Author Archives: Margaret Stieben

An Alternative Assessment Approach to be More Inclusive and Inspiring

I want to propose a different grading system that I think is more encouraging to some students and will be particularly useful for supporting diversity in physiology classes and in science general education classes.  Two separate influences converged to give me insight in creating this grading system.

In many of my courses, I value 3 different aspects of student participation and work: their attendance, their homework and their project work. My dilemma was how to grade in such a way that a student had to do all 3 well in order to get an A. If each aspect was weighted equally, then a student could get 100% on two parts, would only need 70% on the third part, which did not suit my purpose (see Figure 1A).  If each part has different weights, then the student can get even less than 70% on the part that has the least weight, only making matters worse.  I then tried to use the geometric mean, taking the cube root of the product of the percentages on the different parts (see Figure 1B).  While that improved things somewhat, it still did not achieve quite what I wanted and it was a bit confusing to the students. Finally, I tried  multiplying the grades in each area; while this was an improvement, if I stayed with the 90%, 80%, 70% cutoffs, this was too harsh a system (see Figure 1C).

The other influence that occurred was that our university started an incentive program to get people to be more active. If a person walked a million steps in 1 year, they would get a pay bonus. In talking to a colleague about this, the colleague pointed out that behavioral economists would argue that the incentive program would be more effective if the university handed out the bonus in January and said, if you do NOT walk at least 1 million steps this year, we will take back the incentive in December; basically, people will work harder not to lose something than to get something they do not yet have (3, 5, 6, 7).

My grading system is to tell the students they have 1,000 points on the first day of class and that 900 points is required for an A.  They lose 25 points for every class absence, they lose 25 points for every homework assignment not done satisfactorily, and up to 300 points if the final project or assessment is not satisfactory, see Figure 1D.  Consider a course that meets 3 times per week for 15 weeks and has homework for each class. If a student misses 5 classes (11%) then they cannot get an A.

If a student has more than 5 unsatisfactory homework assignments, then they cannot get an A.

If they lose more than ⅓ of the points on the project, they cannot get an A.

If they miss 2 classes and have 3 unsatisfactory homework assignments, they cannot get an A.

The conventional system in which a student gets x points for this assignment and y points for that assignment makes some assumptions (1, 9).  One assumption is that the response is additive and independent; there are plenty of phenomena in physiology that we know are synergistic and not additive.  My system is more like requiring a properly functioning heart, lungs and brain in order to consider the organism to be properly functioning, whereas the conventional system would be analogous to weight a properly functioning heart as much more important that properly functioning lungs.

Many students taking science classes suffer from imposter syndrome (4, 8, 10).  By making it clear that the student is starting the class with an A, I hope to make them realize that they do belong.  I reinforce this by saying that I view myself as their coach and I want them to succeed. But as a coach, it doesn’t help them if I do all the practice, they have to put in some work-hence the reward for attendance and homework.  (In classes where I have TAs, I refer to them as assistant coaches-again, to stress that we are there to help them get better and to emphasize that they have to do some work and not just watch us.)   Of course, some students worry that the project is a “gotcha” assignment.  I get around this by using an idea from Mittell (as quoted in 2).  If the project gets a not satisfactory evaluation, the student can revise and resubmit.  I use Mittell’s analogy that in my class “not satisfactory” is like when their parents say, “your room is not satisfactorily cleaned for you to go out” (as quoted in 2).

A business school colleague objected to my grading system because he felt students should earn their grade.  I appreciate and respect that point of view and I think it depends on the student, the class, and the teacher.  My analogy is, for a sports team, before the season starts, is the team undefeated or winless?

There are several reasons why I give credit for attendance:

I encourage discussions and brainstorming in class.  Students not present cannot learn from these interactions.  Furthermore, the rest of the class loses the absent student’s insights and questions which would enrich and diversify the interactions.

I am a bit more interested in developing lifelong habits that will serve the students well than in having them memorize information and theories, in part because some of the accepted information and theories are likely to change over their lifetime. To me, learning to attend class is a bit like learning how to get, and stay, in shape. Part of that is the ability to set aside time to exercise and to do it even on days when one is not in the mood.  For me, process is at least as important as short-term results. So I wanted a grading system that rewarded the behaviors I wanted (9).

A colleague also pointed out that if a student can get an A in a class without being in attendance, then, apparently, class time was not necessary for learning for that student (or, perhaps more accurately, class time was not necessary for passing the exams for that student).

Finally, I have a selfish reason for giving credit for attendance. I think the class works better when most students are there; I certainly find it more rewarding and enjoyable to be in front of a full class than when half of the students do not attend.

As I developed this grading system, it made me reflect again on what were my goals for the course.

Was I more interested in results or process? Taking my coaching analogy, if I were coaching physical fitness or flexibility, was having the student be able to run one mile in under 5 minutes or being able to touch their toes the goal of the semester or was it to help them develop habits, get in better shape than they started, and learn to enjoy the satisfaction of being in shape? For me, the analogous traits are to develop solid learning habits, to learn to critically think, to improve their ability to discuss and brainstorm about concepts and mechanisms, and to learn to enjoy the satisfaction that comes with thinking deeply about a problem.

In reading about other approaches to evaluation, I also realized that my previous approach to grading rewarded those who came into the course with a better background (2).  This did not seem fair to me. I am still struggling with the best way to account for the different skills and levels of the students when they enter the course.  Going back to the physical fitness training analogy, if a student comes into the course being able to run a 5 minute mile and finishes the course running a mile in 4:50 should they get a better grade than a student who entered the course not being able to run a complete mile and finishes the course running a complete mile in 10 minutes? (2)

One small difficulty with the approach is the dissonance of reading a fine assignment and then entering 0 in that grade column. Similarly, some students initially get concerned seeing a 0 in the grade column, so now I remind them when I reveal the grades for the first few evaluations that a 0 means they have done a satisfactory (or better) job.

I have found that the students find this grading system reduces their anxiety and makes them more comfortable in taking creative risks when doing their assignments.  It also makes evaluation an easier process as I am focused on helping the students improve and not on ranking them.

In summary, I hope some readers find that the ideas and questions that prompted me to adopt this grading system may help them reflect on how well their goals for the course match up with how they evaluate and reward students, even if they are not interested in adopting this grading system.

REFERENCES

  1. Elbow P, Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment. College English 55: 187-206, 1993
  2. Jones JB. Experimenting with Specifications Grading Chronicle of Higher Education, March 23, 2016 https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/experimenting-with-specifications-grading/61912 accessed 8/17/2021
  3. Kahneman D, Tversky A. Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk. Econometrica. 47:263–91, 1979
  4. McGill BM, Foster MJ, Pruitt AN, Thomas SG, Arsenault ER, Hanschu J, Wahwahsuck K, Cortez E, Zarek K, Loecke TD, Burgin AJ. You are welcome here: A practical guide to diversity, equity, and inclusion for undergraduates embarking on an ecological research experience. Ecol Evol. 11(8):3636-3645, 2021.
  5. Morewedge CK, Giblin CE. Explanations of the endowment effect: an integrative review. Trends Cogn Sci. 19(6):339-48, 2015.
  6. Ogdie, A, Asch, DA. Changing health behaviours in rheumatology: an introduction to behavioural economics. Nat Rev Rheumatol 16, 53–60, 2020.
  7. Patel MS, Asch DA, Rosin R, Small DS, Bellamy SL, Heuer J, Sproat S, Hyson C, Haff N, Lee SM, Wesby L, Hoffer K, Shuttleworth D, Taylor DH, Hilbert V, Zhu J, Yang L, Wang X, Volpp KG. Framing. Financial Incentives to Increase Physical Activity Among Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial. Ann Intern Med.164(6):385-94. 2016 .
  8. Persky AM. Intellectual Self-doubt and How to Get Out of It. Am J Pharm Educ. 82(2):6990, 2018
  9. Potts, G. A Simple Alternative to Grading . The Journal of the Virginia Community Colleges 15 (1):29-42, 2010.
  10. Winzeler EA. An improbable journey: Creativity helped me make the transition from art to curing malaria. J Biol Chem. 294(2):405-409, 2019.

Figure legend.

Outcomes from different grading systems. In all 4 cases, the course has 3 different areas (e.g., attendance, homework, and project). The percent of the total points possible for each area is determined. The right column (in red) are the percentages obtained in one area and the top row are the percentages obtained in the two other areas. Using the traditional cutoffs of 90%, 80%, for grades, the orange shaded areas would get A’s, the purple shaded areas B’s, and the blue shaded areas C’s.

A). Outcomes from an additive or average grading system.  In this system, one takes the average of the 3 areas. In this case, someone could get as low as 70% in one area and still get an A if they get 100% in the other two areas.

  1. B) Outcomes from a geometric mean grading system. In this system, one takes the cube root of the product of the grade in each of the 3 areas. In this system, getting 80% in one area and 100% in the other two still gets an A, but 70% in one area and 100% in the other two is now a B.
  2. C) Outcomes from a multiplicative system. Here one multiplies the percentages from each area. In this system, there are many fewer A’s.
  3. D) Outcomes from a loss aversion or endowment system. In this system, each student starts with 1,000 points and loses points when they do not satisfactorily complete an assignment in any area.  In this system, a student can only lose 10% of the points in one area and still get an A.  Even if the student gets 100% in two areas and 80% in the third area, they get a B.

    Mark Milanick

    Mark grew up in Novelty, OH and went to high school in Harmony, PA.  He attempted to double major in physics and English literature at Swarthmore, but ended up just majoring in English. He took a year abroad at the University of St. Andrews, taking pure Maths, Pharmacology and Modern Literature. After doing lab rotations with Ed Taylor and Richard Miller, he did his PhD with Bob Gunn in the Biophysics and Theoretical Biology at the University of Chicago.  His postdoctoral training was with Joe Hoffman in physiology at Yale.  He had over 20 years of NIH funding on red blood cell membrane transport and physiology. He particularly enjoys teaching physiology and general education classes, such as Toxins, the Good, the Bad and the Beautiful; Bodily Fluids and their Functions; Filtering Fact from Fiction in TV Crime and Medical Dramas; and the Science of Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll.

 

The Capstone Experience: Implementing lessons learned from a pandemic educational environment to create inspirational real-world educational experiences
Historically, physiology undergraduate students across the world have undertaken a laboratory-based, fieldwork or critical review research project, their educational purpose for students to gain research experience. However, decreasing numbers of physiology graduates are going onto careers in research, many are leaving science altogether. It is therefore imperative that we, as educators, better prepare the majority of our students, through their projects, for the diverse range of careers they go onto.

Pre-pandemic opportunities

Over the last twenty years, physiology and the broader global bioscience educator community, recognizing this diversity of graduate career destinations, have been expanding the range of projects available to their students, introducing for example, public engagement, educational development or enterprise projects.  However, the focus and purpose of these projects remained for students to gain research experience. They were traditional research projects but outside of the laboratory. The literature and Accrediting Bodies project criterion still talked about students undertaking “hypothesis-driven research” and “project/research-based assignments”.

Whilst these traditional research projects may have been relevant fifty years ago, they do not enable the majority of current Bioscience graduates to be “work-place ready”. The world is currently going through its fourth industrial revolution (4IR), a world and workplace governed by robotics, artificial intelligence, digitization and automation. Graduate recruiters require graduates with different skillsets, the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) skills1.

I recognized that radical change was required, not only in my School of Biomedical Sciences, but across bioscience Higher Education globally. Collectively, bioscience educators needed to rethink the purpose, practices and outcomes of undergraduate research projects in order to better prepare our students for an increasingly challenging 21st Century global workplace.

My solution was to introduce project-based capstone experiences into my program. their purpose to provide students with opportunities for personal and professional development, and to gain real life work experience.

