Dancing Organelles, AI Resources, Distracting Animations, Timed Tests & Micro-credentials
TAPP Radio Episode 138
Episode | Quick Take
In Episode 138 of The A&P Professor podcast for anatomy & physiology faculty, host Kevin Patton discusses some new thinking about organelle function, why decorative animations are not a good idea in our teaching slides, news about Wendy Riggs and the 2023 HAPS President’s Medal, why I don’t like timed tests, resources for AI in the curriculum, and why micro-credentials are our friends. With all that, how is that we left out any mention of carbaminohemoglobin?
- 00:00 | Introduction
- 00:50 | Wendy Riggs Wins Big
- 04:173 | Curricular Resources for AI
- 08:55 | Timed Online Tests
- 24:12 | Micro-credentials for Professional Development
- 31:53 | Dancing Organelles
- 40:13 | Distracting Animations
- 43:44 | Staying Connected
Episode | Listen Now
Episode | Notes
Research is seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought. (Albert Szent-Györgyi)
Wendy Riggs Wins Big
At the 2023 HAPS Conference, Wendy Riggs, a College of the Redwoods educator, presented a workshop on alternative grading (mentioning 106 on ungrading 😊). Wendy was awarded the prestigious HAPS President’s Medal 🏅 for her contributions to anatomy and physiology education. Check out her YouTube videos for A&P and biology topics.
★ 2023 President’s Medal Was Presented By President Eric Sun to… (Wendy’s award announcement) AandP.info/c2p
★ Alternative Grading (a Slack group that discusses alternative grading) alternativegrading.slack.com
★ Wendy Riggs YouTube channel youtube.com/@wendy-riggs
★ Visit HAPS theAPprofessor.org/haps
Please rate & review The A&P Professor—it helps others decide whether to give us a try! 😁
Curricular Resources about AI for Teaching
CRAFT (Curricular Resources about AI for Teaching) offers resources from Stanford University to enhance understanding and integration of artificial intelligence (AI) in education. They emphasize that knowledge of AI goes beyond coding and math, highlighting its influence on modern life. AI’s reliance on human-generated data and the need for responsible design are explored. College faculty can subtly incorporate AI topics into their courses to prepare students for its real-world impact.
★ Curricular Resources about AI for Teaching (CRAFT) (A project from the Stanford Graduate School of Education) AandP.info/l8u
Timed Online Tests
The discussion revolves around timed online tests and their impact on student learning. While timed tests aim to prevent cheating, they may inadvertently disadvantage students with certain challenges or learning disabilities. Kevin Patton suggests considering untimed tests, promoting inclusivity and accommodating students who may need extra time. He shares experiences and strategies that have worked for his students.
★ Four Empirically Based Reasons Not to Administer Time-Limited Tests (article from Translational Issues in Psychological Science) AandP.info/ea5
Micro-credentials for Professional Development
Discover the world of micro-credentials at The A&P Professor. Claim your digital badges and certificates by listening to podcast episodes and exploring online seminars. Showcase your dedication to continuing education and professional development. Your expertise deserves recognition!
★ The A&P Professor Education (badges/certificates) theAPprofessor.org/education
★ The A&P Professor Book Club (earn badges/certificates for reading) theAPprofessor.org/bookclub
★ The A&P Professor seminars (earn badges/certificates for watching) theAPprofessor.org/seminars
★ Pre-A&P Badges (info page for Kevin’s Pre-A&P students, outlining the purpose of badges and listing each badge) LionDen.com/fis-badges.htm
In human science, we are always learning something new—often replacing earlier ideas and descriptions. Nowhere is this as evident than in cell biology. This segment highlights some new thinking about organelles and their previously overlooked interactions. An example is the “dance” between mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum (ER).
★ Organelle Communication: Joined in Sickness and in Health (article from Physiology) AandP.info/nl7
★ How secret conversations inside cells are transforming biology (article from Nature) AandP.info/fjp
Are your teaching animations more distracting than helpful? Discover the impact of decorative animations on student recall and cognitive load. Optimize your teaching materials for better learning outcomes by minimizing distractions and prioritizing clarity.
