Connecting in the Distance Course Special
TAPP Radio Ep. 50 TRANSCRIPT
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Episode 50 Transcript
Connecting in the Distance Course Special
Kevin Patton: Carl W. Buechner once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Aileen: Welcome to The A&P Professor, a few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with host Kevin Patton.
Kevin Patton: In this special episode, we revisit a bunch of tricks for retention and success in distance courses. This episode is part of a series of specials in which I’ve gone back to this secret underground vault containing segment from all the past episodes. The secret is out about that underground vault, which is really just my basement office, but you get the idea. For each one of these special episodes, I comb through my library of segments and draw together some of those with a recurring theme that seems to resonate with all of you. And wow, the three segments that I pick have really resonated with a lot of you. So I mashed them together into a single episode, so you can hear them again back to back. Or perhaps you’re hearing one or more of them for the first time. Either way, it’s a chance to reflect on ideas that may help you as you evolve as an A&P teacher. Or get you riled up and that will trigger coming up with some better ideas.
Kevin Patton: In this episode, we revisit classic segments from a series of these three episodes. Number 21 which was called 49 Tricks for Retention & Success in Online Courses. And episode 22 which was titled 49 MORE Tricks for Retention & Success in Online Courses. And then episode 23 which was titled Even More Tricks for Retention and Success in Online Courses. And really these three segments are originally started out as just one segment, at least in my head. But my notes for it were so long that I broke it up into three pieces just for recording purposes so I could see all my notes for each piece [inaudible 00:02:34] while I was recording. But then I realized that if I stitched them together, it would be way longer than usual. So I broke them up again and put each part into a different episode. But here they are all sewed back together again for your listening pleasure. I’ve had fun listening to them again. I know you will too.
Kevin Patton: This podcast is sponsored by HAPS, the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society, promoting excellence and the teaching of human anatomy and physiology for over 30 years. Go visit HAPS at theAPprofessor.org/haps. That’s H-A-P-S. And find out about all the one day regional conferences coming up soon, somewhere near you.
Kevin Patton: Online teaching is weird for many of us. Whether we’re new in the teaching profession or grizzled old veterans like me, one big issue is successfully forming an effective community of learners in the online environment. This impacts student retention in a big way. And when I say that, I mean a big, big, big way. This is three bigs folks, one or two but three. Count them, three bigs. And those three bigs also apply to student’s success. If we can’t retain them, they’ve lost out on any chance of success. And we’ve lost out too.
Kevin Patton: Online courses having a notoriously high dropout rate. It’s getting better over time, but it’s still a concern. Even if we do keep students in our course, they won’t succeed unless they stay engaged. And engagement is not something most of us know how to do well in the online environment.
Kevin Patton: Now I’ve been teaching online for quite a while, and I have trouble too, but I picked up some tricks. In academia, we’re not supposed to call them that. We’re supposed to call them and strategies. But if I call them tricks, then you’re more likely to listen to what I have to say. And by the way, 49 tricks really? I don’t know how many I have, but it got you listening, didn’t it? When I started looking over my notes for this episode, I realized that they can be split apart or lumped together, and most of them overlapped and interconnect and ways that I don’t know how many there are here. Does it really matter exactly how many there are? Okay. There are at least eight. There are eight of them. That’s enough, right? Besides that, there are way, way more tricks or strategies than what I have for you today. Why don’t you tell us what you have? Call-in, write, email. I hardly ever hear from you. Okay. Maybe I get a holiday card once a year, but will it kill you to lift the phone once in a while and give your old friend a few minutes of your time? Let me know how you’re doing. Okay, I got a little off track there. Let’s get back. Okay.
Kevin Patton: All eight to 49 of the tricks I’m going to talk about right now, they really are easy. You’ll see. Okay, the first thing I want to talk about, and maybe I shouldn’t use that phraseology first. Because then you’re going to start counting them one, two, three and see if I have eight or I have 49 or somewhere in between and I don’t know how many I have.
Kevin Patton: So to start off, we’re going to start off with this principle, and that is connections. It’s all about connections. And I mean connections between the professor and the students, and it’s also about connections from student to student. Today, I’m just going to focus on the connections between the professor and the student, what we can do as a professor to stay connected to our students and help promote retention, and help promote student success.
Kevin Patton: And to ease us into it, I’m going to ask you to recall a conversation I had a couple episodes back in episode 19 where I talked about how important it is for us to show students that we care about them. And I gave some practical tips on how we can make sure that that message gets across to them and thereby help promote student success.
Kevin Patton: Now it’s been widely documented that the more any individual student can feel connected to their professor, the more likely it is that they’ll succeed. And not just in that course, but they’ll be more likely to stick with their whole academic program and succeed in it. It often just takes one relationship with one professor to keep them going. And I don’t necessarily mean a close or time consuming relationship, just a feeling of connection. And that’s a lot easier than it sounds.
Kevin Patton: So one way to do that would be to make sure that you’re projecting and living out a friendly, caring, supportive persona. That would be your online teaching persona. Now way back in episode 12, I talked about looking at teaching as a kind of storytelling and that storytelling is at the heart of good teaching. And I described that it’s a good idea to develop your storytelling persona. And that’s the same kind of thing I’m talking about here. As a matter of fact, they would probably be the same persona or at least overlapping persona is when you’re telling a story in front of a class as when you’re approaching your online students and communicating with them. As a matter of fact, it’s not a bad idea to give that some actual thought. Over time take some notes, keep a notebook and start jotting down some ideas. What do you want your online teaching persona to be like?
Kevin Patton: I would suggest the word friendly should be in there, caring, supportive. Those are all things and probably some other adjectives and characteristics are going to occur to you throughout listening to this episode of the podcast. And then as you mull it over over time. And I suspect that over a matter of semesters and years, it’s going to morph a little bit. It’s going to evolve and you’re going to really start finding the things in that online teaching persona that work and finding the things that don’t work so well. And honing it and tweaking it to the point where it becomes really highly effective.
Kevin Patton: I suggest that you consider making that online persona informal if possible. As informal as possible without blurring the line between professor and student. And as I’ve already mentioned a few times that word supportive, make it really super supportive. I mean that’s our role is teachers, at least the way I see it. We’re there to be facilitators and mentors. And to be a good facilitator, or mentor, or coach, we need to really project the idea that we’re there for support, that they can rely on us for support.
