Category Archives: Education Research

Teaching Physiology with Educational Games
Fernanda Klein Marcondes
Associate Professor of Physiology
Biosciences Department
Piracicaba Dental School (FOP), University of Campinas (UNICAMP)

Educational games may help students to understand Physiology concepts and solve misconceptions. Considering the topics that have been difficult to me during my undergraduate and graduate courses, I’ve developed some educational games, as simulations and noncompetitive activities. The first one was the cardiac cycle puzzle. The puzzle presents figures of phases of the cardiac cycle and a table with five columns: phases of cardiac cycle, atrial state, ventricular state, state of atrioventricular valves, and state of pulmonary and aortic valves. Chips are provided for use to complete the table. Students are requested to discuss which is the correct sequence of figures indicating the phases of cardiac cycle, complete the table with the chips and answer questions in groups. This activity is performed after a short lecture on the characteristics of cardiac cells, pacemaker and plato action potentials and reading in the textbook. It replaces the oral explanation from the professor to teach the physiology of the cardiac cycle.

I also developed an educational game to help students to understand the mechanisms of action potentials in cell membranes. This game is composed of pieces representing the intracellular and extracellular environments, ions, ion channels, and the Na+-K+-ATPase pumps. After a short lecture about resting membrane potential, and textbook reading, there is the game activity. The students must arrange the pieces to demonstrate how the ions move through the membrane in a resting state and during an action potential, linking the ion movements with a graph of the action potential.  In these activities the students learn by doing.

According to their opinions, the educational games make the concepts more concrete, facilitate their understanding, and make the environment in class more relaxed and enjoyable. Our first studies also showed that the educational games increased the scores and reduced the number of wrong answers in learning assessments. We continue to develop and apply new educational games that we can share with interested professors, with pleasure.

Contact: ferklein@unicamp.br

Luchi KCG, Montrezor LH, Marcondes FK. Effect of an educational game on university students´ learning about action potentials. Adv Physiol Educ., 41 (2): 222-230, 2017.

Cardozo LT, Miranda AS, Moura MJCS, Marcondes FK. Effect of a puzzle on the process of students’ learning about cardiac physiology. Adv Physiol Educ., 40(3): 425-431, 2016.

Marcondes FK, Moura MJCS, Sanches A, Costa R, Lima PO, Groppo FC, Amaral MEC, Zeni P, Gaviao KC, Montrezor LH. A puzzle used to teach the cardiac cycle. Adv Physiol Educ., 39(1):27-31, 2015.

Fernanda Klein Marcondes received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences at University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Campinas – SP, Brazil in 1992. She received her Master in Biological Sciences (1993) and PhD in Sciences (1998). In 1995 she began a position at Piracicaba Dental School, UNICAMP, where she is an Associate Professor of Physiology and coordinates studies of the Laboratory of Stress. She coordinates the subjects Biosciences I and II, with integration of Biochemistry, Anatomy, Histology, Physiology and Pharmacology content in the Dentistry course. In order to increase the interest, engagement and learning of students in Physiology classes, she combines lectures with educational games, quizzes, dramatization, discussion of scientific articles and group activities. Recently she started to investigate the perception of students considering the different teaching methodologies and the effects of these methodologies on student learning.

The Benefits of Learner-Centered Teaching

Jaclyn E. Welles
Cell & Molecular Physiology PhD Candidate
Pennsylvania State University – College of Medicine

In the US, Students at Still Facing Struggles in the STEMs

Literacy in the World Today:
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), there are approximately 250 million individuals worldwide, who cannot read, write, or do basic math, despite having been in school for a number of years (5, 8). In fact, UNESCO, is calling this unfortunate situation a “Global Learning Crisis” (7). The fact that a significant number of people are lacking in these fundamental life skills regardless of attending school, shows that part of the problem lies within how students are being taught.