★ Decorative animations impair recall and are a source of extraneous cognitive load (article from Advances in Physiological Education) AandP.info/911
Robotic (AI) audio processing is done by Auphonic.com and the content, spelling, grammar, style, etc., of these episode notes are assisted by various bots.
Need help accessing resources locked behind a paywall?
Check out this advice from Episode 32 to get what you need!
Episode | Transcript
The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP radio) episodes are made for listening, not reading. This transcript is provided for your convenience, but hey, it’s just not possible to capture the emphasis and dramatic delivery of the audio version. Or the cool theme music. Or laughs and snorts. And because it’s generated by a combo of machine and human transcription, it may not be exactly right. So I strongly recommend listening by clicking the audio player provided.
Kevin Patton (00:00):
Albert Szent-Györgyi, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist credited with discovering vitamin C once wrote, “Research is seeing what everybody else has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought”.
Aileen Park (00:18):
Welcome to The A&P Professor, a few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with a veteran educator and teaching mentor, your host, Kevin Patton.
Kevin Patton (00:29):
In episode 138, I discuss AI resources for faculty using decorative animations in our slides, new thinking about organelles, timed online tests and professional development micro-credentials.
Wendy Riggs Wins Big
Kevin Patton (00:50):
As I’m recording this, I just got back from the annual HAPS Conference, the 2023 conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and as usual, it was a wonderful experience. I learned a lot, reconnected with old friends and colleagues and young friends and colleagues, and I met new friends and colleagues and well, it was the usual good time at HAPS. And part of that usual good time was a workshop that I went to, presented by my friend Wendy Riggs, who’s from the College of the Redwoods in Northern California, and she was talking about alternative grading. It was entitled Adventures with Alternative Grading. And she went into a lot of detail about some experiments that she recently made in her own courses with alternative grading. And if you’ve been listening to this podcast for any length of time, you know that that is also an interest of mind. As a matter of fact, she mentioned one of our episodes, that is episode 106, where I talked to our mutual friend Staci Johnson.
And Staci was talking about un-grading with standards based grading and some experiments that she had made in that realm and experiences that she had. And so thank you, Wendy, for mentioning the podcast and a specific episode that you got a lot out of. And so you might want to go back and check that episode, and there’s lots of resources for alternative grading if you’re interested in this. And I’ll put a few of those to get you started in the episode notes. Oh, and one other thing about Wendy that I want to mention that I almost always mention when I’m introducing Wendy to a new fan, and that is, she has an amazing collection of YouTube videos that she has produced for her students in A&P and biology and related topics. And I often refer my own students to Wendy’s collection of YouTube videos.
And so you can get there by going to youtube.com @wendy-riggs, that’s W E N D Y, dash Riggs, R I G G S. But the real reason why I’m mentioning Wendy Riggs and the HAPS Conference this year is that during the HAPS business meeting, which we have live at every in-person HAPS conference, our current president, Eric Sun, also a friend, had the opportunity to award the annual President’s Medal and he awarded it to Wendy Riggs for the many things that she does for our organization and for teaching anatomy and physiology in general. It’s not just the alternative grading thing or the workshops that she does. There are many other kinds of service and kinds of things that she has contributed to A&P teaching. And Eric recognized that this year with the HAPS President’s Medal, which is a very prestigious honor. And so I want to honor Wendy and congratulate her on winning the President’s Medal. Cheers!
Curricular Resources about AI for Teaching
Kevin Patton (04:17):
Artificial intelligence, AI. I’m almost tired of hearing about it, but you know what? I have to hear about it because going forward, it’s going to be part of my life and especially part of my life as an educator. And that’s true of all of us. We cannot ignore it. It’s already part of the fabric of teaching and learning. And the more we know about it and the more we know about how to understand it, how to interweave it in what we’re doing and how to look at it, I think the better off we are and the better off our students are. And I recently ran across a set of resources that is in the process of continuing to be collected and curated for us out at Stanford University. It’s called CRAFT, and I have a link for it in the show notes…
CRAFT stands for curricular resources about AI for teaching. Again, that’s curricular resources about AI for teaching, or CRAFT is the acronym. And when you go to their website, you’ll notice that they kind of summarize what they call enduring understandings and essential questions that they’re thinking about when they’re curating these resources. And I’m going to read those to you because I think they’re very informative and really kind of tell you what’s going on here. Point number one is, AI is involved in many different parts of our modern lives. Being knowledgeable about AI is not limited to being able to use math and write code to build AI.
