Bruce Palmer teaches two courses in Anatomy, Physiology and Microbiology at Assiniboine Community College in Brandon, Manitoba. These are taught as both continuing education courses and as part of the Practical Nursing Diploma.
In these two courses, students learn normal body structure, including examining and discussing the structure of the human body and the physiology of the various systems, and exploring pathologies.
Traditionally, lab tests in these courses included bell-ringer sessions and quick activities (three or so minutes) that gauge learning in students. However, this means setting up the room in advance, and the rapid testing causes great stress for students. Bruce Palmer wants to make the teaching and assessment of these courses more accessible and more positive for students.
Bruce Palmer, over a period of 20 years, incorporated a wide range of components to teach these courses. He provides a course structure and a wide range of resources through the College’s Moodle learning management system (LMS):
- Video clips and short video lessons;
- Animated lesson pages;
- Lab tests with multiple choice questions;
- Audio glossaries for correct pronunciation of medical terms;
- Guides to note taking;
- Discussion forums (with guidance on effective group work); and
- (Humorous) badges for successful test completion.
Here are three examples of the resources available for students.
Figure 1: A resource page in the LMS
A particular feature of the videos is a humorous character called Professor Von Schlopp (played by Bruce Palmer).
Video clips and still pictures are used in conjunction with lab test questions, which allow for a wider range of possible questions than just naming parts. The multiple choice questions for each session are drawn from a much larger bank of questions. Students can listen to a choice of relaxing instrumental or popular music clips while doing the tests.
Figure 2: Video embedded in a lab test
Figure 3: Example of a badge
Each course is delivered in different ways:
- For the Practical Nursing students, a blended version is offered. No students work fully online. They are expected to attend classes, but all the content is not covered in lectures. Students are expected to do the Moodle lessons, labs, etc. Lab results are submitted online.Tests are all online.
- There are also "rotating sites" or contract sites to offer the nursing program in isolated or rural locations. Students’ face-to-face experience is via Skype (with occasional face-to-face visits by the instructor to their site). In this case, the blended format is quite important because bad road conditions may necessitate students working on some material on their own. Again, they use online testing. They also join on-campus students in discussion forums, share lab results, etc.
- For continuing education students, some students attend face-to-face, but the class is in a blended format, so they can opt to just work from Moodle as often as they want. Some students choose to work completely online. Tests are all online. Invigilators are arranged for students who live far away.
Benefits and Outcomes
There are no significant differences in test scores, irrespective of what delivery method is used.
Bruce Palmer is very popular with students and has a high rating on RateMyProfessor.
Students like the opportunity to choose their method of studying (face-to-face, blended or fully online) and report reduced anxiety during the tests when listening to music.
The continuing education courses attracted students from a wide area, such as Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, students in Northwest Territories, students from several states in the USA, and even a Canadian Olympic athlete training in Europe.
Challenges and Enhancements
The courses contain a large amount of necessary content, which makes interaction via e-mail and through the discussion forums critical to the success of the course.
These courses required a great deal of development time (spread out over 20 years), as well as considerable technical support from the Centre for Learning and Innovation at the College. However, other instructors are also now teaching these courses, using the same resources.
Teaching anatomy and basic physiology to relatively large numbers is always a challenge because of the large amount of content to be covered and the largely descriptive nature of the subject. Bruce Palmer introduced a number of methods to make the study of these subjects more challenging and yet more interesting for students, which could be applied to similar anatomy and physiology courses.
Instructor of Anatomy and Physiology
Assiniboine Community College
Brandon, Manitoba, Canada