Two Main Styles of Teaching – Learner or Teacher-Centered

Learning and Teaching Styles:
It was due to an early exposure to various education systems that I was able to learn of that there were two main styles of teaching – Learner-centered teaching, and Teacher-centered teaching (2). Even more fascinating, with the different styles of teaching, it has become very clear that there are also various types of learners in any given classroom or lecture setting (2, 6, 10). Surprisingly however, despite the fact that many learners had their own learning “modularity” or learning-style, instructors oftentimes taught their students in a fixed-manner, unwilling or unable to adapt or implement changes to their curriculum. In fact, learner-centered teaching models such as the “VARK/VAK – Visual Learners, Auditory Learners and Kinesthetic Learners”, model by Fleming and Mills created in 1992 (6), was primarily established due to the emerging evidence that learners were versatile in nature.

VARK Model of Learners Consists of Four Main Types of Learners: Visual, Auditory, Reading and Writing, and Tactile/Kinesthetic (touch)

What We Can Do to Improve Learning:
The fundamental truth is that when a student is unable to get what they need to learn efficiently, factors such as “learning curves” – which may actually be skewing the evidence that students are struggling to learn the content, need to be implemented (1, 3). Instead of masking student learning difficulties with curves and extra-credit, we can take a few simple steps during lesson-planning, or prior to teaching new content, to gauge what methods will result in the best natural overall retention and comprehension by students (4, 9). Some of methods with evidence include (2, 9):

  • Concept Maps – Students Breakdown the Structure or Organization of a Concept
  • Concept Inventories – Short Answer Questions Specific to a Concept
  • Self-Assessments – Short Answer/Multiple Choice Questions
  • Inquiry-Based Projects – Students Investigate Concept in a Hands-On Project

All in all, by combining both previously established teaching methodologies with some of these newer, simple methods of gauging your students’ baseline knowledge and making the necessary adjustments to teaching methods to fit the needs of a given student population or class, you may find that a significant portion of the difficulties that can occur with students and learning such as – poor comprehension, retention, and engagement, can be eliminated (4, 9) .

Jaclyn Welles is a PhD student in Cellular and Molecular Physiology at the Pennsylvania State University – College of Medicine. She has received many awards and accolades on her work so far promoting outreach in science and education, including the 2019 Student Educator Award from PSCoM.

Her thesis work in the lab of Scot Kimball, focuses on liver physiology and nutrition; mainly how nutrients in our diet, can play a role in influencing mRNA translation in the liver. 

Graduate Student Ambassadors: An APS Effort to Increase Involvement in Professional Societies

The Graduate Student Ambassador (GSA) program was organized by the American Physiological Society’s (APS) Trainee Advisory Committee in 2015. The goal of the program is to train graduate students to act as liaisons between APS and local undergraduate and graduate students. GSAs visit schools in their local area to share their experiences as graduate students, discuss physiology careers and the benefits of an APS membership, and encourage students to consider becoming a member of APS. The program has a unique, symbiotic relationship in that GSAs learn valuable outreach, public speaking, and leadership skills, while APS receives promotion of their awards, programs, and memberships. One particular goal of the GSA program is to recruit and retain individuals from under-represented communities. This is the aim that attracted me to the program.

 

As a first-generation college student, I was raised in a very low socioeconomic background. My exposure to careers was limited and like countless other young girls, I grew up with a short supply of role models who looked like me. While most of my public school teachers were female, the science labs and principal’s offices were considered masculine domains. In my mind, a scientist was that image we all remember of the mad chemist brewing his potions in a lab, hair all in disarray. Although I got the messy hair right, I couldn’t picture myself as this version of a scientist. I didn’t know anything about college because nobody in my life had ever been to one. I certainly didn’t know what a Ph.D. was at the time. By luck and happenstance, I wound up at the University of Kentucky for my undergraduate studies as a nontraditional student following community college. UK is a Research 1 institution, so I was exposed to the scientific method from the start. However, looking back, I’ve always wondered what if I had attended a different university? Would I have ever found my niche in research? And, thus, is the goal of the GSA program: to expose students to careers in research and promulgate the ways in which APS can assist them in these pursuits.