A highly experienced science communicator, I facilitated ethical debates in High Schools.  I realized that this would make an ideal opportunity for my undergraduates – something different as their research project. Starting small, I collaborated with one of my project mentees to co-create and co-deliver an ethics-focused workshop for High School students at the 2005 Leeds Festival of Science2. The capstone experience, as an alternative to traditional research projects, was born.

Over the last sixteen years, I have progressively expanded the range of capstone opportunities in my course. Colleagues within my School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Leeds (UK), recognizing the benefits of capstones to students, joined me. In partnership with our students, we have created a sector-leading portfolio of traditional research projects offered alongside science or industry-focused capstones, and those with a civic or societal focus in the same course (Figure 1)3. Students select the project that best addresses their individual developmental needs and/or future career intentions. By offering this broad portfolio of sixteen opportunities, it is inclusive, there is something for each and every student to realize their full academic potential and personal goals.

 

Figure 1: Research and capstone project opportunities available to students

My students have wholeheartedly grasped this opportunity, excelling academically.  Their course marks are significantly higher than students undertaking traditional research projects (2020: mean ± SD = 71.4±4.4% vs 68.4±5.8%, p<0.05).  In 2020-21, 27% selected capstones as their first choice of project, a massive cultural shift given we are a research-intensive (R1) Institution where laboratory projects have traditionally been viewed by both students and Faculty as the “gold-standard”.

Our work as a team has resulted in the award of a prestigious national (UK) higher education prize, an Advance HE Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence.

My work came to the attention of other Bioscience educators. I was invited to run workshops at Institutions across the UK seeking to introduce capstones into their program. I re-wrote one of the two UK Bioscience Accrediting Bodies project accreditation criteria, incorporating my capstone ideas.

And then Covid struck!

With restricted or no access to research facilities, Bioscience educators globally struggled to provide alternatives to traditional research projects.  To support colleagues across the world, in partnership with Sue Jones (York St John University, UK) and Michelle Payne (University of Sunderland, UK), I ran virtual workshops, sharing my capstone ideas and resources.  I created and shared globally, guides for students4 and educators5, and resource repositories6,7. The workshops were attended by over 1000 educators from as far afield as Australia, Africa and America. The resources viewed 12,000 times from over 50 countries.

A year on, we surveyed both students and Faculty globally. All responding institutions had introduced capstone projects into their programs in 2020-21. More importantly, they are here to stay. Recognizing the benefits to their future employability and careers, a massive 94% of students wanted capstones to be provided alongside traditional research projects. Faculty thought the same. All are not only keeping capstones, but more importantly, are broadening their portfolios going forward. Each new format developing different skill sets and attributes, and therefore preparing students for additional career destinations. We have inspired sector-wide curriculum change!

Going forward, we cannot return to our old ways!

As the world opens up and returns to a new “normal”, we cannot go back to our old ways of just offering traditional research projects. We would be massively letting our students and wider Society down. We need to take the best from what we have learnt and achieved, both before and during the pandemic, and continue to develop and evolve our collective capstone provision going forward.

We are at the start of an exciting Global journey.  Capstones across the world are predominantly conservative in nature, for example taught courses, senior seminar series or extended essays. Educators globally have yet to fully realize the transformative (massive uplift in skills and attributes) and translational (preparation for the workplace) potential of capstones.

We need to create capstones that are more representative of the work place for example, multi-disciplinary teams and sub-teams working on the same capstone, and capstones that run over multiple years, with current students taking the previous year’s project outputs and outcomes to the next stage.  The events of the past two years have made Universities realize they need to better address their local and global civic and societal responsibilities and missions, so capstones that facilitate societal engagement. We need to move away from traditional dissertations or reports to more authentic real-world assessments.

Within my School of Biomedical Sciences and the broader University of Leeds, we have started down this journey. Ninety percent of the capstones in my course are now team-based. Students choose their primary assessment method (e.g. academic paper, commercial report, e-portfolio) – the one most suited to their particular capstone format and which best showcases their knowledge, skills and attributes. I have introduced Grand Challenges capstones where students work as to teams to create evidence-driven solutions to global Grand Challenges or UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The intention to develop these into trans-national educational opportunities, where students from the Global North and South work collaboratively on the same SDG or Grand Challenge capstone. We have an Institutional requirement that all undergraduate students, regardless of discipline, must undertake a major research-based assignment in their final year of study. I have been awarded a Leeds Institute of Teaching Excellence to work with Faculty across the University to introduce capstones into their programs and to create pan-university multi-disciplinary capstone opportunities for our students.

I do not do things by halves. My vision is not just limited to Leeds, the UK or the Biosciences, but Global!

I have created a global Community of Practice for stakeholders across the world to work collaboratively together, sharing ideas, expertise and resources, to co-create and introduce inspirational multi-disciplinary, multi-national team-based capstone projects that address globally relevant issues into undergraduate and taught postgraduate degree programs across the world.  I want to make it a truly global and inclusive community, to include all stakeholders- students, alumni, educators, employers, NGOs, social enterprise, Global North or South, all disciplines or sectors….The list is endless.

If you would like to join this Community of Practice and be part of this exciting journey, please email me (d.i.lewis@leeds.ac.uk). Please share this opportunity amongst your colleagues, networks and across your Institution. The broader the membership, the greater the collective benefits for all.

If we pull this off, the benefits for students, other stakeholders and Society will be phenomenal. Our graduates would be truly global graduates, equipped with the skills and attributes to become leaders in whatever field they enter. As Faculty, we would be providing an exceptional educational experience for our students, properly preparing them for the workplace. Universities, through student capstones, would be better able to address their civic and societal responsibilities and missions. Employers would have graduates able to take their businesses forward and to thrive in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. We would be creating solutions to some of the complex problems facing mankind.

Figure 1: Research and capstone project opportunities available to students

1.    Gray, A. (2016). The 10 skills you need to thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-10-skills-you-need-to-thrive-in-the-fourth-industrial-revolution/

2.    Lewis DI (2011) Enhancing student employability through ethics-based outreach activities and OERs. Bioscience Education 18, 7SE https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3108/beej.18.7SE

3.    Lewis DI (2020a). Final year or Honours projects: Time for a total re-think? Physiology News 119: 10-11.

4.    Lewis DI (2020b). Choosing the right final year research, honours or capstone project for you. Skills career pathways & what’s involved. https://bit.ly/ChoosingBioCapstone

5.    Lewis DI (2020c). Final year research, honours or capstone projects in the Biosciences. How to Do it Guides. https://bit.ly/BiosciCapstones

6.    Lewis DI (2020d) E-Biopracticals (Collection of simulations & e-learning resources for use in Bioscience practical education. Available at: https://bit.ly/e-BioPracticals

7.    Lewis DI (2020e) Open access data repositories (Collection of large datasets, data analysis & visualization tools).  Available at: https://bit.ly/OADataRep.

 

Dr. Dave Lewis is currently a Senior Lecturer (Associate Prof) in Pharmacology and Bioethics in the School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Leeds, UK. A student education focused colleague, he creates inspirational educational and professional educational interventions designed to promote learner personal and professional development, and prepare them for the workplace.  He is the architect of the introduction of capstone projects into Bioscience programs across the UK and beyond.  He also Chairs the International Union of Basic & Clinical Pharmacology’s Integrative & Organ Systems Pharmacology Initiative, working with Professional and Regulatory Bodies, and NGOs in India, China and across Africa to co-create and co-deliver professional education in research animal sciences and ethics.

In recognition of his exceptional contribution to Bioscience Higher Education globally, he has received multiple prestigious education awards including a UK Advance HE National Teaching Fellowship and its Collaborative Teaching Excellence Award, the (UK) Biochemical Society’s Teaching Excellence Award, the (UK) Physiological Society’s Otto Hutter Teaching Prize, and Fellowship of the British Pharmacological Society & its Zaimis Prize.

The Olympics, sex, and gender in the physiology classroom
The recent Tokyo Olympic Games present an opportunity for a number of intriguing discussions in a physiology classroom.  Typical discussion topics around the Olympic Games involve muscle strength, muscle power, aerobic fitness, bioenergetics, and a number of other physiological factors that determine athletic performance.  Coronavirus, immunity, disease transmission, and similar topics may be unique areas of discussion related to the Tokyo Olympic Games.  Another topic that has been prevalent in the news for the Tokyo Olympic Games is the role of sex and gender in athletic competition.

Before and during the Tokyo Olympic Games several athletes were featured in news headlines due to either gender identity or differences of sexual development (DSD, also sometimes called disorders of sexual development).  Male-to-female transgender athletes competing in women’s sports in the Tokyo Olympic Games include weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, archer Stephanie Barrett, cyclist Chelsea Wolfe, soccer player Quinn, and volleyball player Tifanny Abreu, (1, 2).  There have also been news stories about Caster Semenya, Christine Mboma, and Beatrice Masilingi being ineligible to participate in the Olympics due to their DSD causing their serum testosterone concentrations to be above the allowed limits for female athletes (3, 4).  In addition to physiology sex and gender are interwoven with culture, religion, and politics, so how to discuss sex and gender in the physiology classroom needs to be carefully considered by each instructor depending on the campus climate, policies, and individual comfort level with walking into these potential minefields.  However, sex and gender in sports are very appropriate topics to discuss from a physiological perspective.

Although sex and gender have been used interchangeably in common conversation and in the scientific literature, the American Psychological Association defines sex as “physical and biological traits that distinguish between males and females” (5) whereas gender “implies the psychological, behavioral, social, and cultural aspects of being male or female (i.e., masculinity or femininity)” (6).  Using these definitions can be helpful to draw a clear distinction between gender (and/or gender identity) as a social construct and sex as a biological variable, which can help focus the discussion on physiology.

As reviewed by Mazure and Jones (7) since 1993 the NIH puts a priority on funding research that includes women as well as men in clinical studies and includes an analysis of the results by sex or gender.  Mazure and Jones (7) also summarized a comprehensive 2001 Institute of Medicine sponsored evaluation that concluded that every cell has a sex.  A 2021 Endocrine Society scientific statement provides considerable information on the biological basis of human sexual dimorphism, disorders of sexual development, and lack of a known biological underpinning for gender identity (8).  On August 12, 2021 a PubMed search using the term “Sex Matters” (in quotation marks) returned 179 results, with many of the linked papers demonstrating the importance of sex for health, disease, and overall biological function (without quotation marks there were 10,979 results).  Given that there have been various discussions in the news media and across social media blurring the distinction between sex and gender, it is very important that students in physiology understand that sex in humans is an important biologically dimorphic trait of male or female.

Relevant to a discussion of the Olympic Games, the differences in performance between male and female running has been analyzed for world’s best and world’s 100th best (9), annual world’s best performance (10), world record performance (11-13), Olympic and elite performance (13-16), High School performance in CA, FL, MN, NY, and WA (17), and 100 all-time best Norwegian youth performance (18).  Hilton and Lundberg (19) also provided an excellent review of the large differences in athletic performance between men and women in numerous sports.  Overall, by mid-puberty males outperform comparably aged and trained females by 10-60%, depending on the sport (see figure 1 of Hilton and Lundberg, reproduced here with no changes under the Creative Commons license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

 

Hilton and Lundberg (19) also reviewed the present state of research regarding the effects of male-to-female hormone treatment on muscle strength and body composition and concluded that men typically have 45% more muscle mass than women, and male-to-female hormone treatment reduces muscle mass by ~5%.  These authors also concluded that men typically have 30-60% higher muscle strength than women, and male-to-female hormone treatment reduces muscle strength by 0-9%.  Overall, Hilton and Lundberg (19) conclude that transwomen retain considerable advantages over cisgender women even after 1-3 years of male-to-female hormone treatment.  Harper at al. (20) also reviewed the research regarding the effects of male-to-female hormone treatment on muscle strength and body composition and came to the same conclusions as Hilton and Lundberg.  Harper et al. (20) further concluded that male-to-female hormone treatment eliminates the difference in hemoglobin concentrations between cisgender men and women.  In a single research project, Roberts et al. (21) observed that before transition male-to-female members in the US Air Force completed a 1.5 mile running fitness test 21% faster than comparably aged cisgender women.  After 2.5 years of male-to-female hormone treatment the transwomen completed the 1.5 mile running fitness test 12% faster than comparably aged cisgender women. (Figure 1 Hilton and Lundberg)

All of the previously mentioned information is important to consider when asking if transwomen can be fairly and safely included in women’s sports.  It is also important to note that the effects of male-to-female hormone treatment on important determinants of athletic performance remain largely unknown.  Measurements of VO2max in transwomen using direct or indirect calorimetry are not available.  Measurements of muscle strength in standard lifts (e.g. bench press, leg press, squat, deadlift, etc.) in transwomen are not available.  Nor have there been evaluations of the effects of male-to-female hormone therapy on agility, flexibility, or reaction time.  There has been no controlled research evaluating how male-to-female hormone treatment influences the adaptations to aerobic or resistance training.  And there are only anecdotal reports of the competitive athletic performance of transwomen before and after using male-to-female hormone treatment.