Kevin Patton: Here’s a trick, and it’s a trick I mentioned back in episode 12 when I was talking about storytelling. And that is smile before you do anything online. Before you answer an email or a direct message. Before you respond to something in a discussion forum, before you start grading any of the material that needs to be graded. Before you post an announcement or compose an announcement or news item or that course, smile first. That gets you into the mode you need to be in. Even if you’re frustrated, even if you’re angry. Like I’ve told them a million times, why are they doing this the wrong way?
Kevin Patton: So before you post that announcement, you want to smile first and get into that online teaching persona, that friendly, informal, supportive persona that you’ve been developing, so you don’t lose it and break the stride of that. So just smile. Good technique for coming across in a positive, friendly manner.
Kevin Patton: Sort of along those lines is the idea, and I do this all the time. I think of myself, I literally think of myself as a highly skilled customer service professional. We’ve all interacted with them, right? We know those that really make us feel good and make us feel like they’re helping us and really feel like we’re getting something done. They’re the ones who let you vent, and don’t stop you, and try to correct you. They just let you vent. Then when it’s appropriate, they respond and they say, first thing off. Usually what they’ll say is, “I understand your frustration. I understand how frustrated you must feel in that situation.” And then what’s the next thing they say? “It’s okay. I can help you with that,” or, “I’m here to help.” Why can’t we do that? Why can’t we let the student rent a little bit online? Or if they’re calling us up or leaving us a voice message, well, let them vent. And let it hang there for a moment and then respond and say, “Oh wow, you must really be frustrated. I can understand that you’re frustrated. I hear that, and I’m here to help.”
Kevin Patton: So what you’ve done is you’ve validated their feelings, you’ve told them that you listened and that you understand. Even if you don’t completely understand, you can ask some followup questions to really get to the detail. But that you understand the overall gist of what they’re talking about, or even just understanding the fact that they’re frustrated. Then follow up with that all important, “I’m here to help you.” And then that implies, and you might even go a little bit further and state that you’re ready to take some responsibility for making sure that they find the help they need.
Kevin Patton: Now, what I typically do is help guide them to help themselves. I help guide them to their next step. I get them talking about that, responding back and forth and get them to see what their next step should be. But sometimes they really do just need to be told do this next, and then they can take it from there. So it depends on the situation. But the idea is you don’t just leave them hanging there. You don’t do this, “You should know how to do that.” Or it’s in the syllabus.
Kevin Patton: Now it’s okay to say it’s in the syllabus, but what I have found is that it doesn’t really take more than a few seconds to copy and paste something from the syllabus. I’d keep my syllabus file on my desktop there ready to open, so I can just copy. That section. Remember in the syllabus. Kind of a little passive aggressive maybe a little bit there. But if you do it in a friendly manner, it’s passive but not aggressive. And that as you say, well remember in the syllabus where I explained? And then just paste it right in and say, here it is, it’s on page two of the syllabus. Here’s what you need to do.
Kevin Patton: And it jiggles them a little bit to say maybe you should’ve looked at the syllabus. So hopefully they’ll do that next time and realize that oops, I guess I should’ve done that. I do that when I call him a customer service lines and they said, that little label on the front that says turn it on first. Why didn’t I even look at that? How did I look past that?
Kevin Patton: I think a lot of our students do the same thing. And they don’t like being made to be felt stupid. They don’t like us to have a condescending attitude. That does not foster the kind of connections they need for their students’ success. And I don’t want to be that person anyway, much less that teacher. Do you? No, I don’t think so.
Kevin Patton: So let’s take some responsibility for making sure that they get the next little bit of information, the kind of help they need. And if it’s help that I’m not capable of offering them, at least I want to take some responsibility for helping them find the kind of help that they need. I don’t know, maybe they have some kind of challenge that they’re trying to overcome that I’m not equipped to help them with. And I can help them find the resources they need to overcome that challenge or deal with it in some way.
Kevin Patton: Now I want to take a moment to emphasize that what I’m saying here, to be friendly and supportive and all that, is not to say that we shouldn’t have some tough love here going on. Tough love is important. And for many reasons which all boil down to supporting student success, we do need to hold students accountable. It doesn’t do them any good to not hold them accountable. That’s not love at all. That’s not caring for them, that’s coddling them in an unhealthy way.
Kevin Patton: We also, I think should help them develop that professional work style that they need. And what I mean by professional work style is that is adhering to deadlines, being honest, and having integrity. All of those things that they’re going to need in later courses and then later in their careers. So we can’t let them off the hook on those things. So don’t misinterpret me.
Kevin Patton: But tough love doesn’t need to include anger or condescension, or just blowing off students instead of taking some time to listen to them and help them. Tough love that works is still kind, and it’s still compassionate. At least that’s my belief.
Kevin Patton: I think it’s important to express empathy. Not just have empathy, but to express empathy with the typically frustrating parts of your course. All of our courses, I think A&P is probably at the higher end of the spectrum in this regard in terms of frustration level among students. At least in my teaching career, and I’ve taught a number of other courses besides A&P, even though that’s been my main focus. I think A&P is really, really tough for students. I found it to be tough, I think other students find it to be tough. I don’t think any of us would argue with that. And we know where the pain points are. Don’t we?
Kevin Patton: For example, one of my online courses especially, I have them go into some resources outside the learning management system. So that’s going to involve them creating new login credentials, registering with their email and making up a password. And you would think that in the 21st century, that everybody is used to doing that sort of thing. And maybe a lot of my students are used to doing that sort of thing. But it still can cause frustrations because not all those systems work exactly the way you think. They’re not all as intuitive as we’d like them to be in terms of their user interface. So I find that that that’s a pain point in one of the courses I teach. So I know that ahead of time. And learning management system or LMS, they drive me nuts. I don’t know about you guys, but I know because I’ve heard from a lot of my colleagues. Learning management systems, they have all these little features or lack of features that are just very, very frustrating.
Kevin Patton: They don’t seem to be intuitive. They don’t do what we’d like them to do. They don’t work like the real world works. They sometimes stop working or get buggy and so on, especially when a new version rolls out. And these days, most learning management systems, they’re rolling out new stuff every week or every month. It’s like a new version, and all of a sudden something’s different than it was before and it might not really be fully functional and still have some bugs to work out that they didn’t anticipate until they released it.