 

When I first got wind of the new GSA program, I was quick to apply. From the beginning, I was excited by the prospect of sharing my experiences as a graduate student with undergraduates. I knew I wanted to visit less research-intensive universities and try to reach under-represented students, first-generation college students, and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. I recognized the need for diversity in STEM and wanted to contribute to efforts being made to increase it. According to the National Science Foundation, while blacks and Hispanics constitute 36% of the US resident population ages 18-24, they only represent 17% of enrolled graduate students. There is even less representation at the level of doctorate holders (Figure 3). Ethnic and cultural representations in science do not match their share in the US population. However, it is absolutely essential to the growth of STEM to sample from all groups of people.

 

Science is meant to be an objective process, but much of science has been shaped by individuals of a similar background. This not only halts progress but can actually hurt it. For example, the standard medical treatment for breast cancer used to be radical mastectomies. It wasn’t until female voices were welcomed that alternative treatments were implemented—treatments that allowed women to keep their breasts and have been shown to be just as, if not more, effective. Progress was made because of a different perspective. The same is true of drug development, our understanding of sex differences in cardiovascular disease, even air-bag design which was initially tailored to a man’s height and thus not as effective for women. A diverse and inclusive program can promote widely applicable and lifelong learning so that historically under-represented groups can contribute to future breakthroughs with a new perspective. If fields are not diverse and inclusive, we are not cultivating potential but instead losing talent.

 

Berea College, the first coeducational and interracial college in the south, is an example of an ongoing effort to increase inclusion. This school, located in Berea, Kentucky, is a 4-year university that offers a tuition-free education to every single student. They enroll academically promising, economically challenged students from every state in the U.S. and 60 other countries. Over one third of their student population are of color, 8% are international, and 70% are from the Appalachian region and Kentucky. They are inclusive regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, race, citizenship status, etc. Despite not being a research intensive university, they have an excellent science program with a newly built Natural Sciences and Health building featuring state-of-the-art teaching laboratory equipment. They also encourage students to participate in the Kentucky Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network, a program designed to support undergraduate students in biomedical research, promote collaboration, and improve access to biomedical facilities.

 

I wanted to visit Berea to share my experiences as a graduate student, discuss the different career paths within physiology, and provide interested students with information about beneficial awards and programs offered through APS. Many of the students I spoke with didn’t know much about graduate school or obtaining a Ph.D. They seemed intrigued by my experience as a teaching assistant to fund my program. Berea College offers a unique work program at their school where students work as part of their tuition-free enrollment. Some act as teaching assistants in their courses, giving these students the experience they need to enter a funded graduate program with a teaching component. A lot of the students didn’t realize, though, that you could simply apply to a doctoral program with a bachelor’s degree—they thought you needed to obtain a master’s degree first. Most of the students were particularly interested in the undergraduate summer research programs offered through APS, such as the STRIDE fellowship. They wanted to know more about the Porter Physiology Development Fellowship for graduate students. I was also very excited to share with them the Martin Frank Diversity Travel Fellowship Award to attend the Experimental Biology conference.

 

I had a meaningful and productive visit to Berea College. My next step will be visiting a local community college, another area where efforts to promote diversity and inclusion are progressing. Community colleges are also an excellent place to reach nontraditional students, such as myself. These students sometimes transfer to larger universities to finish their bachelor’s degree, but being a transfer student often doesn’t allow for exposure to research as an undergraduate. I hope to encourage these students to pursue careers in physiology.

 

If you’re interested in contributing to this mission, consider applying to become a GSA. The position is a 2 year term and requires you to attend Experimental Biology each year of your term. The applications for 2019 are currently under review.

 

References

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2017. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2017. Special Report NSF 17-310. Arlington, VA. Available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/.