The safe and fair inclusion of transgender athletes and athletes with DSD in women’s sports is a topic being debated in many states and countries, and by many sporting organizations including the International Olympic Committee.  In the end, whether it is safe and fair to include transgender athletes and athletes with DSD in women’s sports comes down a few facts that can be extrapolated, lots of opinions, and an interesting but complicated discussion.  This is a worthwhile discussion in a physiology classroom because it allows a good review of the biologically dimorphic nature of human sex.  However, the safe and fair inclusion of transgender athletes and athletes with DSD in women’s sports is also a discussion that should be approached with caution due to the many opinions this topic entails that reside outside of physiology.

 

 

1.    The Economist explains: Why are transgender Olympians proving so controversial? The Economist. https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/07/16/why-are-transgender-olympians-proving-so-controversial. [Accessed: August 12, 2021, 2021].

2.    Pruitt-Young S. Live Updates: The Tokyo Olympics Canadian Soccer Player Quinn Becomes The First Out Trans And Nonbinary Gold Medalist NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/08/06/1025442511/canadian-soccer-player-quinn-becomes-first-trans-and-nonbinary-olympic-gold-meda. [Accessed: August 12, 2021, 2021].

3.    The Clock Ticks on Caster Semenya’s Olympic Career https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/28/sports/olympics/caster-semenya-olympics-gender.html. [Accessed: August 12, 2021, 2021].

4.    Tokyo 2020: Two Namibian Olympic medal contenders ruled ineligible for women’s 400m due to naturally high testosterone levels CNN. https://www.cbs58.com/news/tokyo-2020-two-namibian-olympic-medal-contenders-ruled-ineligible-for-womens-400m-due-to-naturally-high-testosterone-levels. [Accessed: August 21, 2021, 2021].

5.    APA Dictionary of Psychology: sex. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/sex. [Accessed: August 12, 2021, 2021].

6.    APA Dictionary of Psychology: gender. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/sex. [Accessed: August 12, 2021, 2021].

7.    Mazure CM, and Jones DP. Twenty years and still counting: including women as participants and studying sex and gender in biomedical research. BMC Womens Health 15: 94, 2015.

8.    Bhargava A, Arnold AP, Bangasser DA, Denton KM, Gupta A, Hilliard Krause LM, Mayer EA, McCarthy M, Miller WL, Raznahan A, and Verma R. Considering Sex as a Biological Variable in Basic and Clinical Studies: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocr Rev 2021.

9.    Sparling PB, O’Donnell EM, and Snow TK. The gender difference in distance running performance has plateaued: an analysis of world rankings from 1980 to 1996. Med Sci Sports Exerc 30: 1725-1729, 1998.

10.  Tang L, Ding W, and Liu C. Scaling Invariance of Sports Sex Gap. Front Physiol 11: 606769, 2020.

11.  Cheuvront SN, Carter R, Deruisseau KC, and Moffatt RJ. Running performance differences between men and women:an update. Sports Med 35: 1017-1024, 2005.

12.  Thibault V, Guillaume M, Berthelot G, Helou NE, Schaal K, Quinquis L, Nassif H, Tafflet M, Escolano S, Hermine O, and Toussaint JF. Women and Men in Sport Performance: The Gender Gap has not Evolved since 1983. J Sports Sci Med 9: 214-223, 2010.

13.  Sandbakk O, Solli GS, and Holmberg HC. Sex Differences in World-Record Performance: The Influence of Sport Discipline and Competition Duration. Int J Sports Physiol Perform 13: 2-8, 2018.

14.  Millard-Stafford M, Swanson AE, and Wittbrodt MT. Nature Versus Nurture: Have Performance Gaps Between Men and Women Reached an Asymptote? Int J Sports Physiol Perform 13: 530-535, 2018.

15.  Seiler S, De Koning JJ, and Foster C. The fall and rise of the gender difference in elite anaerobic performance 1952-2006. Med Sci Sports Exerc 39: 534-540, 2007.

16.  Nuell S, Illera-Dominguez V, Carmona G, Alomar X, Padulles JM, Lloret M, and Cadefau JA. Sex differences in thigh muscle volumes, sprint performance and mechanical properties in national-level sprinters. PLoS One 14: e0224862, 2019.

17.  Higerd GA. Assessing the Potential Transgender Impact on Girl Champions in American High School Track and Field. In: Sports Management. PQDT Open: United States Sports Academy, 2020, p. 168.

18.  Tonnessen E, Svendsen IS, Olsen IC, Guttormsen A, and Haugen T. Performance development in adolescent track and field athletes according to age, sex and sport discipline. PLoS One 10: e0129014, 2015.

19.  Hilton EN, and Lundberg TR. Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage. Sports Med 2020.

20.  Harper J, O’Donnell E, Sorouri Khorashad B, McDermott H, and Witcomb GL. How does hormone transition in transgender women change body composition, muscle strength and haemoglobin? Systematic review with a focus on the implications for sport participation. Br J Sports Med 2021.

21.  Roberts TA, Smalley J, and Ahrendt D. Effect of gender affirming hormones on athletic performance in transwomen and transmen: implications for sporting organisations and legislators. Br J Sports Med 2020.

Dr. Greg Brown is a Professor of Exercise Science in the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences at the University of Nebraska at Kearney where he has been a faculty member since 2004. He is also the Director of the General Studies program at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education (pre-Physical Therapy emphasis) from Utah State University in 1997, a Master of Science in Exercise and Sport Science (Exercise Physiology Emphasis) from Iowa State University in 1999, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Health and Human Performance (Biological Basis of Health & Human Performance emphasis) from Iowa State University in 2002. He is a Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Exercise Physiologist.
The COVID-19 Pandemic: An Opportunity for Change in my Teaching

As the 2020-21 academic year ended, I sighed with relief. I had survived the switch to an online teaching format, wearing a mask while teaching when I had to have a class in-person, and the loss of my father. But as quickly as my sighs of relief subsided, I began to wonder, “What will happen next academic year?” Will I be teaching all my classes in-person, will my classes be online, or will I have some classes or labs online and others in-person? As these questions swirled in my head, I began to reflect on this past year. Teaching online was tough. There were activities that bombed. But there were activities that rocked. And there were activities that could be improved. And believe it or not, there were some great things that came from teaching online. Some had to do with content, some had to do with skills, and some had to do with community. Now comes the challenge of choosing what I should take with me, and what I should leave behind? And as I reflected, I realized there are two experiences from this past year I want to use this year, whether I am teaching in-person or online. One had to do with the idea of community and the other had to do with skills. While others came up, I decided to be kind to myself and focus on two.

1. Forming an Inclusive Scientific Community
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I had never taught a course online nor had I taken a class online. I had attended webinars but had never presented an online seminar either. Now I was being asked to teach courses online to students I had never met, and these students had never met each other in-person either. When I reflected on my teaching in-person, I realized I had never worried about whether I knew the students immediately or whether they knew each other. I assumed their presence in class with me and with the other students would allow relationships to form and a learning community to be built. But now they were just images on a screen and often, just names since cameras were not always on.
Now that I was teaching online, I had to be more intentional about building a learning community. This was to help not only me but also my students. Research has shown that students do not just want to be faces in a crowd (1, 2). They want to be recognized by the professor and by their peers. And as the pandemic progressed, they needed this more personal interaction. Creating a community would foster interaction and make students comfortable to share in an online environment (1, 2). To begin, I included icebreaker activities to allow me and the students to learn more about each other. And these icebreakers were not a one and done activity. They continued throughout the first several weeks of class. As the semester continued, polls or questions replaced the icebreakers. These were questions anyone could answer. They could be content questions, well-being checks, or simple questions about plans for the weekend or favorite ice cream. All meant to foster community. When in the classroom, peer interactions can be observed by the instructor. In the online classroom, it was more difficult to monitor interactions and those who were uncomfortable with group work could disappear when the breakout rooms opened.
Including these activities online allowed me and the students to feel like we were in this class together. While I was not a student, I was no longer “The Sage on the Stage.” We, the professor and the students, were in this online learning community together. When an online activity was successful, we celebrated together. If something did not work, what discussed the activity and what we could change. This community was most evident when my father fell ill and then passed away. These students I had been working with stepped up and helped me during this emotionally challenging time. While I still guided their learning, they took more on themselves, and they helped each other and me. The entire year we had spoken about grace and that we all needed to give and receive it. They gave me grace when I needed it most. Who would not want to take this community into the in-person classroom?


2. Promoting Scientific Soft Skills
With the initial move to online teaching, one of the challenges faced was laboratory experiments. Many laboratory exercises require specialized equipment (3). In my case, this was the Biopac Student Lab System®. One of the benefits of this system is that students get to record physiologic data on each other. The cost of and logistical issues regarding supervision and liability for the Biopac® home system prevented me from using this as an option. However, one of the benefits of the Biopac Student Lab System® is the free access to sample data and the free analysis software for downloading offered by the company (Figure 1). Additionally, as I had been using these systems for over 10 years, I had previously recorded student data at my fingertips (Figure 2). Students could download the software to their personal computers and open any shared data for analysis. While the students were not actually recording the data themselves, this provided an alternative for learning about physiological processes with data from subjects. This also allowed me to have the students focus more on how they presented the results and how they discussed the science behind the results. We could focus on the writing of the results and the understanding of the science because the students were no longer focusing on the possibility of user error as to why they did not get the results expected.
As I was reflecting, I realized that with lab exercises moving online that the reduction in focus on learning how to use equipment and collect data was a positive (3). This allowed students to focus on writing and understanding what they were writing. This made me think that I could expand the use of pre-recorded data to include other skills such as inter-rater reliability and statistical analysis. As stated earlier, in my physiology courses, students consistently would state user error was the reason they did not get the results they expected. While this may have been the case for some experiments it was not always the case. This is where sample raw data, whether the raw data was from the equipment company or recordings from prior years’ labs, is useful. Students can be provided with the same raw data to be analyzed. Students could then compare results with each other and determine if they were following the same directions for analyzing the data. The closer the values to their peers suggested they were analyzing the data in a comparable manner.
Another interesting opportunity that pre-recorded data provides is the ability to discuss statistical significance in a more detailed fashion. Often when students are collecting and analyzing their own raw data, there is not enough time to aggregate the data for statistical analysis. Now students could all be given multiple sets of raw data to analyze, these results could be aggregated, and statistical analysis performed. In upper-level courses, students can then learn when to use t-tests versus ANOVA, learn about post hoc tests, and p-values. As journals and professional societies recommend more in-depth presentation of statistical analysis, this can be added as well. In more introductory courses, this could be modified to focus on mean and standard deviation. Finally, by focusing on inter-rater reliability and statistics, students can further improve their writing of the results and discussion sections.
One of the reasons labs are often popular is because students get to be the scientist. I do not want this to disappear when in-person labs return. I still want students to learn how to use the Biopac® systems and record data from each other when we return to class; seeing the excitement in the students’ eyes when they see the ECG or EMG recording of their own bodies is one of the joys of teaching. But I want to find ways to keep the positive aspects of using pre-recorded data. Could this be a pre-lab activity? Could I take one or two of the experiments we do and provide the data rather than record the data? Could I have students record their own data and exchange the raw data with each other? I am still trying to decide how this might look in my class. Maybe that is my next blog?
In conclusion, the COVID-19 pandemic created a flurry of change in a short period of time. In higher education, we are not used to this quick a change. And as humans, we are typically resistant to change. However, I suggest that instead of being anxious to return to the way we used to be that we look back at this time as a needed push for some change. We should use this opportunity to see what we changed that made our teaching better.

