Next time you head over to the companion website
for this blog at theAPprofessor.org
, you'll see a whole new website. Literally.
The old website is enjoying a well-deserved rest on the beach of a sea of electrons, and a whole new—completely rebuilt—website has taken its place.
Like rookie professors who replace veteran A&P professors, it still has a lot to learn.
So I'm actively seeking your input
on the kinds of things you'd like me to add or subtract from the website. Either comment on this blog post, or use the CONTACT
form on the website.
This new version of The A&P Professor
retains a few of the design elements of the old one, like the Hip Logo.
However, the website design is now "responsive" to allow resizing and rearrangement of page elements
for easy viewing on any device—from desktop to pad to phone.
I did a lot of pruning during the rebuild of The A&P Professor
. I removed dated topics and book reviews, and the curated lists of websites and images. The latter just got out of hand
for one guy with several "real" jobs, plus tending to a bunch of websites and blogs and a daily newsletter.
When I started curating those collections, it was hard to find what we needed to teach A&P successfully—but now it's now much easier to find what you want on your own.
The new website is now closely linked to another of my websites, the Lion Den
. The Lion Den
has also recently been rebuilt
to focus entirely on the teaching and learning of human anatomy and physiology.
So check out the Lion Den
offerings as you explore the new The A&P Professor
website! As always, I continue to appreciate your support!
This trend in misleading "click bait" headlines
among science news outlets continues to spiral into infinity. Okay, "infinity" is an exaggeration, but apparently that's what it takes these days to get us reading the actual content of science articles. And a growing phenomenon is that the articles themselves include exaggerations within their content.
That's the topic of my rant, er, post today.
I've been thinking about this
for a long while. I often discuss it in class with my students. Yesterday, I ran across a recent (January 2017) example of the perennial "scientists discover that the appendix has a function" headline: Your Appendix Might Serve an Important Biological Function After All
That example actually has a pretty good article about a study analyzing the evolutionary appearances and reappearances of the appendix in mammals and what that may tell us about this organ's function. But we already know enough
about the functions of the vermiform appendix in humans that it's hardly true that its functions are completely unknown. The article clearly acknowledges that fact within the content, despite that attention-grabbing headline.
Another recent example was the round of excited shares on social media regarding the "discovery" that hematopoiesis
(blood development) occurs in lung tissue
. There were a lot of "wow, who knew?" tweets that week. Even from highly trained experts in A&P. But my Anatomy & Physiology
textbook (p. 624
) already has this information—and it surely cannot be the only textbook to do so.
The journal article that prompted this wave of tweets and posts described some research in mice that expands our knowledge
about this phenomenon—turns out that more is going in the lungs than we thought. The lungs may be the primary site for thrombopoiesis
(platelet development), if human lungs work like mice lungs. But the fact that the lungs are sites of hematopoiesis—specifically platelet formation—is not new.
I've shared these and other posts with exaggerated headlines myself—mostly on Twitter, Facebook,
or my new daily newsletter
However, I think it's way to easy to succumb to the excitement of a potential "new discovery" that turns out to be not new, or even a discovery, at all.
As a blogger I know full well that exaggerated headlines get more "engagement", which leads to more "followers," which leads to better "brand recognition" and thus, more future "engagement." Who wants to spend time researching and writing when nobody is reading?
But in science, maybe the public perception of how science works
is better served by a more toned-down approach that recognizes what we already think we know, why we think we know it, and what any new studies can do to clarify, correct, or extend what we know.
I know that none of us individuals can stop the tide of exaggerated science news headlines. I'm just using a platform I have to express my concern that we may be making a mistake by doing so. If everything is a "breakthrough" or even a "huge breakthrough," then maybe casual observers will miss those truly game-changing ideas
when they come along.
At least is something to keep in the back our minds and we do our daily scan of science new headlines.
What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?
- Consider challenging your student to find the first new "science discovers the function of the appendix" article or post of the semester. (or spleen or gallbladder or any organ).