 

Chelsea C. Weaver is a fourth year PhD candidate at the University of Kentucky where she studies hypertensive pregnancy disorders in African Green Monkeys. She has served as a teaching assistant for Principles of Genetics and Animal Physiology for undergraduates. She also guest-lectured for graduate level Advanced Physiology courses. Chelsea is interested in pursuing a postdoctoral position in STEM education research in K-16 upon graduation.
Affective Teaching and Motivational Instruction: Becoming More Effective Educators of Science

As educators, we’re intimately familiar with learning objectives such as, “Using Fick’s principle, calculate the diffusion of a substance across a membrane.” Also, as scientists, we are familiar with technical objectives such as, “Using a micropipette, transfer 5μL of Solution A into the chromatography chamber.” In terms of learning conditions, the first is an intellectual skill and the second is a motor skill.1 One area in which we don’t often give much thought is the third type of skill that was identified by Gagné and Medsker — the affective skill. This is the area that is most often neglected by educators because it is the hardest to evaluate and quantify. We can’t explicitly say to a student, “By the end of the semester you will develop a love of physiology.” We can hope to achieve this through the semester, but as educators, the best that we can do is hope to instill these attitudes, choices, and values in our learners that persist beyond our brief time with them in the classroom.

Instilling attitudes in our learners is a complex goal. This is, in part, because stating an affective goal is at times counterproductive to the goal and interferes with learning. In the example above, it is clearly ridiculous to expect that all students will leave our classrooms with a true passion for our subject matter. Some clearly will, but others will not. That will be shaped by the attitudes with which students enter our classrooms. Those attitudes consist of the knowledge that a learner has about a subject – the cognitive aspect, how the person feels about the subject — the affective aspect, and how the person behaves in response to those influences — the behavioral aspect.2 So despite our best interests to instill a care for the animal and human models we frequently use in experiments, it is completely beyond our ability to control the behavior of our learners outside of the classroom. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still try because the majority of our students will come away with those lessons intact. Additionally, affective learning is difficult to assess. We can test the knowledge and skills necessary and ask about student feelings3, but at the end of the day, our students will make a choice on their behaviors on their own. For that reason, we should not make affective learning objectives part of our formal instruction plan. Because there are so many methods that depend on the affect you might want to influence, I’m going to focus on two areas that are most common: attitude and motivational instruction.

 

Katz and Stotland identified five types of attitudes.4 These types of attitudes vary with differing levels of affective and cognitive components, but the key takeaway is that individual experiences and the results and consequences of previous choices dramatically shape the attitudes with which our learners enter our classrooms. Reward for behavior not only reinforces the behavior, but also the cognitive and behavioral components that drive that behavior.1 When we focus purely on the cognitive and the motor skill aspects of learning, we can often get away with a fair amount of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do-style instruction. The problem with this is that students look to the faculty and other instructors for role model behavior.  Thus, the more accurately that we reflect the attitudes that we want to instill in our learners, the more the students will reflect those ideals.3 One of the easiest ways to bring about these changes of attitudes are through in-class discussions.5 This positive benefit is most likely due to differences that are raised during discussion, sometimes prompting the discovery of a discrepancy between existing attitudes in a learner and new facts that are being presented. The learners then have a choice on how to adapt to the new desired attitudes. Most importantly, never underestimate group acceptance of attitudes, as immediate social reinforcement can be a powerful driver in solidifying attitudes.

 

Having discussed attitude, motivational instruction is another key area that is relevant to affective learning. No two students enter the classroom with the same motivation. One student may be enrolled in your class because of a deep passion for your subject matter while another is there simply to satisfy a requirement for their major. This mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations will drive the overall outcomes of affective learning. The student who is highly motivated by an intrinsic interest in your subject or the student who is extrinsically driven by the reward of a good grade (or fear of a bad grade) will generally excel in class, albeit for different reasons. The student who is there out of obligation to meet a requirement may have very little motivation to do anything beyond what is required of them to get by. To help with those students who are lacking in motivation, JM Keller broke motivational instruction into four components: attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction.6 Gaining the attention of students through demonstrations, discussions, and other active learning techniques may help keep student motivation high. Practical application of concepts and ideas will generally inspire higher motivation than abstract or arbitrary examples.7 Keeping the material relevant will generate motivation for intrinsic learners by providing self-improvement and for the extrinsic learners by providing a reward, such as doing well on the exam. Confidence is a harder area to approach, as students must first believe they are capable of meeting the stated objectives. Making the material too easy will not lead to feelings of accomplishment, while making the material too challenging will undermine confidence in all learners.1 Finally, satisfaction can be achieved by learners of all types, regardless of motivation type when outcomes match objectives. Keeping motivation high by providing opportunities to apply learning will drive further motivation to continue learning.

