pathophysiology, immunology, molecular basis of disease, introductory cell biology, public health microbiology, and human anatomy & physiology. Her research interests are in intestinal inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease, and in discipline-based education research.
Ida T. Fonkoue, Ph.D. Post-Doctoral Fellow, Renal Division Emory University School of Medicine
Ramon A. Fonkoue, Ph.D. Associate Professor, French and Cultural Studies Michigan Technological University
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a total and sudden reshaping of the academic landscape across the country, with hundreds of institutions moving administration entirely online and shifting to online instruction for the remainder of the spring semester or for both spring and summer. This sudden transition with practically no time to prepare has major implications for students and faculty alike, and poses serious challenges to a smooth transition as well as effective online teaching on such a large scale. Out of these challenges, two issues in particular are examined here:
the disparity in resources and preparedness for effective online teaching
the implications of the migration to virtual classrooms for diversity and inclusion
Disparity in resources and preparedness for effective online teaching
Teaching an online course requires just as much, if not more, time and energy as traditional classroom courses. It also requires specific IT skills to be effective. Some teachers have managed to achieve great success engaging students online. However, many challenges remain for the average teacher. While online teaching has now been embraced by all higher education institutions and the number of classes offered online has seen a steady growth over the years, it should be noted that until now, instructors and students had the choice between brick and mortar classes and virtual ones. Each could then choose based on their personal preferences and/or circumstances. What makes the recent changes so impactful and consequential is that no choice is left to instructors or students, as the move to online classes is a mandate from the higher administration. Whether one is willing, prepared or ready is irrelevant. It is from this perspective that the question of the preparedness to migrate online is worth examining.
With academic units ordered to move classes online, instructors who had remained indifferent to the growing trend of online teaching have had a difficult reckoning. They have had to hastily move to online delivery, often with a steep learning curve. This challenge has been compounded in some cases by the technology gap for instructors who haven’t kept their IT skills up to date as well as the school’s preparedness to support online teaching. But even instructors who had some familiarity with learning management systems (LMS) and online delivery have faced their share of challenges. We will only mention two sources of these difficulties:
First, students’ expectations in a context of exclusive online teaching are different from when most online classes took place in the summer, and were attractive to students because of convenience and flexibility. With online classes becoming the norm, students in some universities are taking steps to demand that school administrators pay more attention to quality of instruction and maintain high standards to preserve teaching effectiveness.
Second, instructors can no longer use LMS resources just for the flexibility and benefits they afforded, such as in blended classes or flipped classes. Moving everything online thus requires extra work even for LMS enthusiasts.
For students, there have been some interesting lessons. Until now, it was assumed that Generation Z students (raised in the boom of the internet and social media) we have in our classes have tech skills in their DNA and would be well equipped and ready to migrate online. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been the case across the board, and these first weeks have revealed real discrepancies in student IT equipment with varying consequences for online classes. Equipment failure and problems with access to high speed internet emerge as the most serious difficulties on the students’ side. Furthermore, online learning requires independence and often more self-discipline and self-motivation. Most online courses are not taught in real time, and there are often no set times for classes. While this flexibility makes online classes attractive, it can also be a drawback for students who procrastinate and are unable to follow the course pace. If left to themselves, only the most responsible students will preserve their chances of performing well. On this last point, one unexpected issue has been students who have virtually disappeared from their classes since the migration of courses online amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The current transition has thus presented major challenges for teachers and students alike.
Implications of the migration to virtual classrooms for diversity and inclusion
The second issue we think deserves attention is the way in which educational institutions’ commitment to diversity and inclusion would play out in virtual classes. While they are now among the professed core values of all colleges and universities across the country, implementing diversity and inclusion in an online environment presents a different set of challenges for both instructors and students. In traditional classrooms, the commitment to diversity and inclusion typically translates into the following:
A diversity and inclusion statement from the school must be included in the course syllabus.
Instructors must remind students a few rules at the beginning of the course, including: recognition that the classroom is an environment where diversity is acknowledged and valued; tolerance of and respect for diversity of views in the classroom.
Sensitivity to and respect for diversity (gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.).
Students are asked to be courteous and respectful of different opinions.
In moving into a virtual environment, instructors have to think about the challenges of virtual classrooms and their potential impact on diversity and inclusion. For instance, the faceless nature of course participation and asynchronous delivery may make it easier for participants to disregard or neglect diversity and inclusion rules. Teachers need to reflect on ways to ensure that the virtual space of online classes remains an environment that fosters diversity and inclusion. One drawback of online classes is the potential impact of the relative anonymity on social engagement. In a traditional classroom, participants are constrained by the physical presence of their peers in the confined space of the classroom. The closed physical space of the classroom, combined with the instructor’s authority and peer pressure contribute to fostering discipline. Reflecting on the way online teaching impacts the instructor, one faculty noted: “I didn’t realize how much I rely on walking around the room and making eye contact with students to keep them engaged.” As an online teacher, one lacks the ability to connect physically with students, to read emotional cues and body language that might inform about the individuality of a student. Moreover, a good grasp of the diversity in the classroom and of students’ learning abilities is needed to plan instruction, and give each of them the opportunity to learn and succeed.