The second point is, modern AI relies heavily on data created by humans. Relying on human produced data allows AI to do a number of surprising things. But because AI is only as good as the data that it uses, and data is a simplification of the world, it also has limitations. And then point three states, AI can amplify and accelerate the work of existing systems. This can be both positive and negative. Even though modern AI has impressive capabilities, humans still bear the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that AI is designed and used in ways that are beneficial to all people. Now, as I was scanning through the resources that they’re currently offering in this collection, I noticed that they take the position that teaching students about AI, how to use it properly, is something that we should be doing and that we can be doing by tucking it into the little nooks and crannies of our course.
They’re not asking us to take our A&P course, for example, although this set of resources was really built for all kinds of educators from high school through early college, in all different disciplines, but thinking of it as an A&P instructor, we don’t need to add learning objectives necessarily in our course about AI. And we don’t necessarily need to add some kind of module or section of our course about AI or anything big. We just tuck it into those little nooks and crannies as we do with so many other things that we’re teaching students about how to take a practical test, how to do their assignments, how to do their lab activities and explorations and all of that.
And so it gives us some ideas for how to tuck it in, and you can scan through there and find all kinds of different resources and probably at least some that are going to fit your style and your course and the way you’re thinking about AI. Or it might get you thinking a little bit differently about AI, and that might be good too. So go ahead and look in the episode notes for links to these resources.
Timed Online Tests
Kevin Patton (08:55):
A topic that has come up in a lot of recent conversations I’ve had with other A&P faculty is the idea of tests, especially online tests, and that could be a test within a face-to-face class, but some are all of the tests are given online, or it could be within an online course where all of the tests are given online. The topic that has come up regarding them frequently actually over several recent conversations has been the idea of timing those tests and the importance of at least in the mind of some, the importance of making sure that the online tests have a tight timeframe and time limit so that academic dishonesty doesn’t occur. And theoretically, that is a way to limit opportunities for cheating. If you limit the time available, then the person really needs to have it in their brain and practiced enough that they can easily retrieve it at a moment’s notice that, okay, this is the answer to that question, this is the answer to this other question.
Here’s something that’s answered to yet another question, and we can just go through it rapidly because we know it so thoroughly and we’ve practiced retrieving that information enough up till that point that we don’t need to look elsewhere for anything else, and therefore we won’t be tempted to cheat because we already know it. And not only that, we won’t have the opportunity to cheat because of that time limit. We’re going to have to stop at some point, and we don’t want to stop before we’ve had an opportunity to answer every single question on that test.
So yeah, that makes a lot of sense except, well, how reflective is that of the real world? I guess it does reflect the real world to some extent. If we think of the real world as a board exam and that’s what we’re preparing students for, for their nursing exam or some other kind of board exam, then well, yeah, okay, being able to retrieve knowledge quickly in that moment, yeah, that’s a valuable thing, but I’m not sure the best way to get there is that at every instance during the training process that eventually someday will lead to a board exam.
I don’t know that every one of those has to be reflective of the board exam context itself. I think as long as it’s preparing students for that eventuality, then that’s okay. And not only that, but what about after the board exams when it’s real, real life? When we’re in a clinical situation? Don’t we find that that is most often collaborative? Don’t we find that when we’re stuck, we pull out that little note card in our pocket or pick up our little device and look it up on our various databases that we have access to for clinical information? Don’t we pull aside a colleague and say, look, I’ve never done this procedure before, or I’ve never seen this kind of case before? What do you think about it? Or we do actual formal consults with other health professionals. There’s all of that. We may go look things up and so on.