Last week I completed a comprehensive review of our capstone thesis writing course, which has changed dramatically over the past year and a half while I have been the course director. Initially, the goal of the course was to have students write a literature research paper on a physiological topic of their choosing where their grade was entirely dependent upon the finished paper. The students were frequently frustrated with a lack of guidance in the course and the faculty regularly complained about the burden of reading papers of sometimes-questionable quality. Clearly there were issues with the affective components of this course from both the student and faculty side. I’ve de-emphasized the actual paper and refocused the course on the process of writing with stated learning outcomes such as: 1) Develop the language that helps us talk about science; 2) Strengthen research skills to become educated consumers of science; and 3) Gain specialized knowledge in a selected area of physiological research. Focusing the course in this way has yielded measurable results in course evaluations and faculty perceptions of paper quality from the students. By focusing on the affective components of writing and giving students more opportunities to apply their new skills, overall satisfaction has improved. Like all works of science, though, this course continues to evolve and improve. In short, to be effective teachers, we need to go beyond the intellectual and motor skills and make sure we address the affective learning of our students as well.

1 Gagné RM and Medsker LK. (1996). The Conditions of Learning. Training Applications. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

2 Baron RA and Byrne D. (1987). Social Psychology: Understanding Human interaction. 5th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

3 Dick W and Carey L. (1996). The Systematic Design of Instruction. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

4 Katz D and Stotland E. (1959). A preliminary statement to a theory of attitude structure and change. In Psychology: A Study of Science. vol 3. New York: McGraw-Hill.

5 Conrad CF. (1982). Undergraduate Instruction. In Encyclopedia of Educational Research. 5th ed. New York: The Free Press.

6 Keller JM. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS model of instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development. 10;3. 2-10.

7 Martin BL and Briggs LJ. (1986). The Affective and Cognitive Domains: Integration for Instruction and Research. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.

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 teaches cardiovascular and neuroscience in the graduate physiology courses. He received his Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from UT Southwestern Medical Center. His research interests are in the sympathetic control of cardiovascular function during exercise and in improving science pedagogy. When he’s not working, he is a certified scuba instructor and participates in triathlons.
Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Why does it seem so hard to do education research? I have never been afraid to take on something new – what is stopping me?  These thoughts were burning in my mind as I sat around in a circle with educators at the 2016 Experimental Biology (EB) meeting. During this session, we discussed how we move education research forward and form productive collaborations. Here are my takeaways from the meeting:

EDUCATION RESOURCES

Here are some tips to get started on education research that I learned from the “experts”.

1. Attend poster sessions on teaching at national conferences such as Experimental Biology.

2. Get familiar with published education research and design.

3. Attend the 2016 APS Institute of Teaching and Learning

4. Reach out to seasoned education researchers who share similar interests in teaching methodologies.

6. Get engaged in an education research network such as APS Teaching Section – Active learning Group

“Doubt is not below knowledge, but above it.”
– Alain Rene Le Sage

As seasoned research experts discussed education research in what sounded like a foreign tongue, I began to doubt my ability to become an education researcher. However, the group quickly learned that we had a vast array of experience in the room from the inspiring new education researchers to the seasoned experts. Thus, the sages in the room shared some valuable resources and tips for those of us just starting out (see side bar).