Kevin Patton: So there’s a lot of these machine based, or software based, or platform based frustrations that we have ourselves. So that lets us empathize right, with our students? So we can connect to that way and say, “Yeah, yeah, I know that that’s hard to do. I know what that feels like to have to go through that. But just think of all you’re learning and just think how well you’re going to be able to empathize with your patients and clients and follow students and so on later down the road.”
Kevin Patton: There’s some other things that I think are particular to the A&P course, like if you do an online lab, or online demos, or online simulations in a course. Then they might have some frustrations in figuring out how to do that and what you want from them in terms of work product, if there is any, what it is they need to be doing. So let them know that yeah, this is new. That’s frustrating for it to be new. So I’m there with you. I’m there to support you. And to feel your pain alongside you.
Kevin Patton: If they have an online project they have to do, empathize with their frustration.
Kevin Patton: They have any kind of unusual assignment that they might not have had in a previous course before. Even if it’s something that you’re used to doing, they’re not going to be used to it. Try to recall that frustration you had when you first introduced it in your course and then think, well this is new for them each time I offer this course. So they’re going to run into some of that same frustration.
Kevin Patton: And there’s also all those learning bottlenecks in our course content. For me, a lot of my students when we get to the introduction to histology that I usually do pretty early in A&P one, it drives them crazy. It’s like I’m showing them a bunch of Jackson Pollock paintings and telling them that there are things that they should be seeing that to them just looks like paint splatter. And realize that that frustration that they’re experiencing is a good kind of frustration. They’re not going to believe you when you tell them that. But learning scientists tell us that that frustration is when the learning happens.
Kevin Patton: So when they see the paint splatters and that’s all they see is pink and purple splashed all over the place, you can empathize with them, say, “Oh yeah, I felt the same way. But look at this, and look at this, and look at that.” And start to show them a few little tricks that they can start to use. And if they get stuck, give them another trick or two that they can use. And let them work that out, but be supportive of them as you do.
Kevin Patton: So you can do that with learning skeletal features. I usually give them a big long list of skeletal features. They have to be able to pick out on a lab practical or even if it’s an online lab practical where they’re identifying things in an online format. There’s a big, long list of stuff they have to remember. And that’s very frustrating because they’re not used to have to remember that much stuff, and it’s all pretty abstract to them. So we’re talking about histology, sort of like an abstract painting. Well, I think the skeleton is sometimes like abstract sculpture to them. To them is just bumps and holes. And we’re trying to distinguish kinds of bumps and functions and bumps. And now oh man, these gobbledygook names of bumps. What’s another bottleneck? Membrane potentials. Oh my gosh, that’s an abstract notion, right? A little bit of math. Oh man, that’s scary to a lot of people.
Kevin Patton: Renal function. Now I know for a fact that almost everybody listening here dreads teaching the function of the nephron, at least if you go into any detail at all of how urine is formed, how blood is filtered and so on in the kidneys. I know that because when, way back when when we were starting HAPS Institute we did a survey of A&P teachers and we asked, what is the most difficult thing you find to teach? What’s the thing that you feel least confident about teaching? And way up on the top of that list was renal function.
Kevin Patton: So yeah, that’s another bottleneck. And it’s not only troublesome for us to figure out how to teach well, but it’s trouble for the students to figure out how to understand it. It wasn’t until, I don’t know, it was my third course when renal function came up where things finally started to click in my brain. I’m like that’s how it works. Okay, now I’m starting to get it. So imagine that kind of frustration in your students who are just trying to stay above water. They’re not really truly understanding it and they’re being frustrated.
Kevin Patton: So think about those learning bottlenecks. Where are the learning bottlenecks in your course and anticipate them and say, “Look, I know this is frustrating. I’m right there with you. I was frustrated too.” And then try to find some ways to make it easier and reduce their frustration without eliminating that good kind of frustration that they need to climb that mountain and really do the learning work that they need to be doing inside their heads.
Kevin Patton: So that tapping into your own frustrations I think is a good technique. It’s a good way to let the students know that you’re connected to them, that you understand them, you empathize with them. You’re there to support them. So tap into your own frustrations with your learning management system, with those hard to teach topics. Well, they’re hard to learn for the students if they’re hard to teach for you.
Kevin Patton: What about the student apathy? Don’t we have days when we’re just like I don’t know if I can push all the way through this day. I have to teach that topic for the umpteenth time or grade that big stack of papers. Oh my gosh, grading all those papers. So we have those empathetic moments too and say look, I understand. Sometimes you just don’t want to do the work. Sometimes there are other things you want to be doing, but you got to get it done.
Kevin Patton: Another kind of empathy that I draw on is sometimes I work with some administrators who just don’t seem to be listening to what I’m telling them. All the administrators I’m working with now are really very good. But haven’t you had that experience sometime in your life, or even very talented leaders in administration sometimes just aren’t hearing you. And maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe it’s your fault because you’re not really communicating with them very well.
Kevin Patton: But in any case, it forms some frustration. So think about that when your students are frustrated with you communicating with them. Think wait a minute, haven’t I experienced miscommunications before in a professional setting myself? So what can I do to make this better so that it’s not like those bad experiences I’ve had as a faculty member working with my administration. So those are all ways to tap into that and form those empathetic connections with our students.
Kevin Patton: a surgical transcript and captions for the audio gram of this episode are funded by AAA, the American Association of Anatomists, at anatomy.org. Hey for all my AAA friends who are heading home from London where you were at the 19th congress of the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists. I’m really looking forward to hearing all your stories. Get in touch. I want to put some of what you learned on future episodes of this podcast. Okay?
Kevin Patton: Another kind of trick I want to mention is faces. That’s the thing that’s missing from online teaching, right? When you walk into a classroom, you bring your face with you, don’t you? And all the students, they’ve brought their faces and now we face one another. We’re all facing each other and we’re interacting. In an online environment, that’s not automatic. So that’s why I insist on profile photos. Even though a lot of my students in the programs I teach in have had other online courses before. They still in the learning management system have a little gray shadow, little generic profile there where their profile picture is supposed to go. I don’t let them do that. I keep insisting. I will even get to a point where I’m emailing them individually and say, “Hey, your profile photo is not there yet.” And I have a little a sheet of stuff I can cut and paste into an email that walks them through the process of how to create the photo and get it into their online profile.