I want my health professionals to go look things up because I want them to have the best answer possible to address whatever my clinical situation is as a patient. And so those times tests, they sort of rub me the wrong way for that reason. But another reason that they kind of have me wondering is that there are a lot of reasons why students can’t come up with the right answer right away, that are okay. We’ve talked a lot on this podcast in previous episodes about some students being considered neurotypical and some being considered neuro-atypical. And we know that sometimes there are students that can solve a problem, but they need a little extra time to solve a problem. I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I’ll bet you have, because I have this experience a lot. When I’m asked to provide accommodations for students with challenges, almost always, I’d say 90 something percent of the accommodations that I get requests for that are passed along to me by our various agents in the college that manage this sort of thing, almost all of them are accommodations for extra time on a test.
There are multiple kinds of challenges that benefit from having a little extra time, maybe a lot of extra time, on a test. Almost all my tests are untimed. As a matter of fact, in my regular A&P course, my two semester A&P course, even though a lot of my tests were online and untimed, totally untimed, they could stop and come back the next day and work on it some more and stop and come back the next day and work on it some more. The only limit was there was a timeframe of a number of days, maybe a week or a week and a half where it was available. So yeah, you had to have it done by a week and a half. But even then, I would give them opportunities to have that deadline extended if they really needed to.
And I’ve tried different ways of doing that. Sometimes I had a free parking pass that they could use. Sometimes they just had to ask me and I would open it back up for them. There are many different ways to implement that kind of a process. I guess they truly were untimed. But I also had a midterm and a final exam, which were a more traditional kind of test where they’re on paper and they were timed, except I eventually got to the point of making sure that they were designed in a way that even students with challenges, they had plenty of time.
So if most students could finish it in, let’s say 40 minutes, but everybody had an hour to do it, then really everybody had time and a half sort of, right? So I kind of built them that way so that really, a student didn’t have to go through those steps of making an appointment over in the testing center and making sure that there was a copy of the test there, make sure there was somebody there to proctor it, and then I wouldn’t be available to answer questions like I was with other students.
And there’s some ways around that too, but they’re a hassle for both the instructor and for the student. And not only that, but many students with challenges don’t want to be singled out that way for a different kind of testing situation. They want their challenges to be anonymous and hidden, and I can’t blame them for that. I think that that helps a student when they don’t have to, when they’re not forced to be outed that they have a particular challenge or some kind of challenge. So there’s that aspect of it, but I think it’s sort of like, I think what one of the underlying principles of Universal Design for Learning, another whole topic will cover some other day on some other episode. But an underlying principle I think of that approach is that if we design our courses where everyone has access, then everyone benefits.
There are some students that wouldn’t typically qualify for accommodations that can benefit from a little extra time on the test, maybe not on every test, but when they need it, they need it. And if it’s already there, it’s already built into the system, it’s already baked into the course, then they’re going to do okay because that’s not going to be a problem for them when they do have a day like that because they’re sick or they have a topic like that that they just find really challenging to understand and just need a little extra time to think things through or work things out on their scratch paper or whatever it is that’s requiring them to take little extra time. So in my view, extra time is a way of providing another avenue of inclusion, another way to include all students, and maybe not on every test, but I think many students are going to need that on some tests.
So why not bake it into all the tests in the course, having untimed tests? Now, I got away from timed to tests a long time ago for a reason that has nothing to do with inclusion or equity. It has nothing to do with helping students that need accommodations. Not that those things weren’t important to me, but that’s not what caused me to stop timing my test. I stopped timing my test because, well, I was trying to do timed online tests before the technology was really able to do that with a large number of students, at least the technology we had on our campus. Because at that time, I think a lot of folks didn’t think that we really needed much bandwidth in our internet connection, and we really didn’t need a lot of space on our server or a lot of efficiency on our server, even though we had installed a learning management system that could do online tests.
Oh, only a few students are going to be using it at a time. Well, we soon found out that’s not true. And I was one of the ones that taxed the system by having a large number of questions. You may recall that in my online test banks, I have randomization, so there’s many, many, many questions there, and they’re randomly chosen by the learning management system for each item. So each item might have five or 10 or 25 different items to choose from, and then it moves on to the next one, the next one, the next one. So it keeps hitting that server. And in the early days, our server couldn’t handle it and it would shut down. And then everybody was locked out of the test and nobody had a positive testing experience, including me. And so it was advised, our learning management system wrangler, who’s still around with us these days and is a very wise person, chatted with me about these issues and told me, Kevin, I can’t make the server work better. Not yet, not now. We have to tackle that in some other context on some other day.