- Find some posts or articles that have exciting "new discovery" headlines and analyze them as a class. The may help us all learn better the critical analysis needed when reading science content.
- Have a class discussion regarding the balance between the excitement of discovery that drives science and the exaggerations of discovery that may mislead.
- Consider making sure that your students know that the appendix has functions (and that the lungs make platelets). Just in case they become science journalists.
- Consider throwing out science journalism or science writing as career options. They already have an interest in human biology—and they may soon discover they don't like the career path they first chose, after all.
Want to know more?Your Appendix Might Serve an Important Biological Function After All
An Unexpected New Lung Function Has Been Found - They Make Blood
- BEC CREW Science Alert 10 JAN 2017
- Article about an evolution study of the appendix in many organisms and how that may relate to the organ's function.
- This article, with the subtitle Things just got complicated, outlines the recent work done in mice to show that most platelets (not just some platelets) may form in lungs.
- BEC CREW Science Alert 24 MAR 2017
So why, exactly, is it that we should consume a lot of fibe
r in our diet to remain healthy? Are refined fiber supplements just as good as, say, an "apple a day?"
Recently, an article in the journal Cell
answer seems to verify some of the answers
As the paper cited below indicates, research seems to confirm that dietary fiber provides nutrients for the inhabitants of our intestinal microbiome.
When dietary fiber is missing, then the microbes undergo a shift in populations and start consuming our GI mucus as an alternate source of nutrition. That, as you might guess, reduces the thickness of the protective mucus
—hus increasing the likelihood that pathogens can more easily attack the intestinal lining. Ouch.
Apparently, refined prebiotic fibers don't fix the problem.
Here are some highlights of the research article (quoted from their online preview
- Characterized synthetic bacterial communities enable functional insights in vivo
- Low-fiber diet promotes expansion and activity of colonic mucus-degrading bacteria
- Purified prebiotic fibers do not alleviate degradation of the mucus layer
- Fiber-deprived gut microbiota promotes aggressive colitis by an enteric pathogen
What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?
- When asked by students about dietary fiber, you have more information from which to draw an answer.
- When discussing any of these topics, you'll now have a bit more to add to your story:
- function of mucus
- the human microbial system (or specifically, the GI microbiome)
- how pathogens cause disease (or specifically, GI disorders)
Want to know more?Veggies and Intact Grains a Day Keep the Pathogens Away
A Dietary Fiber-Deprived Gut Microbiota Degrades the Colonic Mucus Barrier and Enhances Pathogen Susceptibility
- Francesca S. Gazzaniga. Dennis L. Kasper. Cell. Available online 17 November 2016
- Brief preview of the M. Desai article cited below.
- Mahesh S. Desai et al. Cell, Volume 167, Issue 5, 17 November 2016, Pages 1339-1353.e21
- The detailed research article.
- Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor. Various dates.
- Collection of previous posts on this topic from this blog.
I always thought of pre-testing
as something you do before working on a unit of content, later followed up with a post-test. Comparing pre-test results with post-test results can then be used as part of the course assessment
to find out what, if any, learning has happened. But that's no longer my first thought
when I hear the term "pre-test."
Several years ago, I ran across a news item that referred to a piece of learning science research that described another use for pre-testing. It showed that students who took a pre-test did better than students who did not take a pre-test. It showed, I think, that just the process of pre-testing primes student learning in a way that has a demonstrable and significant effect on student success.
As with any new way of doing things that I discover, I had to let it percolate in the back of mind for a while. First, do I really believe it? Further research showed me that this was not a one-off experiment—it's been tested in both the lab and in the field with similar outcomes. Next, will it work in my courses? If so, how would I implement it? And the all-important question: would I have time to implement it? Would it then add extra effort and time to my workload every semester, in perpetuity?
Well, I finally jumped in and tried it. I figured it could do no harm. And I found a way to do it without much effort—either in initially wedging it into my course or in maintaining it across all future courses.