1. Faulkner SL, Watson WK, Pollino MA, Shetterly JR. “Treat me like a person, rather than another number”: university student perceptions of inclusive classroom practices. Communication Education. 2021;70(1):92-111. doi: 10.1080/03634523.2020.1812680.
2. Kirn-Safran CB, Reid AC, Chatman MM. Peer Mentors Prove to be Strong Assets in Virtual Anatomy & Physiology Labs. Imprint. 2021:16-8.
3. Xinnian Chen CBK-S, Talitha van der Meulen, Karen L. Myhr, Alan H. Savitzky, Melissa A. Fleegal-DeMotta. Physiology Labs During a Pandemic: What did we learn? Advances in Physiology Education. 2021;In Press.

Figure 1: Image of free download Biopac Student Analysis Software®. Note you can review a saved lesson, analyze sample data from the company, or analyze data collected in the lab.

Figure 2:  Image of pre-recorded spirogram with vital capacity indicated. Values are indicated in the boxes on the top of the spirogram.

Opening image Creator: Victoria Bar; Credit: Getty Images

Melissa DeMotta, PhD is currently an Associate Professor of Biology at Clarke University in Dubuque, IA. Melissa received her BS in biology from Lebanon Valley College. After working for three years at Penn State’s College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, she received her PhD in Physiology and Pharmacology from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Following postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Arizona and Saint Louis University, Melissa joined the Biology Department at Clarke University. Melissa currently teaches Human Physiology and Exercise Physiology to physical therapy graduate students and undergraduates. She also enjoys teaching non-majors life science courses as well.
Using Google Jamboard for Collaborative Online Learning in Human Physiology

Active and cooperative learning strategies are useful tools for engaging students in the classroom and improving learning (Allen & Tanner, 2005; García-Almeida & Cabrera-Nuez, 2020; Montrezor, 2021). These learning strategies require students to engage with course content by “seeking new information, organizing it in a way that is meaningful, and having the chance to explain it to others” (Allen & Tanner, 2005, p. 262). Both active and cooperative learning emphasize peer interactions and give students opportunities to demonstrate understanding.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity for instructors to practice new pedagogies in face to face, hybrid, and remote learning environments. Prior to the pandemic, I often asked students to use the classroom white boards collaboratively to draw diagrams, processes, and outline concepts. Given limitations on face to face interactions in hybrid and remote classes, I used Google’s Jamboard to recreate this in-class experience for a virtual Human Anatomy & Physiology course. Students were Exercise and Health Science majors and minors. The course was offered in 15, three-hour class periods over a four-week course block in spring 2021. The three-hour class periods necessitated a variety of pedagogies to maintain student engagement.

Jamboard is a virtual white board space that can be used collaboratively by sharing a link with others. Before sharing, the link settings must be adjusted to allow any user with the link to edit the Jamboard. Each board can hold up to 20 different frames, or white board spaces, which can be modified by adding figures, text, drawings, and sticky notes. I began the first day of class demonstrating to students how to use Jamboard. We started with a blank frame and I asked students to add “sticky notes” to the board with thoughts about how they would stay engaged with the course during our three-hour meeting time. Students also practiced using various editing tools such as the pen, textbox, and creating shapes. The students and I both found Jamboard very user friendly and easy to navigate.

In subsequent classes, I created specific Jamboard frames prior to class with the outline of an activity or figures. Some frames were created for the class to contribute to collaboratively, similar to a jigsaw format. For example, a picture of a neuron was added to one frame (Figure 1).

Preassigned student groups worked in Zoom breakout rooms to identify one anatomical location and describe its primary function on the neuron. Each group was assigned a different neuron structure and reported back to the class after their group work. During the cardiovascular physiology unit, student groups were each assigned one component of the cardiac cycle on a Wigger’s diagram. Groups worked in Zoom breakout rooms to identify their component of the cycle and write an explanation on the diagram. Groups also collaboratively completed a chart with each group completing one row or column in the chart (Figure 2). Jamboard was also useful for students to order and label steps in a physiological process. In the skeletal muscle unit, students worked in groups to correctly order the steps of muscle contraction. Each group was assigned one picture on the Jamboard frame, groups placed their picture in the correct order and used a textbox or sticky note to describe the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

For other activities, frames were created once and duplicated for each group with the group number noted at the top of the frame. Frames containing concept map instructions or feedback loop skeletons were duplicated for each group. For example, groups worked in Zoom breakout rooms to design a concept map demonstrating the relationships between cell membrane components (Figure 3) or outline a control system for different responses to deviations for homeostasis. During the homeostatic control system activity, each group was assigned a different control system. Groups reported back to the class as a whole and described their work to the class (Figure 4).

 

At the end of the course, students were surveyed about our Jamboard use. Of 17 students, 11 completed the survey. Overall, students indicated that Jamboard was an effective learning (100%, n=11) and group engagement tool (100%, n=11). In open-ended responses, students indicated that Jamboard was most effective for engaging in collaboration and checks for understanding during class. They especially liked that Jamboard helped create an in class feeling and kept them engaged with their class and their group in an interactive way. Even though groups were often labeled on Jamboard (e.g.- one frame labeled “Group 1 Concept Map” or a diagram with a “1” and arrow pointing to a specific area for identification for Group 1), several students remarked that they liked the anonymity provided by Jamboard and the lower perceived pressure to answer correctly. Students listed labeling diagrams (n=10), creating concept maps (n=7), and drawing physiological processes (n=6) as their favorite Jamboard activities. The students also appreciated that the boards were available after class for review. I posted the Jamboard link to our learning management system (Canvas) and students could return to the boards to review after class. 100% (n=11) of student respondents indicated they went back to the Jamboards two or more times after class to review.

From the instructor perspective, Jamboard provided an easy online collaborative tool for teaching physiology. Jamboard was user-friendly, flexible, and easy to set up before or during class. I found that my students were able to sustain engagement during three hours of remote class. The Jamboard group assignments were not graded, but asking student groups to report back to the class was effective motivation for producing quality group work. Challenges associated with Jamboard were consistent with most online activities including student access to a computer and reliable internet. Students occasionally had issues accessing the board anonymously if they were logged into their personal google accounts.

In moving back to face to learning, the Jamboard activities could be easily done on a whiteboard; however, collaborative drawing and annotating diagrams and charts might still be difficult without appropriate projectors or smartboard technology. Additionally, extra steps involved in taking a picture of the white board and uploading the picture to a course webpage may be barriers to making the collaborative work available after class for review. Jamboard could also be used for out of class individual or group assignments such a pre- or post- class assignments or for brainstorming activities. While the class size in the present example is quite small (17 students), use of Jamboard in these ways would be easily adaptable to larger classes and may improve student engagement in large classes (Essop & Beselaar, 2020)

 

Overall, Jamboard was an effective online collaborative tool for teaching and learning human physiology. Jamboard was user-friendly, easy to prepare before class, and kept students engaged with the class and their groups.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Allen, D., & Tanner, K. (2005). Infusing Active Learning into the Large-enrollment Biology Class: Seven Strategies, from the Simple to Complex. Cell Biology Education, 4(4), 262–268. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.05-08-0113

Essop, M. F., & Beselaar, L. (2020). Student response to a cooperative learning element within a large physiology class setting: Lessons learned. Advances in Physiology Education, 44(3), 269–275. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00165.2019

García-Almeida, D. J., & Cabrera-Nuez, M. T. (2020). The influence of knowledge recipients’ proactivity on knowledge construction in cooperative learning experiences. Active Learning in Higher Education, 21(1), 79–92. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787418754569

Montrezor, L. H. (2021). Lectures and collaborative working improves the performance of medical students. Advances in Physiology Education, 45(1), 18–23. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00121.2020

Dr. Mary Stenson earned her B.S. in Biology from Niagara University and her M.S. and Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology from Springfield College. She is an Associate Professor of Exercise Science and Sport Studies at the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University in Saint Joseph, Minnesota. Dr. Stenson teaches exercise physiology, research methods, anatomy & physiology, and health & fitness. Her research focuses on recovery from exercises and improving health of college students. Dr. Stenson mentors several undergraduate research students each year and considers teaching and mentoring the most important and fulfilling parts of her work.
Reworking the recipe: Adding experimentation and reflection to exercise physiology laboratories

What do you get when you follow a recipe? We suppose it depends on how carefully you follow the instructions, but assuming you stay true to the steps and have the requisite skills, you get something that approximates the taste described on the food blog (it never looks as good). While following a recipe can get you an expected result in the kitchen, it does not make you a chef—you probably will not learn to create new dishes, improve tired ones, or reverse-engineer your favorite take-out order. What do you do if you run out of vanilla!? We think the same is true in a science laboratory: You don’t develop the skills of a scientist by just following instructions. Sure, scientists follow instructions, but they also need to choose, create, and improve instructions. How do scientists become nimble with their craft? They experiment, make mistakes, troubleshoot, and iterate (or “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy” for those who grew up with Miss Frizzle). If we asked you where undergraduate students learn to become scientists, we expect “laboratories” would be the most common answer, but unless laboratory activities are intentionally designed to develop the curiosity, creativity, and skills to pose and answer questions, they won’t produce adept scientists. In contrast to traditional laboratory activities, inquiry-based laboratory activities allow learners to develop important scientific skills.

Two years ago, we began a project aimed at improving student learning by replacing recipes with authentic science in exercise physiology laboratories. With one year remaining in our project, this blog post will explore our rationale, progress, and future plans.

Section 1: Put the scientist cookie-cutter back in the drawer

In undergraduate exercise physiology courses, laboratory-based learning is common, but it focuses more on students learning techniques than experimenting (9). In our experience, a typical undergraduate laboratory activity requires students to follow step-by-step procedures to measure one or more variables in a limited number of participants, most commonly their lab mates. Students administer exercise protocols on bikes, treadmills, and dynamometers to collect a variety of data, including oxygen uptake, heart rate, and muscle strength. These labs are largely descriptive. For example, a quintessential undergraduate exercise physiology laboratory involves performing a graded exercise test to measure the maximal rate of oxygen uptake (V̇O2max). Students assume the role of physiologist, repeatedly increasing the speed of a treadmill (or power output of a cycle ergometer) while sampling expired gases until the participant is unable to continue due to exhaustion. Students are discouraged (actually, prohibited) from altering the protocol and rarely given the chance to fix mistakes in a future laboratory (don’t forget the nose clips!). While the specific results may not be known in advance—they depend on characteristics of the participant—this activity is not an experiment. This traditional approach to laboratory teaching is standard (8, 11, 13). In contrast, an inquiry-based approach allows students to act like scientists and experiment.