Kevin Patton: It’s not that hard to do. And say, “Look, you’ve got no excuse, here’s how to do it.” You don’t have to go find a 12 year old to show you. But if you got a 12 year old handy, have them show you. And put your profile photo in there.
Kevin Patton: And you got to emphasize, I’ve been there, done that, made this mistake before. You can’t just say you want a profile photo. You need to say, “We need to be able to see your face.” Because you’ll get in there and there they’ll put up a photo of a woman and her sister. Now which one of those is Mary? I don’t know. I want to know which is which. And not only that, say here’s a picture of just me. And there they are standing in front of the Statue of Liberty and they’re this tiny little dot. That doesn’t help me. I need to be able to picture in my mind’s eye an actual person. I need to plug that into that part of my brain that I use when I’m doing a face to face class when I see these faces in front of me.
Kevin Patton: So these are actual people. They make them more real to me because I think our brains are built that way. That people are more real when you see their face, when you hear their voice. The more kinds of interaction you can have with them, the more real they are.
Kevin Patton: Another thing that I found out the hard way too is encourage them that the picture profile picture should be, I don’t know, sometime within the last 10 years, not like 20, 30 years ago. I think a lot of returning learners tend to do this more, mainly because they have that one favorite photo where they looked really great 30 years ago and have always gotten compliments on that photo. But they don’t look anything like that anymore. And I don’t necessarily mean in a bad way. Sometimes they look really good, but that photo just doesn’t look like them anymore. So try to get them to get something recent.
Kevin Patton: One other thing about the photos is that some people are shy about doing that, and you have to really just encourage them and say, “Look, it’s going to work out better for every one of us that this is just a thing we do in this class.” And I’ve never had anybody push back very hard on that. Another thing I tell them too, some people like to put their dog up there for their profile photo and stuff like that. And we don’t want to make fun of people doing that. Because I don’t know, I don’t remember ever doing that, but maybe I’ve done that at some point on social media or something like that. Or put a cartoon character up or a heroic figure or who knows what. But tell them, “Look okay, you want to do that for a day or two or maybe even for a week? Okay, fine. Your dog just died and you’re really sad about that. Okay, I empathize with that. Go ahead and do that. But then put your own photo backup after a few days.”
Kevin Patton: And you might while you’re in that realm encourage them to maybe add a little bit of personal info to their profile. Most learning management systems allow you to list like interests and hobbies. Something I like to ask my students put in there, “Tell me why you’re in school right now or tell me why you’re taking this course. I’m not asking for sensitive private information here, like the names and birth dates of all your children or your siblings or whatever. No, no, no, no, no, that’s not what I mean by adding personal info. What I mean is just tell us something about yourself. Tell us something that’ll help us connect with you as a person.” And I go and I look at those, and I found out some very interesting things about my students. That makes them more memorable to me, easier to remember, and therefore easier to connect with.
Kevin Patton: Something that I always do that has worked out really well in my courses, and maybe you’re already doing this. I think this is pretty common is I have something that we call the student café. That is its own discussion forum that’s just open ended. It’s not required or anything. And they can go in there and discuss things with each other or whatever. And I usually have an initial assignment. It’s not graded, but I ask them to do this. To go in and introduce themselves. And I tell them, “Look, some of you already know each other. That’s fine, but I don’t know you yet. So tell me something about yourself and put that in the student café.” And I post usually the first one to give them a idea of what I’m looking for and tell them where I live and what I do in my spare time, and things like that. And I say some introductions here and then just open it up and say, “Look, this is for informal chats throughout the semester.”
Kevin Patton: Another thing that overlaps this, told you there’s a lot of overlap. Is that as an instructor, we need to keep our faces out there too. I’ve mentioned a number of times that I’m an introvert, and so my natural tendency is not to put my face on a billboard. But if I was selling real estate or insurance, I might have to put my face on a billboard. And you know why they do that? Well, you know why they do that, so that we recognize them. So when we meet them in person they’re like, “Oh yeah, I know you. You’re the guy from the billboard, you’re the lady from the billboard. You’re that couple from the park bench or the bus stop bench,” and so on. “You’re the person on the side of the bus,” and so on. It seems silly, but that forms a connection. We instantly feel more connected with them. Or if it’s somebody that you know and then you’ve seen them on a billboard, it’s like oh my gosh, I know that.
Kevin Patton: My backyard neighbor, he’s a TV weather reporter. So I sometimes see his face on the side of a bus. I’m like yeah, I know him. I know that guy. He’s my neighbor. And same thing with their real estate agents to live up the street. There’s a couple up the street and I see their pictures all over the place. And that forms an instant connection. So even though it may not be our own personal style, it needs to be our professional style if we’re teaching online. And that is keep your face out there a lot so that people can connect with you.
Kevin Patton: And if you’ve gone to my website, theAPprofessor.org, you’ve seen my picture in a few places. Why? Because I want to have that connection with you so that you can connect a person with that website. It’s now not this disembodied digital beast out there. It’s Kevin’s website. And you can feel some connection to me through that website because my picture is here and there in another place. So we need to do that as instructors.
Kevin Patton: Another way of doing that, I almost forgot to mention is that I use a lot of video intros and announcements. Not a lot, but I pepper them in there so that I will either just take a straight video or I’ll use a some platform like Camtasia, or I usually use iSpring software which is a plugin for PowerPoint. So I’ll have a few little points on a PowerPoint maybe to introduce a new topic, and there’ll be Kevin’s little talking head up in the corner. And I just did that one time because it was a new feature in the software. I thought I just want to see if it works. And I have a webcam, so why not? I’ll try it. And oh my gosh, my students just fell over when another saying, “That is so great. We feel so much more connected to this course.” I’m like, “Oh, really?” I’m glad I did it and now I just can’t stop doing it because I always feel like my students are missing something if I don’t add a little bit of video, a little bit of Kevin’s talking head every once in a while. Not only in announcements but in lectures in. Maybe if there’s a new discussion, I’ll have a little discussion starter with just a couple minute video of me saying, “Hey look, here’s what we’re discussing today or this week or whatever it is in this module.”