Drawing from the above considerations, here are some key questions that instructors should consider as they migrate online: What skills do instructors need to properly address diversity and inclusion online? How do instructors include diversity and inclusion requirements in online course design? How to create an inclusive online classroom? How do instructors attend to diverse students’ needs during instruction? How do they monitor behaviors and enforce diversity and inclusion rules during instruction?
While the migration might have been abrupt, instructors need not seek perfection in moving their courses online. As in traditional classes, what matters the most, from the student’s point of view, is constant communication, clear directions and support from their teachers. Students understand the challenges we all face. They also understand the rules in virtual classes, provided we emphasize them.
Dr Ida Fonkoué is a post-doctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine in the Laboratory of Dr Jeanie Park. She trained under Dr Jason Carter at Michigan Technological University, where she graduated with a PhD in Biological Sciences in December 2016. She teaches renal physiology classes and lead small groups in the School of Medicine. Her long-term research goal is to understand how the sympathetic nervous system, the vasculature and inflammation interplay to contribute to the high cardiovascular disease risk of patients living with chronic stress, such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Ramon A Fonkoué is an Associate Professor of French and Cultural Studies and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University. He is also a Visiting Scholar in the department of French and Italian at Emory University. He has been teaching online for 9 years and has experience with blended, flipped and full online classes.
Karen L. Sweazea, PhD, FAHA Arizona State University
As faculty, we often find ourselves juggling multiple responsibilities at once. Although many of us are interested in adding hands-on or other activities to our classes, it can be difficult to find the time to develop them. This is where more advanced students who have already taken the class or graduate students can help.
A couple of summers ago I requested the help of an extra teaching assistant in my Animal Physiology course. The role of the position I was requesting was unique as I was not seeking a student to help with grading or proctoring exams. Rather, the role of this student was to help develop in-class activities that would enhance the learning experience of students taking the course.
For each lesson, the special graduate student TA was tasked with finding an existing (ex: https://www.lifescitrc.org/) or creating a new activity that could be implemented in the classroom during the last 10-20 minutes of each session, depending on the complexity of the activity. This enabled me to begin converting the course into a flipped classroom model as students enrolled in the course were responsible for reading the material ahead of time, completing a content comprehension quiz, and coming to class prepared to discuss the content and participate in an activity and/or case study. Special TAs can also assist with developing activities for online courses.
While the benefits of having such a TA for the faculty are clear, this type of experience is also beneficial to both the TA as well as the students enrolled in the course. For the TA, this experience provides an opportunity to develop their own teaching skills through learning to develop short lesson plans and activities as well as receiving feedback from the faculty and students. For the students, this is a great way to build cultural competence into the course as TAs are often closer in age to the students and may better reflect the demographics of the classroom. Cultural competence is defined by the National Education Association as “the ability to successfully teach students who come from a culture of cultures other than our own.” Increasing our cultural competency, therefore, is critical to student success and is something that we can learn to address. Having special TAs is just one way we can build this important skill.
Karen Sweazea is an Associate Professor in the College of Heath Solutions at Arizona State University. Her research specializes in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She received her PhD in Physiological Sciences from the University of Arizona in 2005 where her research focused on understanding glucose homeostasis and natural insulin resistance in birds. Her postdoctoral research was designed to explore how poor dietary habits promote the development of cardiovascular diseases.
Dr. Sweazea has over 40 publication and has chaired sessions and spoken on topics related to mentoring at a variety of national and local meetings. She has additionally given over 10 guest lectures and has developed 4 graduate courses on topics related to mentoring and professional development. She has mentored or served on the committees for undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students and earned an Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award from the Faculty Women’s Association at Arizona State University for her dedication towards mentoring.
Educators often find themselves in the role of advisor, either formally or incidentally. If you teach or lead a research group, it is likely students or trainees arrive at your office door with a plethora of questions or issues, seeking your input. Yet, very few academics have formal training in how to advise students.
How do you become a productive advisor who supports the success of your students? For the purpose of our discussion, I am defining advisor as any person who provides guidance, information, or advice to a student or trainee, the advisee. Many productive and inclusive advising strategies align with effective teaching practices.
Inclusive advising strategies interrupt assumptions an advisor may have about the needs, issues, or questions facing an advisee. It also acknowledges and embraces the relationship between the academic, professional, and personal trajectories of each advisee. One approach to inclusive advising is to use a question-focused advising strategy. Rather than advisors serving only as a conduit for information, advisors should ask advisees thoughtful and strategic questions, within the context of a collegial and respectful conversation. When an advisor carefully and attentively listens to the responses provided by the advisee, the advisor gains important information about how to support and assist the advisee.
There are many points to consider when advising, but here are a few suggestions for advisors, followed by examples of questions advisors can ask advisees. These questions are not to be used in sequential order, but rather as needed.
1. Listen carefully. This strategy is a lot harder than it sounds. It is easy to provide information, but is the information the right information? When careful and engaged listening directs advising, advisors are much more likely to provide the information and support needed by the advisee.