I'd already been using frequent online tests,
each allowing multiple attempts, as a way for my students to prepare for their written exams. Each online test has a test bank of many more items than appear on any one attempt. Each test item is pulled from a group of items relating to the same learning outcome, so tests end up being different in every attempt.
By using just a handful of items in each group, the odds quickly become astronomical that a student will get the same test twice—or get the same test as any other student in the course. Sort of like the classic type of slot machine.
My existing online tests were already cumulative.
They included test item groups from previous tests, so that students have continuing practice with concepts introduced throughout the course, as explained in my recent article, Cumulative Testing Enhances Learning
What I did to make the pretests is simply go into my online test editor (Respondus
) and make a copy of each online test. Then I removed the cumulative item groups
from each test, leaving only the item groups that pertain to that particular unit of study. An easy and quick job
in the test editor. Then I saved those as pre-tests and uploaded them to my learning management system (LMS). And set them up for ONE attempt only (not the usual three possible attempts).
What?! Using the same test items as their "real" test? Isn't that just like handing them a list of answers? Glad you asked! Remember, the odds of anyone ever getting "the same test" again (or as anyone else gets) is astronomically low. What they get in the pre-test is a "version" of the real test, but not the actual test that individual will end up taking later.
I then set up my LMS so that each pre-test opens about halfway through the preceding unit. Students can go into the LMS before their next unit to take the pre-test for the upcoming unit. I also set things up so that students do not have access to the course resources they need to get through the unit until after they submit the pre-test.
For example, I use online Previews
as part of my sorta-flipped format (I called it a half-flip with a quarter turn
). If they don't take the pre-test first,
then neither the Previews, nor anything else, will open up for them.
Because the "locks" that unlock the other course resources give students incentive to do the pretests, I didn't need to assign grade points or deduct grade points if they didn't do it. My pre-tests do not impact the grade directly—only indirectly by enhancing student learning.
I have been amazed at the results of that simple step. I noticed that class performance increased right away—and there has been no downward trend since then. So I guess I shoulda believed the research data when I first saw it, eh?
I think there are several things going on.
For one, pre-tests give students an overview
of what they'll be expected to solve at the end of the unit. And they'll get a chance to use what they know already to predict what might be a correct answer—with immediate feedback on where they predicted incorrectly. This prediction
exercise can be a powerful learning strategy.
Also, as they then struggle through the unit, they have in mind what they need to master
if they're going to have a chance of passing the test.
Along the same lines, they gain some familiarity with the upcoming material. They'll have "seen this all before" even if they don't fully understand it. As we go through it all after the pre-test, students will have already walked through that neighborhood, so it's not so unfamiliar to them.
I think pre-testing also shakes loose some prior learning. That is, students will recognize some basic principles and some patterns that they've seen before. I suggest that this stimulates their awareness of how things connect and thus gets them better prepared for their new learning.
One last thing I want to mention: I now have another assessment tool that I can use to compare before-after data and get a sense of what my students have accomplished. Even better, I suppose, is that I added a column to their LMS gradebook that calculates their "gain" by providing the percentage by which they improved between the pre-test and the real test (post test). Individuals seeing that they learned a lot in each unit is a real motivator for continued hard work in the course.
As with anything, there are potential pitfalls. The one that I didn't anticipate, but should have, is that the super-high-achievers will NOT want a "bad grade" anywhere in their gradebook. Even though students are EXPECTED TO FAIL the pre-test—and it isn't part of the course grade calculation. It's a mindset—it doesn't have to make sense.
So I would have these high-achievers in my office the day after they took their pre-test and want me to go over every item with them. I'll bet their blood pressure wasn't normal that day, either—probably even worse the night before. The solution I found, which is not 100% effective, is to repeatedly remind students that they are expected to do poorly on the pre-tests. And that they should not struggle with it—just think a moment, then give your best guess and move on.
Like any unfamiliar teaching strategy, pre-testing works best if you tell students how they will benefit.
If any of you have experiences with pre-testing that you'd like to share, please comment at the blog site, in the form below this article.
Want to know more?
Testing in A&P Courses
- Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor. Collection (various dates).