Kevin Patton: Sometimes I even use not so much videos of my talking head, but I’ll use a narrated video. And I’ve talked about this before, a narrated video of a screenshot of walking through here’s how you get to that resource you need in this course. And I walk them through step by step.
Kevin Patton: Besides faces, voices are important. I’ve already mentioned that. So your face and voice is best, but just voice alone like you’re hearing right now. That works okay. Don’t you feel a little bit connected to me? You’ll probably when you run into me in some place in person and you hear my voice coming within ear shot, you’ll think, “I know that voice. Where is that voice?” I can’t tell you how many my students, I’ll run into them somewhere and start talking to them. And one of the little kids will walk up and say, “You’re mommy’s teacher, aren’t you? I can tell because you sound just like her teacher when she’s listening on the computer.” So there’s that connection. You’re even connecting with other family members when you’re using your voice.
Kevin Patton: So use your voice. And a lot of LMSs have that recording ability on announcements like just built in. You don’t have to do anything separate and imported in. You can actually record the audio in a discussion, a response, or in a news item or announcement posting in your learning management system.
Kevin Patton: I think the good thing about either the video or the audio alone is that it’s a really good way to convey tone and really project that kind, friendly, supporting online teaching persona that you want have. Because sometimes in written communication, especially when we don’t have time, but we want to get the answer out there and we’re very terse. And it comes across as being snippy. And that’s not what our intent is. So tone is hard to do in a purely written form. So sometimes we can get beyond that. So if it’s something that you really want to be especially careful about conveying tone, think about using video and/or voice to portray that tone.
Kevin Patton: So that leads us into textual ways of communicating with our students to maintain that connection with our learners that we need to really make the online learning environment supportive and to help retain our students and help them be successful in our course.
Kevin Patton: So text, it’s an easy method, but it can be very powerful. As I just mentioned, conveying tone is more difficult with text. So we need to be careful of that. We need to be careful not to be too terse, to always throw in some niceties there. Like, “Hey wow, what do you think about this weather?” Or I’m really looking forward to this day off that we’re getting soon, or holiday, or whatever to personalize it a little bit. To make it a little more friendly than it would be. It’s like no, I said no before. I still mean no. That’s not a good way to keep our students engaged and have a positive feeling about their learning and about you.
Kevin Patton: One bit of advice that I have is if you’re a little concerned about the tone of something, like you’re responding to something or every once in a while you run across these cases of plagiarism or cheating, or something like that and they’re just uncomfortable, and you want to come down on the student, but you want to do it in a way that’s not going to rip them totally to shreds either. Or maybe something less serious than cheating. But it’s just like if I’ve told you once it’s a million times, look in your syllabus. You want to be careful about that.
Kevin Patton: So my advice is reread, reread, and then reread it again before you hit send. Did you notice I used three rereads? Si there we go. Three times I really made it is to keep rereading it. As a matter of fact, if you’re not sure whether it’s the right tone or not, it probably is not the right tone. So rewrite it. And it might not be a bad idea to ask somebody else to read it if you’re not sure. If there’s a colleague nearby that is used to dealing with students, ask them to reread it. I often asked my wife to reread it because I work from home mostly, and don’t have a colleague nearby to read that. I do sometimes will send it to a colleague and ask them to read it first. But ask my wife and she’s a nurse, she has dealt with clients and so on. So she’s had to develop some of those same skills. So she’ll look at that and give me some input like, “That sounds a little little snippy to me here maybe. Is that really what you want to convey?”
Kevin Patton: So now’s a good time to remember those customer service skills. So when you’re replying back to something and pull out those phrases like, “Yeah, I can understand how frustrated you must be.” Or explain some rationales. Like, “Well that is my course policy and I’m going to stick to it.’ And you might want to take a moment to say, “Look, it has to be that way, otherwise this or that could happen,” or, “You won’t understand that this or that could happen as a result if we don’t stick with that course policy,” or that course practice, or whatever it is.
Kevin Patton: So sometimes rationales are good. Sometimes they sound like over rationalizing something or rationalizing something that’s not rational. But sometimes there’s a reason that a student may not be able to see that they have to turn something in by a certain date or whatever. Because otherwise, this and that and the other thing you are going to unravel. So yeah, you got to get it done by then.
Kevin Patton: Another way that we can use text to stay connected to our students is through scheduled announcements. What I mean by that is using the learning management system, although you don’t have to, there are ways you can do this by way of email, sending out emails to your students too. But I think it’s easier in a learning management system where there are tools built in where you can create messages. And then schedule them ahead of time. Like right before the midterm exam, you might want to say, “Hey, remember the midterm exam’s coming up. Make sure you’re ready for that.” Just short little note. Maybe remind them, “Hey, remember there’s tutors in the learning center at the college. Remember this advice that I gave you.” Or, “Here’s a link to some advice on how to prepare for an exam and so on.” So just something to remind them while at the same time letting them know that you care about their success.
Kevin Patton: You know when some of those points at least are going to happen. So you can schedule them ahead of time. And not only that, with a learning management system, you can then take all of them and import them into your next time you offer that course. And you just massage the dates a little bit so they’re coming out at the right time and there you have them all over again. So see how easy it is to do? And yet the student is hearing them or reading them for the first time. And by the way, they might be hearing them because you can weave in some audio and video messages within those kinds of announcements as well.
Kevin Patton: You might want to consider a very brief just checking in tight communication. I do that in one of my courses that is self paced. So I’ll have a regular checking in type thing like, “Hey, it looks like everybody’s continuing to work on things. Don’t forget if you need any help, let me know. Hope you’re hanging in there and so on.” Just to keep them connected so that they know that somebody is keeping an eye on them and somebody is concerned about their progress. And it’s a good way to goose them a little bit because especially in a self paced course, but I think online courses in general, students tend to get away from it, and it’s hard for them to come back to it. It’s like my garage that needs to be cleaned out.
Kevin Patton: I keep thinking, “Oh man, I got to clean that out.” And then I forget about it once I’m out of the garage. It’s only when I’m in the garage that I think about it. And same thing with online learning I think, especially when there aren’t specific times and days that we need to be there.