What are you going to do now? Why don’t you think about just taking the timing off of your test so that not all the students are hitting the server at the same time? Let them spread it out a little bit and then the server won’t crash, and that would be great for all of us if the server doesn’t crash. And so I did. I thought, oh, I can’t do that. Oh my gosh, there are these things in my brain that I can’t unlock that says that the only rigorous and honest and useful way of doing a test is if they’re a time to test. That’s just the way it’s done. And so I had to break that part of my brain and loosen it up, and I did because I felt like I was forced to.
And once I did, oh my gosh, I am so, so glad that that happened because I realized that that timing was an artificial barrier that unnecessarily added burdens for my students in taking their tests. And not only that, it unnecessarily excluded some students and maybe excluded all students on certain tests. So I’m bringing this up because, well, it’s on my mind. I’ve been talking about it with people lately, and so I thought I’d bring it to you and maybe this can help loosen up some little locked in concretized part of your brain, and maybe you can start experimenting with longer times on your test or no times on your test. And not only online tests, but maybe even in class tests.
By the way, I want to circle back to that for just a moment because I forgot to mention this before, and that is on my in-class exams, one strategy I’ve used is to design the exam so that they can be taken in a shorter amount of time than I actually have in the room. And that usually works a hundred percent of the time. But another strategy that I’ve tried that has worked really well is to tell students that here’s when we have to leave the room, because there’s always another class coming in. Might be my class, might be somebody else’s class, might be who knows what is going to be used in that room next. So I can’t allow a student to just stay in there forever taking their test. So if you cannot finish in the allotted time, then tell me that as you turn in the test and we will work it out. Now, I don’t go into detail about that because I don’t want them to necessarily know what I’m going to do, partly because I don’t know what I’m necessarily going to do in every case.
It depends on the day and the time and where we’re located and so on. But usually what I can do is if a student says, you know what? I just zoned out there for a while, I have a migraine, whatever, then I can say, okay, can you finish it now? And if they say yes, and I’ll say, okay, walk with me and we’ll walk and we’ll either find an empty classroom, find some other space. If we’re close to where my office is or conference room or something, we’ll set it up there and I’ll let them finish. If not, then we’ll make an appointment for them to finish at a later time. And so, use your imagination. There are probably a number of different options that you can come up with at that point. And you know what? I don’t really recall a time when I had to do that.
There probably were a few times when I did that, but I don’t recall a time doing that. So even if you have a huge class, and I’ve had classes up to about 300 students at a time, even in a huge class, you’re not going to have a lot of students taking you up on that. They want to get done. And if they can get done, they will get done within the allotted time. And something else to think about too, all kinds of possibilities here once we start allowing our brains to go down that path, all kinds of possibilities open up.
Micro-credentials for Professional Development
Kevin Patton (24:12):
In case you forgot, or in case you never knew this, I offer digital micro-credentials in the form of a badge or a certificate, whichever you prefer, or both for any of the podcast episodes that come out in this podcast. And not only that, at theAPprofessor.org, I also have online video seminars. And of course we have The A&P Professor book club, and reading any of those books that are recommended in the book club can also earn you a digital credential. I mentioned those digital credentials at the end of every episode to remind you to claim yours because if you’ve listened to an episode, well then you can earn a digital credential. And back in episode 87, I talked about digital credentials sometimes called micro-credentials in our course. And I’ve used those in courses, for example, in my Pre-A&P course, they have 10 modules that they have to work through, and they get a badge for each one of those.
And so when they leave Pre-A&P, not only have they refreshed some important topics of biology and chemistry that they need to know before they get to A&P one, and that enables them to be successful in the A&P one. They not only have that course on their transcript, they have those badges in their digital backpack that anyone that they display them to can see them and see that yes, that person is competent in protein synthesis. That person has achieved the basics of introductory genetics. That person has some basic understanding of biological molecules, any of those major topics that in groups or concepts that we talked about in Pre-A&P, so that’s a digital credential. Well, in The A&P Professor world, the digital credentials are for continuing professional education to demonstrate that you have some exposure to, some understanding of, that you’ve thought about different major topics such as the use of micro-credentials.