There is a terrific description of levels of student inquiry in science for interested readers outlined in Bell et al. (4) and summarized in Table 1 below. The authors describe four levels of inquiry, and in our early stages of reforming labs, we found these levels very helpful for grappling with and revising laboratory learning activities and assessments. In our experience, only level 1 inquiry-based activities are regularly included in undergraduate laboratories: For example, our students compare post-exercise blood lactate concentration responses to passive and active recovery. Even though the results are known in advance and students are following the instructor’s procedures for level 1 inquiry, learners are frequently assessed on their ability to create laboratory reports where they find themselves toiling over uninspired post hoc hypotheses and rewriting a common set of methods in their own words. This process is disingenuous. Furthermore, knowing that they are attempting to verify a known result may lead some students to engage in questionable research practices to obtain that result (14).

Table 1. The four levels of inquiry, as described by Bell et al. (4).

Level Type Description of student activities
1 Confirmation Students verify or confirm known results
2 Structured inquiry Students investigate instructor-determined question using instructor-determined procedures (results not known in advance)
3 Guided inquiry Students investigate instructor-determined question using student-determined procedures
4 Open inquiry Students develop questions and procedures for rigorously answering them

 

We think traditional laboratory teaching goes against the spirit of what science actually is: The application of rigorous methods in the pursuit of answers to questions. Although students may develop technical skills by completing descriptive activities and low-level inquiry activities (e.g., data acquisition, data analysis, technical writing), there is a missed opportunity to develop the habits of mind and skills of a scientist in traditional laboratories. More than that, there is a misrepresentation, or at least obfuscation, of science. If we pretend these laboratories represent the scientific process, how do we expect students to become curious about, inspired by, and ultimately capable of doing science on their own? Students need to progress to higher levels of inquiry-based learning, but implementing these types of laboratories can be challenging in exercise physiology.

It is understandable that exercise physiology laboratories tend to exclude inquiry-based learning, as all tests are performed on human participants. First, there are legitimate safety concerns in exercise physiology laboratories, as participants are asked to exert themselves, often maximally; manipulations have physiological consequences; and some techniques are invasive. It would be irresponsible to let students change data collection protocols on the fly and jeopardize the health and safety of their peers. Second, as multiple testing sessions may be required to collect experimental data, manipulating independent variables may also be impractical for an undergraduate course aiming to cover a broad curriculum. For example, with sessions spread over multiple weeks, standardizing for diet is difficult. Third, the types of interventions that would have large enough effect sizes to be observable with small sample sizes (with a reasonable amount of “noise”) may be impractical or inappropriate in an undergraduate laboratory. For example, learners may not want to exercise for prolonged durations in the heat or deplete their muscle glycogen in advance of an exercise test. And finally, laboratory instructors may be uncomfortable or inexperienced with facilitating inquiry-based laboratories that go beyond level 1 (to say nothing of the confidence and ability of the learners themselves).

In addition to the practical concerns of adding more inquiry to undergraduate labs, we know students must learn the technical skills associated with fitness assessment, as exercise physiology is a health profession. If students pursue exercise physiology as a career path, they will apply advanced technical skills to accurately measure variables that impact exercise prescription, health assessments, and disease prognosis. Technical rigor is paramount in this profession, and imparting these skills is a major reason to offer exercise physiology laboratories. Unless specializing in research, exercise physiologists may not perform scientific experiments in their occupation. It is also challenging to collect most physiological data, and certainly learners cannot become scientists without acquiring data collection skills. Students need to practice and develop confidence using laboratory equipment before they can answer their own questions.

We understand that performing true experiments (especially student-led experiments) is difficult in undergraduate exercise physiology laboratories and we also appreciate why technical skills are essential. Yet, we do not believe that an exclusive focus on technical skills is the best strategy for students to learn scientific reasoning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Regardless of a students’ career path, these are transferrable skills, and a laboratory is the ideal venue to nurture scientific thinking.

Section 2: Can we move beyond cookbook style laboratories?

What makes a good scientist? This answer probably varies across disciplines: Some scientists may be skilled in animal surgery, some may interrogate enormous data sets, and others may focus on theoretical concepts and proofs. There is probably no single skill set that is common among all scientists. But, if we put the specific technical skills aside, students need to ask questions, create hypotheses, solve problems, and think critically in order to conduct experiments. The mechanism for developing any skill is practice: Learners need opportunities to develop and refine their skills, whether they are technical or cognitive. Some students may be able to walk into a first-year laboratory and create an experiment, but many more will need additional support to reach this level of competency. In short, students need to practice being scientists. To be effective, this practice must be authentic: As scientists do not just follow instructions, a recipe-based approach to laboratory learning will not develop a good scientist. The higher levels of inquiry, (see Table 1), are where students get to practice being scientists.

Including higher level inquiry-based learning in exercise physiology isn’t entirely novel. For example, Kolkhorst et al. (11) described the implementation of an inquiry-based learning model in an undergraduate exercise physiology course. The structure of this course was (i) an introductory laboratory session; (ii) five laboratory sessions focused on key concepts in exercise physiology; and (iii) nine laboratory sessions to complete two separate research projects (4-5 sessions each). In the latter portion of the course–an example of level 4 inquiry (Table 1)–students proposed research questions and hypotheses and worked with instructors to devise an experiment, collected and analyzed data, and presented their results to the class. After addressing one research question, students repeated this process with a new research question focused on a different physiological system. Following the initial iteration—from which Kolkhorst et al. (11) noted students were not sufficiently prepared for undertaking the research projects—the authors devised a more structured transition, providing students with more opportunities to practice answering research questions and developing technical skills (i.e., level 2-3 inquiry). The results of this shift in laboratory learning were largely positive: The authors reported that students were more enthusiastic about the inquiry-based labs and better able to describe and discuss physiological principles. A separate study (8) indicated that students reported preferring high-level as opposed to low-level inquiry in exercise physiology laboratories, crediting the independence, responsibility, freedom, and personal relevance as key influences on their satisfaction. These qualitative results are further supported by quantitative data from Nybo and May (13), which demonstrated greater test scores for students who completed an inquiry-based laboratory session related to cardiopulmonary exercise physiology compared to a traditional laboratory on the same topic. Collectively, these studies demonstrate that enabling students to experiment in undergraduate exercise physiology is possible and beneficial.

Although writing specifically about physics education, Drs. Emily Smith and Natasha Holmes (14) advise us to eliminate confirmation (level 1) work and attempts at learning theory in laboratories. Based on extensive research, they suggest increasing the amount of laboratory time students spend (i) making predictions about what they think might happen; (ii) doing activities that involve trial-and-error; (iii) practicing decision making; and (iv) processing how things went. By allowing students to devise questions, design experiments, and collect data (with the opportunity to fix mistakes), students are practicing being scientists. By design, inquiry-based laboratory activities facilitate the first three suggestions; however, whether Smith and Holmes’ fourth recommendation occurs in inquiry-based laboratory activities is hard to determine, but this recommendation is important. This processing phase of laboratory learning improves students’ capacities to make good decisions over time. Including this reflective step in laboratories is something we have taken to heart and into all of our reformed labs.

Section 3: Adding inquiry and mixing reflection into exercise physiology laboratories

In our project, we are focused on two specific exercise physiology courses, an introductory undergraduate course (n = 80-200 students, depending on the semester) and an advanced graduate course (n = 10), both of which have a weekly 3-hour laboratory session. Prior to intervening, we surveyed the nature of laboratory teaching in each course, finding that students indeed followed step-by-step instructions without the opportunity to make decisions or investigate new questions. The only form of inquiry-based learning was level 1 (Table 1). We planned to make two broad types of changes: (i) provide students with more autonomy in the laboratory, and (ii) encourage students to reflect on the activities they were completing. As the graduate course was much smaller, this was deemed the easier place to start, and because of its size, this course was also allowed to remain in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, most of our progress to date has been in revising this graduate exercise physiology course.

Initially, our changes to the graduate course’s laboratory focused on asking students to make and validate predictions while using a standard set of protocols (i.e., level 1 inquiry). In our first iteration, we modified four laboratory sessions to focus on the “unexpected” breakdown in the linear relationship between oxygen uptake and cycling power output that occurs during exercise with constant-load efforts and the difficulty in identifying the boundary between the heavy and severe exercise intensity domains (10). We (and students in the course) felt these activities were successful, so we modified the laboratory again the following year to allow students to focus on answering novel questions rather than verifying results. Using a gradual implementation approach similar to Kolkhorst et al. (11), students were first asked to create and test unique hypotheses for a set of data they collected over four laboratory sessions, combining aspects of level 2 and 4 inquiry (i.e., instructor-led procedures and student-led questions). Next, based on an article read earlier in the course (1), students worked as a group to determine whether fatiguing one limb influenced measures of exercise performance and fatigue in the contralateral limb when contractions were isometric (level 2). Finally, with a focus on inquiry-based learning and professional development, students were challenged to develop their own laboratory activity for a hypothetical course, which required devising an experiment to teach an important concept in exercise physiology and collecting pilot data to demonstrate feasibility (nearing level 4). To fully understand the impacts of these changes, we have collected survey and semi-structured interview data from students in reformed laboratories, which we hope to formally report at the end of the project.

Despite teaching our undergraduate exercise physiology course online this year, we attempted to create a virtual exercise physiology laboratory that focused on developing the skills needed to answer research questions. Learning activities focused on hypothesis creation, research design, data analysis, and statistical analysis. For one activity, we asked students to design a hypothetical study comparing mechanical aspects of sprinting for two groups of athletes (e.g., bobsleigh vs. fencing). Although new to research design, students were given the freedom to choose the sample size, the variable of interest, and the two types of athletes (selected from normative data published by Haugen et al. (7)). Martin used the students’ choices to simulate datasets, and students performed statistical analysis to test their hypotheses. While students couldn’t collect their own data, this activity allowed them to pose and answer a question, while learning about sprinting and research design. When this lab returns to in-person learning, plans are being formulated to include inquiry-based learning, similar to the structure that Kolkhorst et al. (11) and Henige (8) reported.

After two years of tinkering with our graduate course and beginning to reform our undergraduate course (despite its online format), we have realized that we simply need to give students more time in the laboratory to work on their own questions. Note that Kolkhorst et al. (11) and Henige (8) each provided 4-5 sessions for their level 4 inquiry laboratory activities. This can be a tough sell for instructors (ourselves included): It means we need to cover fewer topics. But, sometimes the best addition to a recipe is a subtraction (e.g., prohibiting pineapple on pizza). The battle over which absolutely essential topic has to be removed has already begun!

While we think increasing autonomy and inquiry in the lab is an important part of enhancing student learning, we also think students need to be able to debrief learning activities and process their experiences to enrich their learning. For both courses described above, students were asked to engage in reflective activities each week. We know reflection can move learning from surface to deep and even transformative levels (12). Reflection is a form of cognitive housekeeping and processing that enables students to develop their understanding of complex or unstructured ideas (12). When students actively engage in a constructive sense-making process, they understand complex systems and concepts better (6). Metacognitive practices are shown to improve self-regulation and commitment to lifelong learning; however, instructional strategies often neglect or assume students are engaging in metacognition (2). Evidence suggests metacognition at the end of STEM learning activities enriches learning (17). Based on this evidence and our experiences with reflection as a catalyst for curiosity and connection-making, we integrated a small amount of reflection with learning activities and added a low-stakes assessment in both courses. Students were asked to thoughtfully reflect on and respond to a specific prompt in approximately 100 words at the end of each lab. Questions like those listed below acted as a call to metacognition:

What did you find most challenging (or surprising, or interesting) in this lab and why?

What did you learn in this lab? What would you still like to know?

What do you think is the major obstacle to performing high-intensity interval training?

How would you explain the importance of fat oxidation to a lay person interested in exercise?

By asking students to connect their experience, knowledge, ideas, and sometimes uncertainty to their lab learning activities, we hoped to support them in deepening, extending, and amplifying their learning.