Kevin Patton: I would emphasize, I need to remind myself of this all the time to not be nagging when I send out those reminders. Like yeah, we need to stay on task and we need to watch the due date, but don’t nag. Although I will tell you that I did recently send out an email where a whole bunch of people didn’t turn in something that they were supposed to turn in on time, or at least when I wanted them to turn this in. And it wasn’t something that was for a grade, but it’s something that they needed to do in order for another graded item to take effect. So I really wanted them to do it. I really wanted them to do it right away. So I said okay, I just made a joke of it like, “Okay, I’m nagging you. I admit it. I really need to get everybody to do this. Can you please just do it?” At the end, I just stuck on there. “And by the way, can you pick up the socks off the floor, put them in the laundry, please?” Because isn’t that a typical way that we nag our family members, our household members, or they nag us and so on? So just make it a little bit humorous, take the edge off of the nagging. Admit to the nagging a little bit and say, “Look, we got to do this.”
Kevin Patton: Another thing about these announcements is you can pre-schedule them. But one really important thing about them is you need to make sure, I need to make sure. This is a reminder of myself because I’m really bad about this. I need to make sure that I spread them out. Because if I’m sending them boom, boom, boom, three times in one day. That’s too overwhelming because the students aren’t going to read them as soon as I send them out or have them scheduled to send out. They’re going to let them collect their maybe until the end of the day or maybe for a couple of days, and now they’ve got six of them they need to read. And they’re not really going to have time for each one of them to really sink in, to really be meaningful before they get to the next one. So we need to avoid that cognitive overload, that machine gunning those announcements and news items and reminders and so on can have.
Kevin Patton: We also, if we spread them out more, then they’re less likely to be an annoyance. They’re more likely to be perceived as a helpful connection rather than this annoying pestering like, “Oh my God, it’s him again sending another message.” I tell you this is really hard for me, especially at the beginning of the course because there are so many things I want to let them know to be careful about in this course. Things that I know are probably new to them, different way of doing things and so on. I really need to make sure that I stretch those out over the first couple of weeks rather than the first couple of days. And yeah okay, sometimes I get somebody telling me, “Well, I wish you would have told me this two weeks ago.” And yeah. But if I explain yeah, I know that, but when I try to dump it all on everybody, the first couple of days, nobody really truly hears it and processes it.
Kevin Patton: And so usually people understand when I tell them that. They’re just expressing frustration. So when I explain that, I’m giving rationale. And when I also say, “Yes, I understand how frustrated you are by not getting it two weeks ago and only getting it today,” then I’m using my customer service skills and diffusing it a little bit. But also helping them realize that in fact, they wouldn’t have heard it if it had been part of a rapid fire barrage of announcements.
Kevin Patton: Someday I’ll have found that perfect sweet spot. I’ll know exactly how far apart to space which announcements go where and how far apart and so on. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there. And as a General George Patton always used to say apparently, I don’t know, I was never around him. I’m not related to him, even though we have the same last name. General Patton used to say a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. So I’m going to stick with my good plan of spreading them out and maybe someday it’ll be a perfect pacing of planning out those announcements.
Kevin Patton: Distribution of this podcast is sponsored by the master of science in Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction. The HAPI degree. A new cohort is forming for the fall trimester, so now is a great time to check out this online graduate program at nycc.edu/hapi that’s H-A-P-I. Or just click the link in the show notes or episode page. Yeah, I know. You already have an advanced degree. You are already teaching A&P. Well, this online master’s degree is designed specifically for you, to fill in the caps, broaden your training, get you up to speed on contemporary ideas and teaching. And most importantly, get you all charged up within a close knit learning community. Just click the link in the show notes or episode page now to find out more.
Kevin Patton: Another thing that we can do is use the tools within our learning management system to keep tabs on people who aren’t keeping up. Now there’s all kinds of statistics in there, and I still have far to go in learning how to use all of those analytical tools that are in my learning management system. And if you’re using a publisher’s tool like an adaptive learning system or something like that, that is set up by a third party like a publisher, there’s lots of analytics in there that it takes a while to learn how to use them effectively. But at the very least, we can see who’s doing well and who’s not doing well. And if they’re not doing well, we can keep an eye on that. We can also keep tabs on due dates being missed.
Kevin Patton: One of the learning management systems I use has just, it’s one or two clicks and it will automatically send emails to everyone who has not submitted a certain item in the Dropbox. So as soon as that due date hits, then I immediately go in there and send a message out to everybody who has not turned in their assignment in time and say, “Look, I haven’t started grading yet. I’m going to start grading them tomorrow. You still have time, get it in now and I won’t ding you for it being late.” And that sounds very empathetic and supportive, doesn’t it? Like, “I really am supposed to give you a penalty, but I’m going to waive that penalty if you help me out by getting it done in time.”
Kevin Patton: Because that’s really one of the reasons, at least from my perspective, why we have due dates, right? It’s so that not everything piles up at the end and I can’t possibly do a good job of grading.
Kevin Patton: So that’s an example of a way we can use the tools in our learning management system, but we can keep an eye out for trouble spots. And if we do that rather than just wait till the end say oh my gosh, have my class flunked, or half my class dropped out, what’s going on? And then you look at the statistics and you say well look, they weren’t turning in this. Then they didn’t turn that, and then all of a sudden they were gone. They withdrew from my course. If you find out right away that they’re falling behind, you can help them before they have to drop the course. You can help them before their grades are so low, they cannot possibly pull it back out of the fire again.
Kevin Patton: So what I do is I send individual messages to students who seem to be in trouble. So when I’m sending that individual message, I’m sure to tell them several things. One is I’m telling them that I have noticed them. I have noticed that they could possibly be running into trouble. So I’ve noticed their behavior. Second thing I make sure that is in that message is that I tell them how that might affect them if it continues. So if you miss more deadlines, here’s what’s going to happen. If you continue to do so poorly on your assignments, here’s what’s going to happen. If you continue to miss quizzes, this is what’s going to happen.
Kevin Patton: So I can tell them that not in a nagging way, but just point out, “Look, this can’t continue. You have to do something about this.” And then I make sure that the message is in there that I want to see them succeed. Why would I take the time and trouble of communicating with them individually if not to help them succeed? But I don’t want that to be just implied by the fact that I reached out to them. I want to specifically and explicitly tell them I want them to succeed. “I want you to succeed.”