- An assortment of brief articles on methods and issues regarding testing in the undergraduate A&P course.
Cumulative Testing Enhances Learning
- Kevin Patton. The A&P Professor. 5 Sep 2016.
- Article on how cumulative testing can be used to promote long-term learning in A&P courses.
The pretesting effect: Do unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance learning?
- Richland, Lindsey E.; Kornell, Nate; Kao, Liche Sean. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol 15(3), Sep 2009, 243-257.
- Research article describing experiments in pre-testing.
Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning
- James M. Lang. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. 2016.
- If you don't read anything else on teaching-learning this year, at least read this. Lang's clear writing, chunked into small chapters, reviews some of the major contemporary insights with practical "small" things you can do in your class to improve learning. Part I, Chapter 2, discusses pretesting.
It's true. Like most of you, I have a long list
of tasks that need to be done in any one day or week.
I am pretty good about remembering what I have to get done by when, what I've already finished, and what has just been added to my plate. But my brain is not 100% reliable with that, so I make lists.
Sometimes these are lists on my computer desktop or in my online Task List
. But those are too easily hidden. I have to see them
to be reminded. So I often make paper lists. There is something very satisfying
about having the kinesthetic experience of physically ticking something off my list with my trusty green pen.
I was talking about this last summer when I was presenting a bunch of practical tips to help textbook authors stay on track at the Textbook and Academic Authors
conference. During the talk, my buddy Mike Kennamer
tweeted, "'Checkmarks make me happy...' Kevin Patton".
When I saw that tweet later in my Twitter feed, I chuckled that he took this out of the discussion—but I also realized how important
a point that it is.
Whether it's a textbook revision or a long semester of teaching A&P, those little surges of dopamine
that happen when we can check something off our lists really do help keep us motivated.
Seeing the progress we are making as we add ticks to our checklists provides some additional satisfaction, which also helps keep us going.
And checklists also keep us from forgetting
important things to do.
In an online course
I teach, it's easy to forget
what needs to be graded each week because there are no stacks of tests or papers sitting there on my desk glaring at me. Those assignments are hidden away on a server
somewhere and I need to intentionally call them up to grade them. So I need a checklist.
the one pictured here lists grading duties organized by module (we have two-week modules A, B, C,...) and by week.
Each Friday, during my scheduled grading session,
I look at my checklist. I note that, even though it may not always feel like it, the trimester is actually progressing. And I see what I need to grade this week. And—hooray!—I get to check it off my list when I'm done. What a great way to start the weekend, eh?
I recently posted my grading checklist in that online course. It's a bit late for this last term, but next time I teach the course, my students can print out my checklist
to help them keep track of what they've submitted each week. Sure, they have a syllabus. Like they're going to use that
to make their own list? Really? What planet do you live on?
What can we use from this in teaching undergraduate A&P?
- Grading checklists help us make sure that no graded assignments fall through the cracks.
- Grading checklists provide happiness and motivation. At least a little.
- Scheduled grading sessions help us keep up with our grading tasks, preventing them from piling up and disturbing our mental health.
- We can share grading checklists (and an exhortation to use them) with students to help keep them on track—and stay motivated.
Get a daily list of news headlines of Interest to A&P teachers:
The A&P Professor Nuzzel Newsletter
Want more teaching tips for A&P?
Check out my blogs for users of my textbooks:
Anatomy & Physiology
Structure & Function of the Body
The Human Body in Health & Disease
Even if you use a different textbook, the tips and advice are interesting and helpful!
Don't forget that your students can keep up with my study tips, shortcuts, and more on their own
by subscribing to my blog The A&P Student.
I have some handy (and bizarre) bookmarks giving students information about The A&P Student blog that you can distribute FREE to your classes! Just go to my bookmark request page to get bookmarks for your students now.
Interested in learning how to handle issues in A&P terminology with style and ease?
Want to know why meatus is both singular and plural?
Do you crave to keep up with the latest fashion in using (or not using) eponyms?
Try the o-log-y blog!