As we reformed student learning activities and move away from recipe-only laboratories, our teaching practices needed to change too. Recognizing that the laboratory instructors had mostly been trained through traditional style laboratories, we identified a need for some targeted professional development for our group of educators. To meet this need, Cari developed an asynchronous learning module called “Teaching to Enable Learning in Exercise Physiology,” for the instructional team to complete prior to the start of term, and we debriefed this 6-8 hour module together at our first meeting. This meeting set the tone and expectation in many ways for the teaching practices we were expecting teaching assistants to try in labs. We took a community of practice (CoP) approach to supporting laboratory teaching and learning throughout the semester. A CoP is a group of practitioners who meet regularly, reflect and problem solve collaboratively to learn to do their practice (for us, teaching) better (16). CoPs have been used to facilitate teaching and learning change in many higher education projects (5, 15). Each week, we (Martin and Cari) invited the lab technician, the teaching assistants (i.e., laboratory instructors), and a graduate student researcher (Joy Camarao) to reflect on and share both positive and negative teaching experiences from the week that was.

Conclusion

Years after completing an undergraduate degree in biology, the laboratory activities that stuck with me (Martin) the most are those that let me experiment. My favorite laboratory activity involved transplanting barnacles from the exposed side of a breakwater to the inner harbor on the coast of Nova Scotia to examine phenotypic plasticity in leg morphology. My lab mates and I chose the topic and designed the experiment, basing our question on a relationship observed in a related species of barnacle (3). We drove to the coast to find and transplant the barnacles, and we returned weeks later to collect the barnacles for analysis, hypothesizing that they would increase their leg length to optimize feeding in the calmer waters. Unlike most of my other laboratory experiences, we were performing a real experiment with real hypothesis and a (somewhat) novel question. Our study had flaws, and our results weren’t perfect, but the laboratory report was authentic, and so was my excitement. This type of lab is a challenge in exercise physiology, but it’s possible and worthwhile. As we enter the final year of our project, we hope to give students more opportunities to experiment.

Image Credits: Image 1- Nicole Michalou, Image 2- Maarten VanDenHeuvel, Image 3 William Choquette, Image 4- Frans VanHeerden.

 

References

  1. Amann M, Venturelli M, Ives SJ, McDaniel J, Layec G, Rossman MJ, Richardson RS. Peripheral fatigue limits endurance exercise via a sensory feedback-mediated reduction in spinal motoneuronal output. J Appl Physiol 115: 355–364, 2013.
  2. Ambrose SA, Bridges MW, DiPietro M, Lovett MC, Norman MK. How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons., 2010.
  3. Arsenault DJ, Marchinko KB, Palmer AR. Precise tuning of barnacle leg length to coastal wave action. Proceedings Biol Sci 268: 2149–2154, 2001.
  4. Bell RL, Smetana L, Binns I. Simplifying inquiry instruction. Sci Teach 72: 30–33, 2005.
  5. Elliott ER, Reason RD, Coffman CR, Gangloff EJ, Raker JR, Powell-Coffman JA, Ogilvie CA. Improved student learning through a faculty learning community: How faculty collaboration transformed a large-enrollment course from lecture to student centered. CBE—Life Sci Educ 15: 1–14, 2016.
  6. Eyler JR. How humans learn: The science and stories behind effective college teaching. West Virginia University Press, 2018.
  7. Haugen TA, Breitschädel F, Seiler S. Sprint mechanical variables in elite athletes: Are force-velocity profiles sport specific or individual? PLoS One 14: e0215551, 2019.
  8. Henige K. Undergraduate student attitudes and perceptions toward low- and high-level inquiry exercise physiology teaching laboratory experiences. Adv Physiol Educ 35: 197–205, 2011.
  9. Ivy JL. Exercise Physiology: A Brief History and Recommendations Regarding Content Requirements for the Kinesiology Major. Quest 59: 34–41, 2007.
  10. Keir DA, Paterson DH, Kowalchuk JM, Murias JM. Using ramp-incremental VO2 responses for constant-intensity exercise selection. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab (2018). doi: 10.1139/apnm-2017-0826.
  11. Kolkhorst FW, Mason CL, DiPasquale DM, Patterson P, Buono MJ. An inquiry-based learning model for an exercise physiology laboratory course. Adv Physiol Educ 25: 117–122, 2001.
  12. Moon JA. A handbook of reflective and experiential learning: Theory and practice. Routledge, 2013.
  13. Nybo L, May M. Effectiveness of inquiry-based learning in an undergraduate exercise physiology course. Adv Physiol Educ 39: 76–80, 2015.
  14. Smith EM, Holmes NG. Best practice for instructional labs. Nature 17: 662–663, 2021.
  15. Tinnell TL, Ralston PA, Tretter TR, Mills ME. Sustaining pedagogical change via faculty learning community. Int J STEM Educ 6: 1–16, 2019.
  16. Wenger-Trayner B, Wenger-Trayner E. What is a community of practice? [Online]. 2011. https://wenger-trayner.com/resources/what-is-a-community-of-practice/ [25 Jun. 2021].
  17. Wieman C, Gilbert S. The teaching practices inventory: A new tool for characterizing college and university teaching in mathematics and science. CBE—Life Sci Educ 13: 552-569., 2014.
Dr. Martin MacInnis is an assistant professor who studies exercise and environmental physiology from an integrative perspective, focusing on the skeletal muscle mitochondrial content, red blood cell volume, interval training, and applications of wearable technology. Martin teaches courses in exercise physiology at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and his SoTL research, in collaboration with Dr. Cari Din, focuses on using labs to develop scientific thinking.
Dr. Cari Din, PhD,  is an instructor, leadership fellow, and teaching scholar at the University of Calgary in the Faculty of Kinesiology. She works closely with Dr. Martin MacInnis, to support continuous improvement in teaching and learning experiences for students and graduate teaching assistants in the courses Martin leads. Cari works to enable agency, curiosity, and connection between learners in all of her work. She lives near the Rocky Mountains and appreciates hiking in them.
Pandemic, Physiology, Physical Therapy, Psychology, Purpose, Professor Fink, Practical Exams, and Proficiency!

Pandemic

To say that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected education would be an understatement.  Physical distancing measures that were introduced across the world to reduce community spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the COVID-19 pathogen), necessitated a cessation or reduction of in-person instruction, and the introduction of what has come to be known as “emergency remote education”(1, 2).  Emergency remote education or teaching (ERE or ERT) is different from remote or online education in that, it is not planned and optional, but rather, a response to an educational emergency (3).

Physiology for Physical Therapy Students

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, as I was trying to keep my primary research program on regenerative and rehabilitative muscle biology moving forward (4), engaging with the scientific community on repurposing FDA-approved drugs for COVID-19 (5, 6), and working on the Biomaterials, Pharmacology, and Muscle Biology courses that I teach each year; I was requested to take on a new responsibility.  The new responsibility was to serve as the course master and sole instructor for a 3-credit, 15-week course on Physiology and Pathophysiology for Professional Year One (PY1) Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students.  I had foreseen taking on this responsibility a couple of years down the road, but COVID-19 contingencies required that I start teaching the course in January 2021.  I had always believed that within the Physical Therapy curriculum, Anatomy, Physiology and Neuroscience, were courses that could only be taught by people who were specialists – i.e. you had to be born for it and should have received a level of training needed to become a master of Shaolin Kung Fu (7).  With less than a year to prepare for my Physiology and Pathophysiology course, and with the acknowledgment that I was not trained in the martial art of Physiology instruction, I looked for inspiration.  The Peter Parker Principle from Spider-Man came to mind – “With great power comes great responsibility” (8).  Unfortunately, I realized that there was no corollary that said “With great responsibility comes great power”.  Self-doubt, anxious thoughts, and frank fear of failure abounded.

Psychology and Purpose

Call it coincidence, grace, or anything in between; at the time when I started preparing to teach Physiology and Pathophysiology, I had been working with a psychological counselor who was helping me process my grief following my father’s passing a couple of months before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.  In addition to processing my grief, through counseling, I had also started learning more about myself and how to process anxious thoughts, such as the fear of failing in my new superhero role of teaching Physiology and Pathophysiology to Physical Therapy students.  Learning how to effectively use my “wise mind” (an optimal intersection of the “emotional mind” and “reasonable mind”), writing out the possible “worst outcomes” and “likely outcomes”, practicing “self-compassion”, increasing distress tolerance, working on emotional regulation, and most importantly embracing “radical acceptance” of the things I cannot change, helped me work through the anxiety induced by my new teaching responsibility.  This does not mean that my anxiety vanished, it just means that I was more aware of it, acknowledged it, and worked my way through it to get to what I was supposed to do.  I also learned through counseling that purpose drives motivation.  I realized that my anxiety over teaching Physiology was related to the value I placed on the teaching and learning of Physiology in Physical Therapy and other health professions.  Being a Physical Therapist and Physiologist who is committed to promoting movement-centered healthcare, I found motivation in the prospect of training Physical Therapists to serve as health educators with the ultimate goal of improving human movement.  Therefore, the idea of developing a course that would give my students a solid foundation in the Physiology and Pathophysiology of Human Movement began to excite me more than intimidate me.  The aspects of my personality that inspired me to publish a paper on the possible pathophysiological mechanisms underlying COVID-19 complications (5), stirred in me the passion to train the next generation of Physical Therapists, who through their sound knowledge of Physiology would likely go on to transform healthcare and promote healthier societies through movement (9).

The point about purpose being a positive driver of motivation, mentioned above, has been known to educational psychologists for a while.  When students see that the purpose of learning something is bigger than themselves, they are more motivated to learn (10).  So, rather than setting up my course as a generic medical physiology course, I decided to set it up as a Physiology and Pathophysiology of Human Movement course that is customized for human movement experts in training – i.e. Student Physical Therapists.  I set my course up in four modules – Moving the Body (focused on muscle and nerve), Moving Materials Around the Body (focused on the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems), Fueling Movement (focused on cellular respiration and the ATP story), and Decoding the Genetics of Human Movement (focused on how genetic information is transcribed and translated into proteins that make movement possible).

Professor Fink

For those of you who have not heard of Professor Steven Fink, you should look him up (11).  A Ph.D.-trained Physiologist and former member of the American Physiological Society (APS), Professor Fink has posted over 200 original educational videos on YouTube, covering Anatomy, Physiology, Pharmacology, and other subjects.  I had found his YouTube videos several years ago, while looking for good resources for my Pharmacology course, and never stopped watching them ever since then.  I would watch his videos while exercising, and listen to them during my commute (and sometimes even during my ablutions!).  There were two topics in Physiology that scared me the most – cellular respiration and genetics.  I had learned these topics just well enough to get me through high school, four years of Physical Therapy School, one year of Post-Professional Physical Therapy training, six years of Ph.D. training in a Physiology laboratory, six years as a Postdoctoral Fellow (also in a Physiology laboratory), and several years as an Assistant Professor in Physical Therapy.  However, despite the “few years” I had spent in academia and my 10+ years being a member of the APS, I never felt that I had gained mastery over the basic physiology of cellular respiration and genetics.  So, when I started preparing to teach Physiology, I decided to up my number of views on Professor Fink’s videos on cellular respiration and genetics.  Furthermore, I reached out to Professor Fink and asked him if he would serve as a teaching mentor for my new course and he very kindly agreed.  I am fortunate to be a teacher-scholar in a department and university, which places a high priority on teaching, and supports training in pedagogy and the scholarship of teaching and learning through consultation with experts within and outside the university.  As part of our mentoring relationship, Professor Fink gave feedback on my syllabus, course content, testing materials and pedagogical strategies.  He also introduced me to “Principles of Anatomy and Physiology, 16th Edition, by Gerard J. Tortora, Bryan H. Derrickson, which proved to be a useful resource (ISBN: 978-1-119-66268-6).  Through all these interactions, Professor Fink demonstrated that a person can be a “celebrity professor” and still be a kind and gentle human being.  Having him as my teaching mentor played a significant role in building my confidence as a physiology teacher.  Research shows that academic mentoring is related to favorable outcomes in various domains, which include behavior, attitudes, health, interpersonal relations, motivation, and career (12).