You could go into our education system, you would go to theAPprofessor.org/education, and you would be able to look through what the different opportunities are for badges and so on. But really, almost anything you do at theapprofessor.org can earn you a micro-credential. For example, if you had listened to episode 87 and it’s not too late, episode 87 still exists, and you can go in there and listen to it and learn something about micro-credentials. And when you do, you just click the little link in that episode page or in the episode notes if you’re listening in like a podcast app or some other kind of audio app, you can find that link and it’ll take you there and it’ll take you to a form that you fill out. Say, okay, it’ll already have listed what the episode is, and then it’ll ask you some questions, first of all to verify in sort of an affidavit that you have listened to it, and then you do a little very brief reflection on what you learned or what you understand from that episode.
And then you’ll get your credential. And then there are links to explanations of how you can display those credentials, where you can get a backpack to put those, a digital backpack, virtual backpack, it’s not heavy at all because it’s virtual, where you can put these badges and certificates. All of that learning that you’re doing, not only in the theAPprofessor.org, but this is a growing trend. And so I’m hoping that, I’m encouraging, I’m saying right now to organizations like HAPS and AAA and APS and other organizations that offer professional continuing educational or professional development opportunities, especially those that are somewhat informal like workshops at a HAPS conference or seminars at AAA meeting or readings in advances in physiological education, any of those things. I would encourage you people who are organizing that and doing that, to offer badges, offer micro-credentials so that people can demonstrate that they’ve done those things.
Now, continuing ed in clinical areas have done that for years and years where they’ve given credit for reading a journal article or for listening to a podcast or for attending a workshop or a seminar or reading a book or any one of those things that you can get micro-credentials for, for example, in theAPprofessor.org. And the more organizations and the more people offering those kinds of professional development opportunities do that, the more we can keep track, and this is where I was headed this whole time of battling on about micro-credentials, is it offers us a way to keep track of what we’re learning. This came up recently with a longtime friend of mine who was sort of busily catching up with his micro-credentials in general, but that included the ones related to the podcast. And he said, well, it’s because he’s been considered for a continuing contract.
So it’s sort of like his institution’s version of tenure, I guess, where they get a longer contract. But I’ve also had this conversation with other friends who have used it when they’re going up for a promotion, they’ve used it when they’re getting their CV ready because they’re looking for a different position, a new position. There’s lots of reasons to pull this stuff together and get it onto your CV. If for no other reason, and I can see myself doing it this way, is a lot of us have a requirement that every year we have to sort of demonstrate what we’ve been doing that year in a variety of different areas, including service to the school, service to our profession, continuing professional education, things like that. Well, these badges can be a good way to keep track of that and not only keep track of it, but demonstrate it that look, here is a certificate, here is a badge that says I did this.
The badges that I provide also stipulate how many hours of work that are behind each of those badges. So you could total those up and present that as well. So I just want to throw this out there as a reminder that there is this thing called micro-credentials, and it is available at theAPprofessor.org/education for any of the things, any of the professional development activities that I offer through the The A&P Professor. But also, let’s encourage our organizations and other folks that provide these professional development opportunities, let’s encourage them to get on the bandwagon so that we can get badges anywhere that we’re doing that professional development.
Kevin Patton (31:53):
One of the overarching concepts of human anatomy and physiology is that it changes. That is, our understanding of it changes, and therefore our teaching and learning of it changes. We have to be constantly learning anatomy and physiology. And I know that many of us have this notion that, well, anatomy is finished. Physiology, yeah we’re still discovering some things, but anatomy’s all been worked out. Well, that’s not really true. There’s many different aspects of what we think we know about anatomy that are still being worked out, even gross anatomy. But an area of anatomy that certainly is nowhere close to being worked out is microscopic anatomy. When we look at cells and tissues and interactions between them, we can see clearly that, oh, we have part of the story. And I don’t know, there are days when maybe we think we have the whole story, or at least somebody has the whole story, that science as a whole has the whole story.