Questions to ask advisees: How can I help you? What brings you to my office today? What are your goals for this project/assignment/course? Did we address the issue that brought you in today? Do you think the solutions we talked about today are attainable? Do you have any other questions for me?
2. Believe advisees when they say they are struggling. Again, much harder than it sounds. Help advisees think through productive steps forward, rather than sending them off to figure things out on their own. Check-in with them later to help address lingering questions.
Questions to ask advisees: Can you remember a time when things were going well? What worked for you at that point? What strategies are you using to navigate these issues? If those strategies are not working, can we brainstorm other strategies? Can we work together to find resources to support your success? Do you have local friends you can turn to when you are having difficulties?
3. Guide advisees to identify what they need to achieve their academic, professional, and personal goals. After careful listening, assign advisees homework. Assignments could include visiting a resource on campus or doing directed online research to find the information they need to design a plan to accomplish their goals. Schedule future appointments for the advisee to report back what they found.
Questions to ask advisees: What information do you need to achieve your goals? What information do you have? What resources do you need to find? Is there anyone you know who would be a good resource?
4. Recognize the power dynamic between advisors and advisees. Even the most friendly and welcoming advisors can be intimidating to advisees. It takes courage to talk to an advisor. Given the power dynamic, advisees may be too intimidated to speak-up when they do not understand their advisor’s suggestions or advice.
Questions to ask advisees: Can you explain to me what your next steps should be to address this issue? Is there anything I said that I need to explain in a different way for you to be better prepared to address this issue?
5. Advisors are at a different point in their career than their advisees. It is likely the life priorities of any given advisee and advisor are different. Ask advisees about their priorities, listen carefully, and believe what they say.
Questions to ask advisees: Where do you see yourself in ten years? What is your ideal lifestyle? What is essential to this lifestyle for you to feel successful? How do you like to spend your time?
While these concepts may take time to incorporate into your advising, here are a few quick tips:
1. Really good advising takes time. Make sure to reserve enough time and energy to have productive advising meetings.
2. Successful advising is a continuous process. Expect numerous interactions in the classrooms, hallways, over e-mail, and during private meetings. This multiple check-in approach allows for investigation and reflection.
3. Articulate the expectations and responsibilities of advisees and advisors. It is possible you are your advisee’s first advisor. Advisees may not know the reason or meaning for an advisor or appropriate boundaries. As an advisor, determine your expectations and communicate these expectations to your advisees.
4. Offer options to schedule meetings. While walk-in office hours have some benefits, a dedicated time and space allows both advisee and advisor to focus on the task at hand. Offer designated advising timeslots for advisees. Signing-up for timeslots could occur either on a sheet of paper or using a free online tool that automatically syncs to online calendars.
5. If you expect advisees to meet at your office, make sure you tell your advisees where your office is located. Advisees should also know how to contact you if they must change or miss a meeting.
6. Schedule group advising to work with advisees who have similar academic or professional (NOT personal) issues. This will save the advisor time, and the advisees benefit from conversations with students or trainees asking similar questions.
7. Recruit a more advanced student or trainee to meet with advisees about standard advising issues, such as program requirements or course registration. It is effective if this meeting occurs prior to the advisor-advisee meeting, so unanswered questions and clarifications can be provided by the advisor.
8. You do not need to know the answer to everything. Know your limits and your resources. Institutions often have services and professionals trained in handling various student situations. Have their phone numbers or emails readily available so you can connect advisees directly to the assistance they need. Know your responsibilities around state and federally mandated reporting.
Productive and inclusive advising is an opportunity to help and to support students and trainees as they develop their own paths to success. What an amazing perk of being an educator! Happy Advising!
Chambliss DF. How College Works. Harvard University Press, 2014.
Cooper KM, Gin LE, Akeeh B, Clark CE, Hunter JS, Roderick TB, Elliott DB, Gutierrez LA, Mello RM, Pfeiffer LD, Scott RA, Arellano D, Ramirez D, Valdez EM, Vargas C, Velarde K, Zheng Y, Brownell SE. Factors that predict life sciences student persistence in undergraduate research experiences. PLOS ONE 14: e0220186, 2019.
Johnson KMS, Briggs A, Hawn C, Mantina N, Woods BC. Inclusive practices for diverse student populations: Experimental Biology 2017. Adv Physiol Educ 43: 365–372, 2019.
Katie Johnson, Ph.D., is an experienced practitioner and evaluator of inclusive teaching and mentoring practices. Dr. Johnson advises and serves on national STEM education initiatives and committees, working with a diverse network of collaborators. As a Programmatic Improvement Consultant, Dr. Johnson assists institutions and organizations to develop innovative solutions to curricular and assessment challenges. Prior to becoming an independent consultant for Trail Build, LLC, Dr. Johnson was Chair and Associate Professor of Biology at Beloit College. She earned her Ph.D. in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics at Vanderbilt University and her B.S. from Beloit College. Disclosure: Dr. Johnson serves as an external consultant for the American Physiological Society.