Practical Exams

As the COVID-19 pandemic rolled on through the Winter, Spring/Summer, and Fall semesters of 2020, it became certain that I would have to teach my Physiology and Pathophysiology course in a virtual environment come January 2021.  I had to figure out a way to make sure that the learning objectives of my course would be met despite the challenges posed by teaching and testing in a virtual environment.  Therefore, I came up with the idea of virtual practical exams for each of the four modules in my course.  These practical exams would be set up as a mock discussion between a Physical Therapist and a referring health professional regarding a patient who had been referred for Physical Therapy.  Students would take the exam individually.  On entering the virtual exam room, the student would introduce themselves as a Student Physical Therapist and then request me (the referring healthcare professional) to provide relevant details regarding the patient, in order to customize assessment, goal setting and treatment for the patient.  With the patient’s condition as the backdrop, I would ask the student questions from the course content that was relevant to the patient’s condition.  A clear and precise rubric for the exam would be provided to the students in keeping with the principles of transparency in learning and teaching (13).

Proficiency

As we went through the course, the virtual practical exams proved to be an opportunity to provide individualized attention and both summative and formative feedback to students (14).  As a teacher, it was rewarding to see my Physical Therapy students talk about cellular respiration and gene expression with more confidence and clarity than I could do during my prior 12+ years as a Ph.D.-trained Physiologist.  It was clear to me that my students had found a sense of purpose in the course content that was bigger than themselves – they believed that what they were learning would translate to better care for their patients and would ultimately help create healthier societies through movement.

In the qualitative feedback received through a formal student evaluation of teaching (SET) survey, one student wrote “Absolutely exceptional professor.  Please continue to do what you are doing for future cohorts.  You must keep the verbal practical examinations for this class.  Testing one’s ability to verbally explain how the body functions and how it is dysfunctional is the perfect way to assess if true learning has occurred.”  Sharing similar sentiments, another student wrote “I really enjoyed the format of this class. The virtual exams in this class forced us to really understand the content in a way that we can talk about it, rather than learning to answer a MC question. I hope future students are able to learn as much as I did from this class.”

Closing Remarks

When I meet students for the first time during a course, I tell them that even though I am their teacher, I am first a student.  I let them know that in order to teach, I first need to learn the content well myself.  Pandemic pedagogy in the time of COVID-19-related emergency remote education has reinforced my belief that, the best way to learn something is to teach it.  Thanks to my Physiology and Pathophysiology of Human Movement course, I learned more about myself, about teaching and learning, and of course about cellular respiration and genetics.  Do I now consider myself a master of Physiology instruction?  No!  Am I a more confident physiology teacher?  Yes!  Has writing this article made me reflect more on what worked well and what needs to be fine-tuned for the next iteration of my Physiology and Pathophysiology course?  Yes!

REFERENCES:

  1. Williamson B, Eynon R, Potter J. Pandemic politics, pedagogies and practices: digital technologies and distance education during the coronavirus emergency. Learning, Media and Technology. 2020;45(2):107-14.
  2. Bozkurt A, Jung I, Xiao J, Vladimirschi V, Schuwer R, Egorov G, et al. A global outlook to the interruption of education due to COVID-19 pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis. Asian Journal of Distance Education. 2020;15(1):1-126.
  3. Hodges C, Moore S, Lockee B, Trust T, Bond A. The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Educause review. 2020;27:1-12.
  4. Begam M, Roche R, Hass JJ, Basel CA, Blackmer JM, Konja JT, et al. The effects of concentric and eccentric training in murine models of dysferlin-associated muscular dystrophy. Muscle Nerve. 2020.
  5. Roche JA, Roche R. A hypothesized role for dysregulated bradykinin signaling in COVID-19 respiratory complications. FASEB J. 2020;34(6):7265-9.
  6. Joseph R, Renuka R. AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY ON THE POSSIBLE ROLE OF DYSREGULATED BRADYKININ SIGNALING IN COVID-19 RESPIRATORY COMPLICATIONS2020.
  7. Wikipedia contributors. Shaolin Kung Fu – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia 2021 [Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Shaolin_Kung_Fu&oldid=1026594946.
  8. Wikipedia contributors. With great power comes great responsibility – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia 2021 [Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=With_great_power_comes_great_responsibility&oldid=1028753868.
  9. American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Transforming Society – American Physical Therapy Association [Available from: https://www.apta.org/transforming-society.
  10. Yeager DS, Henderson MD, Paunesku D, Walton GM, D’Mello S, Spitzer BJ, et al. Boring but important: a self-transcendent purpose for learning fosters academic self-regulation. Journal of personality and social psychology. 2014;107(4):559.
  11. Fink S. ProfessorFink.com [Available from: https://professorfink.com/.
  12. Eby LT, Allen TD, Evans SC, Ng T, Dubois D. Does Mentoring Matter? A Multidisciplinary Meta-Analysis Comparing Mentored and Non-Mentored Individuals. J Vocat Behav. 2008;72(2):254-67.
  13. Winkelmes M. Transparency in Learning and Teaching: Faculty and students benefit directly from a shared focus on learning and teaching processes. NEA Higher Education Advocate. 2013;30(1):6-9.
  14. Alt D. Teachers’ practices in science learning environments and their use of formative and summative assessment tasks. Learning Environments Research. 2018;21(3):387-406.
Joseph A. Roche, BPT, PhD.  Associate Professor.  Physical Therapy Program.  Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.  

I am an Associate Professor in the Physical Therapy Program at Wayne State University, located in the heart of “Motor City”, Detroit, Michigan.  My research program is focused on developing regenerative and rehabilitative interventions for muscle loss arising from neuromuscular diseases, trauma and aging.  I have a clinical background in Physical Therapy and have received intensive doctoral and postdoctoral research training in muscle physiology/biology.

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Joseph-Roche-2

https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=-RCFS6oAAAAJ&hl=en


Things about self-care during the pandemic that you already know but should hear again anyway.

As the pandemic begins to show signs of weakening its grasp on the world, the stress and pressures of the past 15 months continue to wear on educators everywhere. This blog covers some aspects of self-care that may provide helpful reminders to us all for managing the ongoing situation, and a call for us to be honest with ourselves about how we’re doing, to give permission to ourselves to ask for support, and when we need it, to ensure that we get the help that we need.

I don’t actually know how long it feels like it has been since I first learned we went virtual last March. It simultaneously feels like it’s been forever and just a few weeks. I do know that by the time I got to 18 December, the last day of the fall semester, I had nothing left in reserve. I woke up on Saturday morning and I have no idea how long I sat there on the edge of the bed staring at the wall before I realized it. The fatigue and the burnout had been mounting for months and I knew that my self-care had been slipping. It took about 2 weeks of intense rest and recovery before I was able to resume any sort of work and I still find myself fatiguing mentally more quickly than ever before.

I’d outlined this article talking about self-care months ago, and in the spirit of this article, will admit that it was originally due on 18 September. Between asking how I was qualified to talk about this topic as I felt that I was barely holding things together myself, and challenge that there was always one more thing on my to-do list that needed doing, that date came and went on the calendar. So here we are, at the end of another semester, but the topic is as relevant as ever. I’ll focus on 3 key areas here, and share what I can about my successes and challenges in meeting my own self-care needs.

Meet your basic needs

As physiologists, we KNOW that bodies need rest, exercise, and sustenance. But how often do we make sure that we’re getting everything that we need?

The initial work-from-home situation meant that one of my first realizations of the new pandemic reality was that I needed to make myself go outside the house or else I would spend days in a row trudging between the bed, the refrigerator, and my at-home work area. I have added a daily, recurring to-do item on my task manager, “Get outside and move!” Most days this works. I have better success if I do it early in the day, as sometimes I find that I don’t have the energy or motivation after a long day on Zoom. Looking ahead to the fall and returning to campus, my challenge will be to preserve this time for walking, running, and other outdoor activities when my daily commute resumes.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that we get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 times per week, or vigorous activity for at least 20 minutes 3 times per week. Everyone should also engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 times per week.1 That looks like different things to each of us, but the trick is to find something that you enjoy doing. Or at least, that you don’t hate doing.

The average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. This amount slowly decreases as we age. This hasn’t ever been an area that I’ve struggled with. I actively use the sleep management features on my phone, with wind-down times, do not disturb hours, and reduced brightness and color hue settings. During the pandemic, however, sleep has been an important marker of my stress and fatigue. As the fall semester progressed, I found my nightly sleep creeping up, at one point getting 10-11 hours of sleep per night and still feeling tired. Make sure to get an appropriate amount of sleep to meet your rest needs, and use any changes in your sleep pattern to help identify changes in your stress and overall mental health.

And finally, I know that I am preaching to the choir telling you that a well-balanced diet is key to both maintaining energy levels throughout the day, supporting your immune system, and keeping up with other aspects of your general health. On this note, I would also bring up that occasionally indulging in a favorite meal or treat can often be mentally restorative, but that moderation is key here. I’m now on my second 50-lb bag of flour of the pandemic and while most of my baking has been breads, pastas, and other staple foods, the occasional cake or batch of cookies can be very powerful in keeping me feeling like my normal self.

Tracking priorities

Someone once explained priority management to me as juggling. Some of the balls in your hands are made of glass, some of them are made of plastic. A few of those balls may be the size of softballs or even a bowling ball, most of them are going to be smaller and more manageable. The trick is to know which of your priorities are the glass balls, the ones that have to be managed and kept up in the air until they are completed. The plastic balls can occasionally be set down, or when things get away from us, sometimes even dropped. I felt bad every time I looked at my task manager and postponed working on this piece for the PECOP blog, but I also knew that it wasn’t one of the balls that were mission-critical for me to keep in the air, so it got set down or shuffled around.

To keep track of which of my to-do items are made of glass and which are plastic, I set them to different priorities in my task manager. There are lots of to-do list and task manager apps. My personal favorite is Todoist, but there are some other fantastic ones out there, including Habitica, Things 3, and others. Find one that works for your organizational style and keeps you motivated to get things done. I’ll admit that I was hesitant to move away from using stickie notes for my to-do lists, but I find that I’m far more organized now then I was with my old system, and it allows me to stay on top of my responsibilities much more accurately. Even if I do postpone some of those tasks a few (or more) times when I know that they have flexibility to them.

Take a break

I think this one is the hardest, especially during the pandemic. Work-from-home has made it easier than ever to get a few more things done since we didn’t have to commute to the office anymore. Add in the pressure of social media posts telling us how others have had time to learn new musical instruments, pick up hobbies, and engage in elaborate projects, it’s easy to feel like we are underachieving in our own personal lives. For me personally, I’ve spent more time in office hours with students and the email flow has at least doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels when the semester is in session. That feeling of always having something to do and never being done makes it hard for me to disengage at the end of the day. Not only does this lead to prolonging our working hours, but it may have negative health consequences. A new report from the World Health Organization gives new evidence that work weeks longer than 55 hours may lead to increased risk of ischemic heart attacks, strokes, and other adverse events.2

I’ve talked about using a task manager with my list of things I need to be working on; I use that tool in concert with my calendar app to tell me where I need to be and when I need to be there. As much as possible, I will only add things to one or the other, but not both. The two exceptions that I make to this is scheduling my exercise on busy days when I’m likely to put it off or get side tracked into other tasks and blocking out periods of time where my explicit task is to walk away from work and relax for a little bit. Another useful tool is using the in-office hour settings on my calendar app and do-not-disturb features on my mobile devices to help enforce no-work hours when I am done for the day.