But that’s not true. That’s not even close to being true. There’s a lot more to discover. A while back in episode 126, I talked about 10 things that we forget to tell students about cells that they kind of need to know to have that idea that there’s more to cells than we see at a glance. And some of these are newly discovered ideas. So for example, just a very basic level, I mentioned that it’s important for students to know that cells are not multicolored like they are in the textbooks and online resources, and even in journal articles, those color codes and stains and various lighting techniques and so on, those are all to help us see them better. But that’s not really what a living cell looks like in real life as it carries on its business. And another aspect that I think we forget to emphasize with students is how important the cytoskeleton is to pretty much everything the cell does, and its whole entire structure is really organized by the cytoskeleton.
And we kind of set that aside as sort of a not important thing when actually that maybe one of the most important things that students really should understand about a cell. And we often set aside this idea of molecular motors. Yeah, we talk about the effects of them from time to time, but do they really know that there are tiny little motors made of a molecule or two that are pulling and pushing things around in the cell, that it’s not just happening on its own? That’s what animates the various organelles of a cell. Well, speaking of organelles, there have been a couple of recent articles that have come out that are emphasizing something about organelles that is fairly newly discovered. When I say fairly newly discovered, I mean over the last few decades we’ve developed a clearer and clearer understanding of what’s going on enough that we now know that we know hardly anything about this topic, and that is the topic of organelle to organelle interactions.
Now, we know of some interactions between organelles within a cell, but there are many others that we’ve only recently discovered. One group of interactions, and it really is a group of many different kinds of interactions that’s happening in the cell is between mitochondria and the endoplasmic reticulum, the ER. And we don’t normally talk about that in a beginning biology course or in our A&P course when we’re reviewing the basic structure and function of a cell or anywhere along in our course do we really talk about how mitochondria can and do and often do connect to Er. That was discovered accidentally when researchers started pulling apart cells and isolating organelles, and they kept getting ER that had mitochondria stuck to it. And it’s like, oh, man, our technique is not too good, it’s causing the mitochondria to stick to the ER. Well, no, those mitochondria were stuck to the ER at least for that moment in time when that process was happening, when that cell was sort of captured and processed.
And we now know that those are important interactions that are happening there that apparently, and one author describes it as kind of a dance where the mitochondria are coming in contact with the ER, they connect, they’re actually tethered there at least momentarily, and then they release, and then they come back again and they’re released, they come back again. For example, some lipids that end up in the mitochondria that we never knew really how they got there. Well, now we know they’re coming from the ER. So yeah, maybe one of the reasons why the mitochondria are connecting to the ER is to pick up some lipids and then they leave and then they pick up some more lipids. But there are other kinds of interactions that we’re working out there too. And I don’t want to get into all the detail of that because that’s not my point here.
And I don’t think all of those details necessarily are important for our telling of the story of anatomy and physiology for our students. But I think bringing up the idea that there are many kinds of interactions that you won’t take time to discuss in your course, but they’re happening there and that there are many undiscovered interactions among many organelles in the cell, even though the most studied is between mitochondria and ER. It’s the most studied up till this point. There are many other organelle to organelle interactions that we’ve either not discovered yet or they haven’t been studied well yet.
And as we study them, we’re seeing that there are opportunities for disease mechanisms to happen. We know that when just about anything in a cell or beyond, that is outside a cell within a tissue or an organ when it’s supposed to work one way or when it usually works one way in a healthy situation and then it stops working that way because something is broken or something is missing or something is being blocked or any one of a number of things that can go wrong, that’s when we start seeing disease happening, disease processes happening.
So we know that a lot of our students, they’re going into health professions. A lot of my students over the years of gone into nursing and related professions, and they often come in and like, why do I need to know about cells if I’m going to be a nurse? Why do I need to know about what ER does if I’m going to be a nurse? Well, when mistakes happen, for example, in this interaction between mitochondria and ER, that may be the basis of some very important clinical conditions. And when I say important, I mean important to the clinician, things that they’re going to run into, things that they need to deal with that are going to help them understand that condition better and eventually may help the health professional understand how any treatments or therapies that they’re employing with that patient work.
