Andrew M. Roberts, M.S., Ph.D., FAPS
Department of Physiology
University of Louisville School of Medicine
Our graduate physiology courses at the University of Louisville School of Medicine evolved from a lecture-based format supplemented by recitation sessions and modules for each topic. Students work in groups to identify learning issues and discuss concepts needed to understand and solve assigned questions. They present their findings to the class and respond to questions from faculty and students. We found this to be an important forum whereby students gain experience applying their physiological knowledge.
An additional step that fostered student understanding was problem-based learning modules where student groups discussed and answered exam type questions. For the “pre-test” component, each group discussed and chose their answers together. This was followed by a “post-test” with different but, similar questions answered by each student individually. Our metrics clearly indicated students’ ability to apply their knowledge increased significantly.
Another component which bolstered student performance and encouraged use of multiple resources for information was online quiz questions for each learning module. Questions were made available on “Blackboard” and answered according to a schedule. Students received notification whether they answered correctly and could change their answer choices within an allotted time. Team-based learning with activities that encouraged students to incorporate multiple information sources improved students’ grasp of physiological concepts and mechanisms.
In summary, we developed ways to effectively engage our students who have diverse educational backgrounds and learning preferences. It is important to note that the classroom environment, with face to face instruction, provides the opportunity to teach and motivate students through interactions with faculty members and fellow students. However, other types of activities work well to augment and encourage student learning.
In the last year, our faculty has been discussing the possibility and usefulness of supplementing our program with online course options that could enhance students’ academic backgrounds whether they were on or off campus. Online learning has become prevalent as another teaching tool for a diverse student group and accommodates a variety of learning preferences. It offers flexibility whether used to supplement a “classroom” physiology course, or course taught exclusively online. Over the last year, our experience with online learning platforms indicated instructors could teach to an entire class simultaneously.
Students can be divided into discussion groups for problem-based learning and instructors can virtually interact by “joining” the groups. In addition, the platforms allow everyone to be seen and to be heard. Furthermore, it is easy to link slide as well as video presentations and record class sessions. Traditionally, we posted lecture notes and supplemental material on “Blackboard” for students to read before class and provided access to recorded lectures. There also is a forum for students to interact with each other and faculty members.
Educational methods are ever changing and can go forward and back again. With this in mind, online learning is not necessarily a replacement for face-to-face learning but, can be an additional learning tool. Even faculty less familiar with online learning have found the latest learning platforms to be relatively easy to use and actually to enhance their teaching styles. A key ingredient to the success of our program, is having designated faculty members and staff available as teaching resources! With the necessity for implementing social distancing during the COVID- 19 pandemic, online learning and video conferencing allowed us to continue and sustain our courses and academic program during this difficult time hopefully without jeopardizing student lifelong learning.
Andrew M. Roberts, MS, PhD, FAPS is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physiology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Louisville, Kentucky. He received his PhD in Physiology at New York Medical College and completed a postdoctoral training program in heart and vascular diseases, as well as, a Parker B. Francis Fellowship in Pulmonary Research at the University of California, San Francisco at the Cardiovascular Research Institute. His research focuses on cardiopulmonary regulatory mechanisms with an emphasis on neural control, microcirculation, and effects of local endogenous factors. Current studies include microvascular responses altered by inflammatory diseases and conditions, which can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome. Additional studies include obstructive sleep apnea. He teaches physiology to graduate, medical, and dental students and has served as a course director as well as having taught allied health students.