The difficult thing about our current situation is that I don’t think I’ve said anything that we don’t already know, that we haven’t been told numerous times by others, and that we probably often repeat to our colleagues when we provide words of comradery and support to one another. As educators, we often find ourselves in the role of care givers, so it’s far easier for us to tell others to take care of their basic needs, manage our priorities, and take breaks then it is for us to follow our own advice. On that note, the one thing that I will add to this article is this:

It’s okay to not be okay. The stress and pressure are real and we are each dealing with the current situation in ways that may or may not be keeping us together. Just because someone has their stuff together on the outside doesn’t show us what they need on the inside. I love that we’re asking each other how we’re doing more often, but I fear that we’re giving the easy answers and not taking full advantage of our wonderful community for the support that it can provide. Give yourself permission to take those breaks, to leave those emails unanswered for an extra day, and to make sure that you’re getting the self-care that you need. And for those times when everything is too much? Reach out and utilize your support networks and health care options to make sure that you are getting what you need. Finally, as a community of educators, we see you, we feel you, and together, we’ll get through this together.

1 ACSM. Physical Activity Guidelines. https://www.acsm.org/read-research/trending-topics-resource-pages/physical-activity-guidelines. Last accessed 15 May 2021.

2 Pega F, et al. (2021). Global, regional, and national burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke attributable to exposure to long working hours for 194 countries, 2000–2016: A systematic analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury. Environmental International. In press, corrected proof. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2021.106595

Ryan Downey is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology at Georgetown University. As part of those duties, he is the Co-Director for the Master of Science in Physiology and a Team Leader for the Special Master’s Program in Physiology. He received his Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from UT Southwestern Medical Center. His research interests are in improving science pedagogy and in the sympathetic control of cardiovascular function during exercise. When he’s not working, he spends time as a certified scuba instructor, baking bread, and playing board games.

Ryan Downey, Ph.D., M.A.
Assistant Professor
Co-Director, Graduate Physiology Program
Team Leader, Special Master’s Program in Physiology

Department Pharmacology and Physiology
Georgetown University Medical Center
Washington, D.C.

 

Down the custom path: Adaptive learning as a tool for instruction and assessment in science education

The spread of COVID-19 via the SARS-CoV-2 virus led colleges and universities around the world to close on-campus instruction for the safety of students, faculty and staff.  This left many instructors, specifically those in the sciences, struggling to find effective methods to present information to students in a manner that both encouraged learning and allowed for assessment of knowledge attainment.  Non-traditional colleges and universities, those that offer most or all of a degree to students in the online environment, were poised to transition easily; continuing to use the tools available in the virtual world to both guide students and assess learning.  As institutions wrestle with the decision to move courses back to the on-campus setting, this blog implores those in higher education, even science education, to consider adaptive learning as a vital component of curriculum.

Prior to my appointment as Lead Faculty at Colorado Technical University, I taught a variety of science courses in on-campus class and laboratory settings.  Both exams and laboratory practica could be cumbersome, both in prep and in grading.  While the questions could be mapped back to unit and/or course learning outcomes, this would require input of each student’s response to each question into a data sheet for analysis.  Even with online administration of exams, assessment methods were limited and instructors like myself were reliant on continuous creation of lectures, worksheets, activities, and online simulations to present course materials.  When it came time to transition to online, students would navigate through a learning management system and open a variety of files, videos, interactive activities, practice sheets, and practice quizzes for one unit in a course.  There had to be a better way to incorporate all the things we know drive student inquiry into one area while allowing assessment of their knowledge, right?  There was.

Enter adaptive learning technology.  Colorado Technical University relies upon Intellipath™ to deliver content to students in the asynchronous classroom in a variety of subjects, including natural sciences, math, engineering, nursing, and health studies.  I entered into teaching and managing faculty as a novice in this tool, and now I want to sing its praises to anyone who will listen. Adaptive learning does just as the title suggests.  It adapts based on the student’s knowledge, adding questions in areas where they need additional practice and allowing those already determined to have a certain understanding of topics to skip on to new materials.  Once these lesson nodes are designed, they can be used over and over again and questions can be delivered in a variety of ways to assess the same outcome. Gone is the need to continuously upload materials as they are all housed within the adaptive learning platform.  Instructors have the ability to see how a student is doing not just in terms of their progress through the unit but also their mastery of a specific topic.  Students have the ability to earn high marks when they demonstrate competency in the subject on their first attempt but are able to improve their score when they didn’t do as well as they had hoped.

The system rolls instruction, interaction, and formative and summative assessments all in together in one data rich place.  Instructors can tailor their outreach and additional instruction to specific students or overall trends within a specific cohort.  Those tasked with the assessment of effectiveness portion of curriculum can pull these data to discern what outcomes are being met.  In modern higher-ed, what students know is important but how we know they know what they know is also a priority.  We have to be able to paint a quantitative picture that our curriculum is effective.

Students are re-evaluating their choices for universities and it is wise of all of us to consider our options for content delivery and knowledge assessment.  I think many educators in colleges or universities have attended at least one meeting at this point to discuss the decline in the number of “traditional” college students and some of us may have even been tasked with figuring out what to do about it.  More and more students are faced with the dilemma of needing to manage being caregivers, members of the workforce, or other life challenges while also attaining a degree.  This is our time to be bold and innovative in the classroom and really personalize a student’s experience.  Will there always be “traditional” college classes?  Only time will tell.  I cannot predict where we will be as educators in a decade but I can say that it will be my goal to evolve to meet the demands of the profession.  Science leads us to advances and adaptations so shouldn’t we be advanced and adaptive in science education?

Dr. Tiffany Halfacre (she/her) earned undergraduate degrees from Berea College (Biology) and Saint Petersburg College (Funeral Services), an MSMS from Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida, and a DHSc from A.T. Still University College of Graduate Health Studies.

She has a varied background as an educator spanning over 10 years.  She has taught courses in general biology, human biology, anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and health sciences in addition to interdisciplinary work in medical humanities.  She has been involved in course development, programmatic and institutional accreditation, and institutional research and effectiveness.  Her research and service interests include exploring health and nutrition literacy as they relate to geographical and socioeconomic differences. Outside of the classroom, she has been involved in chapel series lectures including one on “Truth in Grief” and was awarded the Excellence in Academic Advising award during her tenure at Carson-Newman University for her work advising pre-health professions students.  Dr. Halfacre currently serves as a Lead Faculty and an Assistant Professor of Health Studies at Colorado Technical University where she not only focuses on faculty preparation and support but also initiatives to retain and encourage success in first year and first generation college students.

Her hobbies include anything outdoors, running, amateur photography, and enjoying various arts, specifically music.

Considering Student Evaluations of Your Teaching

After a long and trying academic year, student evaluations of your teaching will soon be in your inbox. A bit of courage is required to take a first glance at student comments about your course. Given the substantial increase in time and effort this academic year has required, critical comments may feel even more harsh.

When you do look over your student evaluations, take a few minutes to copy or write down some of the positive comments. Believe and appreciate these comments. Students value your knowledge, talents, and hard work. Then, put the evaluations away for a few days. Come back to them when you have time and energy for self-reflection.

The act of teaching is extremely personal, and it is difficult not to take critical comments as a personal attack. To compound these feelings, student evaluations are often central to the reappointment, promotion, and tenure processes. While some institutions have taken proactive measures to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on these processes, uncertainty about how review committees will consider student teaching evaluations from these terms can increase anxiety for educators.

There are other problematic issues with student evaluations. Current tools used to survey student opinions about their learning experiences are flawed. Meta-analysis indicates there is little to no relationship between what students learn and how they evaluate their teachers (1, 2). Common evaluation survey methods also have well-established biases against women and people of color (3). There are clear steps institutions can take to mitigate these issues, including educating students on the important aspects of teaching evaluations (4), adapting evaluation tools to decrease bias (5), and adopting multi-faceted evaluation methods (6).

Addressing these systemic issues around teaching evaluations is critical. However, what can you do now with your current teaching evaluations to help shape and improve your teaching? Here are a few things for you to consider:

 

  1. Are they venting? This has been a difficult time for all of us, including your students. Are they using this evaluation to release some of their frustrations? If so, attempt to disconnect the intensity of the complaint from constructive points.
  2. What are the common themes? What are your students saying? Do you see similar comments across your student evaluations? Are comments focused on specific lectures or activities? Course design? Grading? Communication? Take note of these themes.
  3. What are the institutional expectations for teaching? What aspects of your teaching are most important to your institution? Conversations with your department chair or other mentors may help you prioritize the actions you take in response to your evaluations. If it is possible to gain access to comparative evaluation data, this will provide further insight into your own evaluations.
  4. What is the context for this course? What are you trying to accomplish in this course? Are you implementing an evidence-based pedagogy which steers away from lecture? If so, students could be scoring you lower because, even though they are learning more, they don’t perceive this increased learning (7). Are you communicating your expectations for this type of learning, so they know what to expect?
  5. What incremental changes are you going to make next time you teach the course? Given the student evaluation themes, institutional expectations, the course context, and your strengths, what changes are you going to prioritize? Focus on incremental changes, as it gives you an opportunity to test and assess the impact of these small changes. For example, are you going to be more intentional about explaining to your students why you teach the way you do and what they should expect? Are you going to incorporate more structure or feedback in your assignments? Are you going to decrease content to focus on large concepts? This would also be a great time to bounce ideas around with colleagues and mentors – or check-out different options in the literature.

 

While reviewing your evaluations and considering your next steps, document the themes you decide to address. Pull a few representative comments from your teaching evaluations and write a paragraph or two about changes you are planning in response to the comments. This documentation will be helpful for the next time you teach the course. This reflection can also inform self-narratives required for the review process or–if you are looking for another job–crafting your teaching statement. This reflection is even more important as you consider what aspects of your teaching were particularly effective during this academic year of pandemic teaching. You may want to keep successful aspects of your course even if we transition back into a more traditional educational setting.

A huge thank you to educators who made it work this year! Your students and colleagues appreciate everything you have done. A special thank you to those who discussed your experiences with teaching evaluations with me, but wished to remain anonymous, in preparation for my symposium presentation at EB2021, hosted by the APS Career Opportunities in Physiology Committee, entitled “Using Teaching Evaluations to Enhance Your Career Trajectory” from which this post was based.

 

References

 

  1. Uttl B, White CA, Gonzalez DW. Meta-analysis of faculty’s teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related. Stud Educ Eval 54: 22–42, 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.stueduc.2016.08.007.
  2. Boring A, Ottoboni K. Student Evaluations of Teaching (Mostly) Do Not Measure Teaching Effectiveness. ScienceOpen Research, 2016. DOI: 10.14293/S2199-1006.1.SOR-EDU.AETBZC.v1
  3. Chávez K, Mitchell KMW. Exploring Bias in Student Evaluations: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity. PS Polit Sci Polit 53: 270–274, 2020. DOI: 10.1017/S1049096519001744.
  4. Hopper M. Student Evaluation of Teaching – The Next 100 Years [Online]. PECOP Blog: 2019. https://blog.lifescitrc.org/pecop/2019/06/21/student-evaluation-of-teaching-the-next-100-years/ [2 May 2021].
  5. Peterson DAM, Biederman LA, Andersen D, Ditonto TM, Roe K. Mitigating gender bias in student evaluations of teaching. PLOS ONE 14: e0216241, 2019. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216241.
  6. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Recognizing and Evaluating Science Teaching in Higher Education: Proceedings of a Workshop–in Brief [Online]. The National Academies Press: 12, 2020. https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25685/recognizing-and-evaluating-science-teaching-in-higher-education-proceedings-of.
  7. Deslauriers L, McCarty LS, Miller K, Callaghan K, Kestin G. Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom. Proc Natl Acad Sci 116: 19251–19257, 2019. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1821936116.
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. Her work has been recognized by the American Physiological Society Teaching Section, as she has been presented both the Research Recognition and the New Investigator Awards. As an independent consultant at Trail Build, LLC, Dr. Johnson assists institutions and professional organizations as they develop, implement, and assess innovative solutions to curricular and programmatic challenges. Prior to becoming an independent consultant, 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 APS.