Kevin Patton: And then I tell them that I’ve noticed their hard work if they’ve had hard work before, and I’ve noticed that they were successful in this or that other thing in the course. That is if that really does apply that they’ve been successful. So you can sort of boost them up a little bit and say, “Look, I know you can do it. Look, I’ve seen you do it. Now let’s keep it up.” Because I really think, at least in my experience. A lot of times the reason why people stumble in an online class is not because they can’t do the work. It’s because they’ve forgotten about it. They’ve disengaged for whatever reason, and what we need to do is get them reengaged again and get them reengaged early. And then they’ll be okay. And as soon as they’ve realized that we’re going to pull them back in, then it’s going to make them easier to pull themselves back in, in the future.
Kevin Patton: So it usually only takes one of those kinds of messages to get somebody pulled back in, unless they’re having some really serious problems, in which case you’re going to need to maybe keep pulling and tugging a few times.
Kevin Patton: The other thing that I always mention in that message to them when I reach out, and this is really important, probably the most important thing in the message. And that is I ask them, “What can I do to help you?”
Kevin Patton: Now if there isn’t anything I can do to help them, it’s just a matter of them re-engaging, then that’s okay. I’ve accomplished my goal of getting them reengaged. But I’ve also let them know that if they should ever run into trouble, that I’ve already reached out to them. That it’s okay because I want to help them and I’ve told them individually that I want to help them. So now when they do run into trouble, they’re going to be a lot less hesitant to actually reach out to me and say, “Look, I don’t get this topic or this concept.” Or, “Look, I’m having huge issues in my life giving me some tips for how to get my online work done in addition to dealing with this other issue,” or maybe even getting help with that issue. And we’re going to get back to that in a couple of minutes.
Kevin Patton: So when you send out those individual messages, I believe it actually helps them. It actually holds them more accountable than by just ignoring it and letting them manage themselves 100% of the time. I think what you’re doing is saying, “Look, I can see that you’re not holding yourself accountable.” Now I would never word it that way, but that’s part of the message, hopefully that they’re processing in their heads. Like, “Oh my gosh, he’s having to manage me. Why can’t I manage myself? I’m an adult, I’m a college student. I should be able to manage myself.” So I think it pushes them and sort of calls him on that, and helps them become more accountable by calling their attention and the fact that they’re not being self accountable. And at the same time, it’s demonstrating that you do care about their success. So that’s going to give them some more motivation to hold themselves more accountable.
Kevin Patton: They might have some real issues that you can help them with. Or at least help them find the help they need. I have had students have some very, very serious kinds of issues with their family, with their health, with all kinds of things. You just never know. There’s so many things that the statistics tell us how many students are victims of domestic violence, how many are victims of sexual assault? How many college students that have real trouble with depression and other kinds of mental illness, even to the point of considering suicide? These are really serious issues, and I guarantee you that your students have had these and will continue to have these issues.
Kevin Patton: And I’m not saying that we can help them with all of those, but we can help them find the help they need, and they can benefit by knowing that there’s at least one person in their corner who is concerned about them and about their success. So their issues could be very minor, but they could be very serious. Maybe even a matter of life and death that we can help them find resources for.
Kevin Patton: Now all of this individual reaching out could really feel like an overwhelming task when you’re looking at it right now. When you’re listening to me talk about, it’s like I can’t do that. And all the other things that I have to do. I know that teachers in general, and I think A&P professors in particular are way, way, way overwhelmed with work. And I think the only people that understand that are me and you. So I empathize. I empathize with your frustration with that. I know that, I know it seems overwhelming. But let me tell you, really, it’s not that bad. It sounds overwhelming, but it isn’t actually overwhelming. If I can do it, you can do it.
Kevin Patton: I’m a really busy guy. You should see my to do list. It is out of this world. But if I can do that kind of thing reaching out individually, it’s just every once in a while with a handful of students. It can really have a huge benefit to your courses and your student success. So you want to check up regularly. You want to check in on your course regularly to see who’s falling behind, but it’s only every once in a while you have to do that. So you can take 10 minutes every Monday morning to check on things, can’t you? That’s not that much. If I can do it as I said, you can do it. The issues that are most likely to show up are most likely to show up in the first few weeks.
Kevin Patton: So sticking to it the first few weeks, maybe even checking in more than once a week, maybe once a day for the first few weeks. It’s not that hard. Just take a few minutes, make a regular habit of it so that it feels like it’s something that is part of your day. And paying attention to that can head off a lot of really big problems later on. You can save those students who otherwise would’ve lost. You save them from withdrawing, you’ve retained them, everybody’s happy, they’re happy, you’re happy, you’re administration is happy. Nipping in the bud early and then taking a few minutes to regularly do it every week. I think that really makes it a much more manageable thing.
Kevin Patton: And speaking of my management of it, I don’t have this load anymore. But for many years in my teaching career, I had over 500 students every semester that I taught all by myself. That is, I didn’t have any teaching assistance. I had five classes of 48 students and they were always full, so I had the full 48 students. Five classes of 48 at the community college teaching two semester A&P. And then every fall, I was the only teacher in the undergraduate physiology course for the nurses and allied health professions and so on, at a local university. I had one class but had 300 in that class. So at least in the fall semester, I had over 500 students. In the spring semester, it was a light load. I only had 240 students. But in either case, that’s a lot of students. And you think oh my gosh, that could get overwhelming if I’m doing all this individual reaching out. Well it’s not that bad. It really isn’t because it’s only going to be one or two at a time. And if you keep up with it, it’s not a big chore. And it’s like anything, the more you do it, the easier it becomes to do, the more skills you gain at it, and the more effective you can be at it. So do it and you’ll learn to do it.
Kevin Patton: Another thing is I mentioned I never had any teaching assistants to help me with that stuff. If you do have teaching assistants available or some other kind of help, then maybe some of those tasks can be delegated to them. But I would caution you to do it in a way that preserves your connection to the students, not necessarily the connections between your assistants and the students. Because I think it’s much more powerful if it’s a connection with you, even though those other connections are important and helpful. I’m not saying don’t let your TAs connect with students, but I’m saying make sure you maintain your connection.