“We are all in a gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”
– Oscar Wilde

You may already have all the data you need to actually publish a research study. In my mind, education research had to involve an intervention with a placebo and control group. However, it can also be approached like a retrospective chart review. To proceed, you should consult with your local Institutional Review Board to see if you will need informed consent to utilize existing data or if it qualifies for exemption.

“Setting out is one thing: you also must know where you are going and what you can do when you get there.”
– Madeleine Sophie Barat

It became clear at our meeting that the way forward was collaboration and mentorship. A powerful approach that emerged is taking a research idea and implementing it across a number of institutions in a collaborative research project. By doing this, we would have a network of individuals to discuss optimal research design and implementation strategies and increase statistical power for the study.

At the end of my week at EB, I reflected on my experiences and realized that education researchers are a unique group – in that, we are all passionate about the development of others. Collaborating with individuals who seek the best of each other will lead to great friendships and good research.

If you are interested in joining the APS Teaching Section “Active Learning Group”, please contact Lynn Cialdella-Kam.

Resources:

Suggested Readings:

Alexander, Patricia A, Diane L Schallert, and Victoria C Hare. 1991. “Coming to terms: How researchers in learning and literacy talk about knowledge.”  Review of educational research 61 (3):315-343.

Matyas, M. L., and D. U. Silverthorn. 2015. “Harnessing the power of an online teaching community: connect, share, and collaborate.”  Adv Physiol Educ 39 (4):272-7. doi: 10.1152/advan.00093.2015.

McMillan, James H, and Sally Schumacher. 2014. Research in education: Evidence-based inquiry: Pearson Higher Ed.

Postlethwaite, T Neville. 2005. “Educational research: some basic concepts and terminology.”  Quantitative research methods in educational planning:1-5.

Savenye, Wilhelmina C, and Rhonda S Robinson. “Qualitative research issues and methods: An introduction for educational technologists.”

Schunk, Dale H, Judith R Meece, and Paul R Pintrich. 2012. Motivation in education: Theory, research, and applications: Pearson Higher Ed.

PECOP Lynn Cialdella Photo

 

Lynn Cialdella Kam joined CWRU as an Assistant Professor in Nutrition in 2013. At CWRU, she is engaged in undergraduate and graduate teaching, advising, and research. Her research has focused on health complications associated with energy imbalances (i.e. obesity, disordered eating, and intense exercise training). Specifically, she is in interested in understanding how alterations in dietary intake (i.e., amount, timing, and frequency of intake) and exercise training (i.e., intensity and duration) can affect the health consequences of energy imbalance such as inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, alterations in macronutrient metabolism, and menstrual dysfunction. She received her PhD in Nutrition from Oregon State University, her Masters in Exercise Physiology from The University of Texas at Austin, and her Masters in Business Administration from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She completed her postdoctoral research in sports nutrition at Appalachian State University and is a licensed and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

Statistical Strategies to Compare Groups

A blog about statistics. How great is this?! If it’s a blog, it has to be short. My wife, however, would say that even a blog about statistics is still going to be way too long.

In physiology education, we usually want to compare the impact of something—a new instructional paradigm, say—between different groups: for example, a group that gets a traditional approach and a group that gets a new approach. Depending on the number of groups we want to compare, there are different ways to design the experiment and to analyze the data.

Two Samples: to Pair or Not to Pair?

Suppose you want to see if formative assessments over an entire semester impact learning. Clearly, your students can either have formative assessments or not. So you randomly assign your 12 students to be in one group or the other. You teach your course, give the 6 students formative assessments, and then grade your 65-point final. The question is, did formative assessments (given to the students in Group 1) impact their grade on the final? These are the grades:

Group 1 2
47 40
48 56
63 65
64 33
62 65
50 51
Mean 55.7 51.7

These groups are independent of each other: the observations in one group are unrelated to the observations in the other group. So we want an unpaired 2-sample test. One option is a 2-sample t test. Here, the grades in the 2 groups are similar (P = 0.54): in this fictitious experiment, formative assessments did not impact grades.