So the more we know about cells, the more we know about clinical medicine, the more we know about pharmacology and the more reason there is for us to know that stuff if we’re going to be working in a clinic. I’m just fascinated with cells in general, maybe you are too. And so you might want to take a look at the links that I provided to you so you can look at this somewhat newer part of the story, and maybe we can all together start following what happens with these organelle to organelle interactions.
Kevin Patton (40:13):
You may already know that I have a regular newsletter that goes out, I should say haltingly regular newsletter that goes out that has updates in science and education for anatomy and physiology faculty. In each of the issues I have between five and 10 items that I’ve found in online journals and magazines and social media and lying there on the floor and just anywhere I find things that are of interest, whether it has to do with science updates or teaching updates, education updates, I collect it and I put it in that newsletter. And one that I ran across recently, it’s actually a couple of years old, but just recently noticed it. And that is a journal article from Advances in Physiology Education. And the title of this article is Decorative Animations Impair Recall and Are a Source of Extraneous Cognitive Load. Now, when it mentions decorative animations, it’s talking about animations that we put into, let’s say a teaching slide, but it could be some other kind of teaching object like an online webpage that we have in our course or all kinds of possibilities.
But let’s imagine a slide. And so on that slide, maybe we don’t have an illustration of the concept that we’re explaining at that moment, but we decide we want to put something visual there, and that’s not a bad idea, but we need to be careful about how distracting that is and whether it’s going to add to the cognitive load of the student as they’re looking at that image and still listening to you or listening to a narration of what’s going on in the story at that particular point in the story. And the point of this article is that if it’s merely decorative, then maybe we don’t want an animation, especially an animation that is going to be to distracting, because what’s going to happen is that’s going to be recalled by a student instead of the concepts that we want the students to recall. So those decorative animations get in the way, they impair recall, and probably a mechanism of that is that they tend to be a source of extraneous cognitive load.
In other words, they’re distracting the student. They’re like a squirrel over there. Oh look, it’s a squirrel. It’s a squirrel. Well, we don’t need to worry about that squirrel. What we need to focus on is the concept that that slide is trying to help us understand. The more and more extraneous cognitive load we have, the harder it is for a student and harder it is for us too, to really focus on the main idea that we need to be focusing on so that that moment in time, that time and effort that we’re spending to learn right then is going to work for us and not be a waste of time and effort. So if you want to know more about this and what they found, I have a link in the episode notes, as usual. So go ahead and check that out.
Kevin Patton (43:44):
In this episode, I discussed a lot of different things. I started out by congratulating Wendy Riggs on her HAPS President’s Medal. Hey, if you know Wendy, why not take a moment right now to send her a quick note of congratulations. I also shared a repository of resources to help college faculty deal with AI in our curriculum, which is curated by Stanford University. And we looked at the use of decorative animations in teaching slides and why they may not be a good choice. We glimpsed an emerging trend in thinking about how organelles and our cells interact with each other. And I talked about timed and untimed online tests in the A&P course. And yes, there’s more. Of course, we discussed micro-credentials as a way to keep track of our professional development growth.
And you know what? There are links. There are always links. If you don’t see links in your podcast player, go to the episode notes at theAPprofessor.org/138. And wherever you’re scanning the episode notes, you can find a link to claim your digital micro-credential for listening to this episode. And please call in with your questions, comments, and ideas at the podcast hotline. That’s 1-833-LION-DEN, which is 1-833-546-6336. Or send a recording or a written message to podcast@theAPprofessor.org. And do me a favor please, let one colleague know about this podcast before you move on to your next thing today. I’ll see you down the road.
Aileen Park (45:45):
The A&P Professor is hosted by Dr. Kevin Patton, an award-winning professor and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology.
Kevin Patton (45:56):
Past performance does not guarantee future results.
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Patton, K. (2023, June 9). Dancing Organelles, AI Resources, Distracting Animations, Timed Tests & Micro-credentials | TAPP 138. The A&P Professor. https://theapprofessor.org/podcast-episode-138.html
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