Kevin Patton: So you could have an assistant monitor how things are going and then alert you to problems so then you can make that connection with the student. Or maybe you could have the teaching assistant maybe identify the students that are in trouble, maybe compose a draft of a communication, and then you look it over. Or maybe they can send out a communication. Say, “Look, I talked with the professor. He and I or she and I discussed your situation and we think this would be a good plan for you. We would like you to come in and make an appointment and talk to us,” or whatever. But make sure that your name is involved there so that they’re feeling that connection with you.
Kevin Patton: Okay. I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t third grade. They’re adults. It’s not my job to keep tabs on them. Well, I would argue with that a little bit. I think it is our job to keep tabs on them, and I do think it’s our job to reach out to them when we think they’re getting in trouble. But that thought occurs to me all the time, especially when I’m pulled away from something else I want to focus on when I realize a student is in trouble and I need to reach out to them. I think, “Oh my gosh, it’s not third grade. What do I do?” But I ask myself, “Kevin,” yes and I address myself as Kevin when I’m asking myself questions. “Kevin, do you want to retain them in your course or not? Do you want them to succeed in your course are not?” Well of course the answer to those questions is yes, I want them to succeed. Yes, I want to keep them in my class. So no, it’s not third grade. But this is online teaching and it’s a little different than it is in face to face teaching. And if that’s what I got to do to get them to be successful, then by golly, that’s what I’m going to do.
Kevin Patton: And it usually does just take one time to reach out and wake them up, and get them to manage themselves. Because now they’re going to realize that you’re paying attention, you care about them, you’re willing to help them. And therefore if they ever want to reach out and get help, they know they can get help from you.
Kevin Patton: Another important principle of online teaching that I’ve found is feedback. Feedback. Let me say it a third time to emphasize it, feedback. That is something that students really value. Really, really, really value. Did you hear that? Three reallys. Part of me is really amazed at how grateful students are when you give them a lot of good feedback on their work. Even if you’re telling them that they totally messed up an assignment, if you point out the things you did like and give them actual concrete ways to fix what they did wrong for the next time. Then they love that. They love, love, love, love that. How many loves is that? That was like four loves. Wow. They really do benefit from that sort of thing.
Kevin Patton: So giving feedback takes extra time. I know. To not just give them a score, but actually … I sometimes put a sticker on their paper, especially the first couple of exams. Even if it’s a multiple choice quiz or something like that. Everybody who gets an A gets a sticker, a little skeleton sticker or something like that. And I’ll just write a little good job. Yeah, it’s going to take me an extra half hour if I have a big stack of papers, maybe … usually doesn’t take me an extra half hour. What am I saying? It’s only going to take an extra few minutes to just write a little note on there. But you can give other kinds of feedback too. Like maybe if you shook up … no, don’t say it that way. But I had a professor do that one time and boy it really woke me up. It was in a big giant physics class and it was in a big lecture hall with hundreds of students. I didn’t do so well on the first exam. And the teacher wrote on there, maybe if you showed up more often or something to that effect. That’s how I heard it in my mind. “Then maybe you’d do better.” And he probably wrote that on everybody who didn’t do so well in the first exam, and boy it turned me around.
Kevin Patton: So anyway, those little personal notes. But the more concrete they are, the more where you’re pointing out specific things and giving them a solution to that. The better the students are going to do.
Kevin Patton: So it’s going to give you an opportunity to use all those solid coaching skills that you have and that you’re still honing and tweaking and you’re going to get better at them the more you use them. So I have a lot of tricks to make feedback effective and things that are particular to the online course, including how to give a lot of feedback to each individual student without spending a lot of time.
Kevin Patton: And that’s going to be a topic for a later episode, and we’re already way over one episode’s worth of material system. There’s one topic year. So we’ll come back to feedback as its own topic some other time, and I got some great feedback tricks up my sleeve so you want to hear that. So you might want to download the podcast app right now, or subscribe in your favorite podcast app, or subscribe to my blog where every episode gets posted once it’s released. Because you don’t want to miss that future episode, do you? So make sure you’re connected if you aren’t already.
Kevin Patton: Okay. So that’s enough for now. We need to finally wrap this topic so we can move onto some other topics. And I know that you have other tricks that have worked for you, so let me know about them so I can share them here. And what we have so far all sounds like a lot. I realize that. It must be very frustrating for you to think of all that I’m asking you to do. I understand that. I understand that frustration. But really once you start committing to some of these strategies, I mean tricks, it’ll grow on you. They’ll become second nature. They won’t seem so burdensome anymore. At least on most days, they won’t seem very burdensome. I’ve been doing all these tricks for a long time. And yeah, it does take time and energy and some emotional fortitude sometimes, but it’s really not that bad. And it’s all worth it when your students stick with it and succeed in your course, and succeed beyond your course. And really, that’s why we do this right?
Kevin Patton: Well I hope you enjoyed reviewing some ideas for increasing student retention and overall student success in your online and hybrid courses. And if you didn’t, well gosh, I’m sorry. That must be really frustrating for you. What can I do to help make this right for you?
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Kevin Patton: I do want to make special mention of two of the most recent places the A&P professor podcast has become available. Both are popular radio apps. One is radio.com and the other is Pandora. So if you’re already tuning in to either or both of those, it’s really easy to add this podcast to your collections where new episodes will pop up automatically after I release them. And it’s also available in most other radio apps like Spotify, iHeartRadio, RadioPublic, and TuneIn.
Kevin Patton: And I want to remind you that if you phone in or a recording of your suggestion for The A&P Professor Book Club, I’ll send you a $25 Amazon gift certificate. And if you’re among the first five contributors in this promotion, you’ll be put into a drawing for a free Amazon Kindle Fire HD 10 tablet. As of the moment of this recording, there’s still room in that first five list. And if you’ve written a book that teachers of anatomy and physiology will enjoy, then why not come on the podcast and tell us about it? Or you’re welcome to call in with your questions, comments and ideas at the podcast hotline. That’s 1-833-LION-DEN. That’s 1-833-546-6336. Or send a recording or written message to email@example.com. And you can follow this podcast at Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram using the handle @theAPprofessor. I’ll see you down the road.
Aileen: The A&P professor is hosted by Kevin Patton, professor, blogger and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology.
Kevin Patton: Under penalty of law, do not remove the label from this episode.
This podcast is sponsored by the
Human Anatomy & Physiology Society
This podcast is sponsored by the
Master of Science in
Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction
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