A two week, intensive, majorly modified instructional attempt is being made with my Anatomy class. Here’s the gist: continuing the flipped (sort of, maybe?), but changing when it occurs; continuing the case studies, but changing their emphasis. This is on the fly. This may blow up in my face. The students, though it’s their idea, may rebel. But the idea…kinda cool.
Anatomy physiology was, in my mind, easily separated along just those lines, when I decided to flip last fall. Hence, the plan I came up with, and put into effect, was to use the flipped medium (via Screencast-o-matic…Love it!…though intrigued by possibilities with Camtasia…) to post the anatomy lectures online, saving class time for the physiology components. My reasoning was/is twofold. First, anatomy is visual; you have to see it; you have to draw it (several times); you have to see parts in context of the whole. Second, anatomy is based on knowledge loops. For example, you probably know the femur is the large bone in your upper leg. So, it would not surprise you to know that is the femoral region. Nor, would it surprise you to know that the major vessels in this area are the femoral artery and the femoral vein. Plus, two of the larger muscles in your thigh are named the biceps femoris and the rectus femoris. See what I mean? Looped, layered, whatever you want to call it. All of this meant anatomy could be started, and practiced, individually.
The form and function of anatomy would be intertwined (and reinforced) with the lecture and discussion of physiology; with the system by system study of homeostasis. Additionally, case studies (primarily from University at Buffalo) would be used to reinforce and expand on each system through small group discussion. The elegance of most of the case studies lies in their comprehensive presentation of the body. Though they are system focused, the knowledge, background, and questions produced require a whole body approach and reinforce a core understanding that no system operates in isolation. This is why I use them; this is not always what my students get from them.
Conclusion: I still need to improve my use of case studies; they’re still too tangential. The big change, therefore, is to use them as the focus and the vehicle of understanding. This means the questions generated by student discussions, focused and guided by the case studies themselves, will determine the flow of information. I think this is more constructivist in its approach (this definition limited by my own understanding). The students then identify the information they need to know. Now, they ‘research’ (they have to know something precisely to gain insight into what’s happening). This means my current flipped lectures need to be adjusted; perhaps a reinvention. This could mean shorter, more focused and specific content; it could mean broader, more holistic presentations of a system; it could mean the elimination of flipped lectures except as reviews after the fact because I actually give mini-lectures in the midst. Either way, the students will get the content in tandem with the progression of the case study itself, guided by what they need to learn in order to solve the problem and inform their discussions with each other. This, I hope means, the lectures will have a greater impact because they have a purpose defined by the problem needing solved.
The Ripple Effect —
This change will also act as impetus for the modification of my Web 2.0 use. One in particular, the glog assignments. A bit of background: these assignments, one per system, require students to research a disease to explain how it works, how it is treated, and include national, regional and/or gender statistics presented as infographics. (Ultimately, I really want the students making their own; not sure where to find the time for this.) I wanted my students to recognize the long term homeostatic imbalance inherent in the existence of the disease. This was not always achieved. So, these assignments need a new approach, i.e., again, a problem to solve. If the problem to be solved is now the disease and how homeostasis is altered, then these will augment the case study. This medium is no longer collateral, but one of the major avenues for student learning (the original goal). Maybe assign a couple of diseases to each group to go deeper? Make them collaborative in nature? Maybe this can be the foundation for a wiki project? The blogs…do I change them, limit their scope? I’m convinced of their importance as personal expressions of understanding. Their role is crucial to learning, not just the specific material, but the role of evidence and support in communicating ideas. Maybe make them a formative assessment? Maybe structure comment dialogue through some form of peer-grading? Make this slightly adversarial, debate-like, to foster critical analysis? This will require more class time; more time than the initial walk through, semi-training session we go through in a couple of days.
All of this means what now? (Note to reader: enter my delusion of grandeur…) The case study will define the goal, yet there’s flexibility to pursue tangents, to go deeper. The students will work in small groups, collaborating and providing peer-tutoring, coming together as a class to build a consensus of understanding, making sure everyone is on the same page. To contribute, each student has to (I think they have to) embrace their personal responsibility to learn. To learn, each student has to (again, I think they have to) challenge unsubstantiated statements, blithe responses without evidence, expecting more from each other and themselves. This could, in turn, provide the students the opportunity to define the limits of the course, define the order of study; which in turn really kinda freaks me out. But again, the idea, kinda cool.