What happens if the observations in one group are related to the observations in the other group? This could happen if you gave formative assessments to each student (Treatment 1) for half of your course and then gave an exam. During the other half of your course, each student got no formative assessments (Treatment 2). For each student you randomly assign the order of the treatments so that half get Treatment 1 first, the other half get Treatment 2 first.

In this situation each subject acts as her own control—this makes the comparison of the treatments more precise—and we want a paired 2-sample test. These are the data:

Subject Treatment 1 Treatment 2 Difference
1 49 58 9
2 47 55 8
3 52 39 –13
4 39 19 –20
5 59 58 –1
6 44 46 2
    –2.5 Mean

Here, the grades after each treatment are similar (P = 0.62): in this fictitious experiment, formative assessments did not impact grades.

When You Have Three or More Samples

Let’s pretend we want to think about the amount of fat donuts absorb when they are cooked. These numbers represent the amount of fat absorbed when 6 batches of donuts are cooked in 4 kinds of fat.

Fat Type 1 2 3 4
64 78 75 55
72 91 93 66
68 97 78 49
77 82 71 64
56 85 63 70
95 77 76 68
Mean 72 85 76 62

If you are watching your diet, the lower the number, the better. There is good news and bad news about this example. The good news is there are 24 donuts in a single batch. The bad news is 100 has been subtracted from the actual amount in order to simplify the numbers.

The first question: why not just use a 2-sample (unpaired) test to compare the amount of fat absorbed? There are two answers. First, if we compare just 2 groups at a time, we fail to use information about the variation within each of the two remaining groups. Second, if we compare just 2 groups at a time, we can make a total of 6 comparisons (1–2, 1–3, 1–4, 2–3, 2–4, 3–4). And if we do that, the chances we find at least one of the 6 comparisons to be statistically meaningful when all 6 are all statistically equivalent is about 1 in 4 (26%). The more comparisons we make, the greater the chances that we find a comparison to be statistically meaningful simply because we are making more comparisons.

What’s the solution? Use a procedure that initially compares all 4 groups at the same time. One option is analysis of variance. In analysis of variance, if the variation between groups is enough bigger than the variation within groups, then that is unusual if the group means are equal. Here, by analysis of variance, the amount of fat absorbed differs among the 4 fat types (P = 0.007). You can then use other techniques to identify just which groups differ.

The Big Picture

No matter how many groups you want to compare, the idea is the same: you want to design the experiment to account for—as best you can—extraneous sources of variation (like individual differences) that can impact the thing you want to measure, and you want to use all the information you collected when you compare the groups.

References

  1. Curran-Everett D. Multiple comparisons: philosophies and illustrations. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 279: R1–R8, 2000.
  2. Curran-Everett D. Explorations in statistics: hypothesis tests and P. Adv Physiol Educ 33: 81–86, 2009.
  3. Curran-Everett D. Explorations in statistics: permutation methods. Adv Physiol Educ 36: 181–187, 2012.
  4. Snedecor GW, Cochran WG. Statistical Methods (7th edition). Ames, IA: Iowa State Univ. Press, 1980, p 83–106, 215–237.

Curran-Everett

Doug Everett (Curran-Everett for publications) graduated from Cornell University (BA, animal behavior), Duke University (MS, physical therapy) and the State University of New York at Buffalo (PhD, physiology). He is now Professor and Head of the Division of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics at National Jewish Health in Denver, CO. In 2011, Doug was accredited as a Professional Statistician by the American Statistical Association; he considers this quite an accomplishment for a basic cardiorespiratory physiologist. Doug has written invited reviews on statistics for the Journal of Applied Physiology and the American Journal of Physiology; with Dale Benos he has written guidelines for reporting statistics; and he has written educational papers on statistics for Advances in Physiology Education. Doug and his wife Char Sorensen officiate for USA Swimming and US Paralympic Swimming. After 32 years in 6th-grade classrooms, Char is now on her Forever Summer schedule: she retired in May 2009.

 

Building Critical Thinking through Technical Writing: Are We Taking the Right Approach?

thinking croppedI religiously read (ahem…meaning I quickly skim the RSS feeds) Faculty Focus for tips, tricks, latest educational research trends and general teaching strategies to help me overcome my classroom anxieties. Over the last year or so these blogs and articles have helped me with many ideas and issues with the courses that I teach. Recently, one particular blog resonated with me “How Assignment Design Shapes Student Learning” (Weimer, 2015). This blog spoke about how specific assignments guide students to think and perform in specific ways and how that influences their overall learning. You may be thinking; well of course. But my current overall educational research is: “How do writing lab reports contribute to a student’s understanding of the scientific method?”.  This makes me wonder if when we are working on helping students build critical thinking skills while using the premise of the scientific method, we may be going about lab report writing assignments in the wrong way.

When I first started teaching undergraduate General Biology and Anatomy and Physiology courses three years ago I was dismayed at what was the normal for student writing of lab reports. The first thing that I asked myself was “Was my science writing that bad when I was an undergrad?” My answer: a resounding Yes!

In Spring 2013, I set out to develop a series of assessments that helped students practice technical writing skills and create clear rubrics to help them develop this skill. I have collected data on student’s technical writing skills with the goal of correlating these new skills with student understanding and use of the scientific method.

The science technical writing assignments that I build into my lab courses are to help students via low stakes practice to reflect on the labs performed and the implication(s) of the data obtained. I have specific “chunked” assignments where students write components of a lab report. For example, the first lab write-up may have students write their testable hypothesis and the methods used in the lab. For the second lab, students write their testable hypothesis and results. These types of assignments continue until the students have had a chance to practice all of the components of a lab report prior to writing a complete lab report. Our data show students who perform practice chunked assignments do significantly better on the final lab report assignment (Hannah & Lisi, 2015).

Now, let’s mentally jump back to the blog  “How Assignment Design Shapes Student Learning” and the corresponding article “Private Journals versus Public Blogs The Impact of Peer Readership on Low-stakes Reflective Writing” (Foster, 2015). The data from Foster’s research illustrates that students have inherently different styles of writing depending on the target audience. Specifically, students who have open writing assignments (blogging to their peers) where they have to respond to peers and defend their information are more mentally adventurous than when they write journal assignments for only the professor or teaching assistants to read.

My technical writing data suggests students’ science technical writing improves with practice and regular prompt feedback. But are they only practicing the “form” and the rules that I set up in the assignments, or are they truly working through the material and using the scientific method to develop their critical thinking skills? In the end I want to help people explore science so that they can apply and evaluate scientific information to determine its impact on their daily lives. How does the traditional lab report accurately reflect a student’s ability to work through data? I would love to have comments if you have any thoughts or suggestions regarding how I might investigate students critical thinking skills using the blog format when writing science lab reports.

 

References

Foster, D. (2015). Private Journals versus Public Blogs: The Impact of Peer Readership on Low-stakes Reflective Writing. Teaching Sociology, 43(2), 104–114. http://doi.org/10.1177/0092055×14568204

Hannah,R., Lisi,M., (2015) Technical Writing for Introductory Science Courses – Proficiency Building for Majors and Non-majors, 2015 Experimental Biology Meeting Abstracts, Abstract #678.25; Accessed June, 10, 2015

Weimer, M. (2015). How Assignment Design Shapes Student Learning. (2015, August). Retrieved June 10, 2015, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/how-assignment-design-shapes-student-learning/

 

PECOP rachael hannah
Rachel Hannah is a new Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Alaska, Anchorage. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor in the Math and Sciences Department at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. Helping people become scientifically literate citizens has become her major career focus as a science educator. As a classroom and outreach educator, Rachel works to help people explore science so they can apply and evaluate scientific information to determine its impact on one’s daily life. She is trained as a Neurophysiologist and her graduate degree is in Anatomy and Neurobiology from the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Recently Rachel’s research interests have migrated to science education and how students build critical thinking skills.