The Proper Order of Topics in A&P | Leaderboards | Student Frustration
TAPP Radio Episode 88
Episode | Quick Take
Ever wonder why topics in A&P seem to have a uniform order of topics in all the courses & textbooks? Host Kevin Patton discusses the proper order of those concepts. We continue the discussion of gamification, including a focus on leaderboards. And we tackle why pandemic learning causes students to lament that they have to teach themselves.
- 00:00 | Quotation & Intro
- 00:44 | More on Gamification
- 06:20 | Sponsored by AAA
- 07:38 | Leaderboard Competition
- 16:02 | Sponsored by HAPI
- 17:16 | Pandemic Feelings of Learning
- 25:12 | Sponsored by HAPS
- 26:16 | Order of A&P Topics
- 35:27 | TAPP Community
- 36:03 | The Proper Order?
- 41:18 | Staying Connected
Episode | Listen Now
Episode | Show Notes
I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn. (Albert Einstein)
More on Gamification
We revisit how Kevin uses Badgr badges in his course and in the TAPP-ed program—including the main steps for setting up either badges internal to the learning management system (LMS) or external to the LMS.
- Listening to the previous episode is a good idea!
- Micro-Credentials & Gamification in the A&P Course | Brown & Black Skin | Refresher Tests | TAPP 87
- Gamifying Education: Motivation and the Implementation of Digital Badges for Use in Higher Education (journal article) my-ap.us/3rxneig
- The Usefulness of Digital Badges in Higher Education – Exploring the Student Perspectives (journal article) my-ap.us/2MLz4GL
- The Elements of Gamification Learning in Higher Education: A Systematic Literature Review my-ap.us/36SntfJ
- Sample form platforms
- Google Forms my-ap.us/2AfzbQU
- JotForm jotform.com (Kevin’s favorite)
- Sample automation services
- Zapier zapier.com
- IFTTT ifttt.com
- Integromat www.integromat.com/en
Sponsored by AAA
A searchable transcript for this episode, as well as the captioned audiogram of this episode, are sponsored by the American Association for Anatomy (AAA) at anatomy.org.
Don’t forget—HAPS members get a deep discount on AAA membership!
Sign up for the new VDD or Virtual Dissection Database. You can access it at www.virtualdissectiondatabase.com
Competition can be a potent part of the gamification strategy in education. This competition can motivate students to keep going and keep succeeding. One way to to support this kind of competition and collaboration is to use a leaderboard. Leaderboards are built into the Badgr microcredential system— as well as other microcredential systems.
- The effect of challenge-based gamification on learning: An experiment in the context of statistics education (recent research study on using leaderboards in higher ed) my-ap.us/3sg4Drg
- Kevin’s badge page for his Pre-A&P students lionden.com/fis-badges.htm
- Duolingo (free app for learning a new language, where Kevin is currently experiencing the advantages of gamification as he learns the Esperanto lingvo, er, language) www.duolingo.com/info
- Using Badgr’s Course Leaderboard my-ap.us/3aLovfP
- Gamification in Science Education. A Systematic Review of the Literature. (review article from the journal Education Sciences)my-ap.us/3khSy2b
- The Gamification of Learning: a Meta-analysis (journal article from Educational Psychology Review) my-ap.us/2NPf0U2
Sponsored by HAPI Online Graduate Program
The Master of Science in Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction—the MS-HAPI—is a graduate program for A&P teachers, especially for those who already have a graduate/professional degree. A combination of science courses (enough to qualify you to teach at the college level) and courses in contemporary instructional practice, this program helps you be your best in both on-campus and remote teaching. Kevin Patton is a faculty member in this program. Check it out!
Pandemic Feelings of Learning
Applying what we learned from The A&P Professor Journal Club in Episode 83, we examine that common student lament heard while pandemic teaching: I feel like I have to teach myself! Just one element of the pandemic teaching & learning experience, maybe this one is partly explained by the natural gap between “feelings of learning” and “actual learning” experience when moving from passive to active learning strategies. Maybe.
- Actual Learning vs. Feeling of Learning | Journal Club Episode | TAPP 83
- 86 | What a Year! | Pandemic Teaching & More | A Reflection (features Kevin’s psychic predictions)
- Desirable Difficulty | More Web Meeting Skills | TAPP 78
Sponsored by HAPS
The Human Anatomy & Physiology Society (HAPS) is a sponsor of this podcast. You can help appreciate their support by clicking the link below and checking out the many resources and benefits found there. Watch for virtual town hall meetings and upcoming regional meetings!
Order of A&P Topics
Ever wonder how the nearly universal order or sequence of A&P topics got settled? The mystery is revealed in this segment!
❤️ Discount subscription to The A&P Professor Community → theAPprofessor.org/Insider21 (good through Feb 2021)
The Proper Order?
Another mystery revealed: the proper order of topics in the A&P course. Really. The definitive answer!
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.
This searchable transcript is supported by the
American Association for Anatomy.
I'm a member—maybe you should be one, too!
Quotation & Intro
Albert Einstein once famously said, “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
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.
In this episode, I discuss the proper order of topics in the A&P course. And there’s more on gamification focusing on leaderboards, and I ask why students are complaining that they have to teach themselves during the pandemic.
More on Gamification
Our last episode, that is episode 87 features a segment about using micro-credentials such as badges and certificates, and the whole notion of gamification as a teaching and learning strategy. Now gamification in a course is a lot like the board game monopoly, or like almost any video game with a seemingly endless hierarchy of levels, and that is, it seems to go on and on and on. But the thing is we do play such games that go on and on, right? Why? Because we’re motivated, we’re having fun achieving rewards, our brain’s reward centers are being panged again and again, and that keeps us going. And isn’t that what we want for our students? To make it through two long grueling semesters of A&P?
So yeah, gamification can be one of those magical ingredients that we add to our course design. I’m coming back to this topic of gamification, because there’s a bit more I want to say about it…
But before I do that, I want to ask, have you listened to the previous episode and earned your badge for it? All you have to do is click the link in the show notes on your device or at the episode page at theAPprofessor.org/podcast, and then click the link that says claim your credential. I think if you start doing that for these podcast episodes or the books that you read from The A&P Professor Book Club, you’ll start to see things from the student perspective. And you’ll start to see that it’s not just me being silly again and proposing yet another non-traditional harebrained idea. Well, yeah, okay, it’s partly that, but also is because it works. It really is a magical ingredient, and the only way to believe in that magic is to experience it.
One of the things I want to add to the gamification story now has to do with my example of using badges from the microcredential platform at badgr.com, that’s B-A-D-G-R.com. And I use that with the Canvas Learning Management System or LMS. I think I did mention that Badgr can be used in other LMSs too and maybe you already do that. But I also want to clarify that Badgr badges can also be used outside the LMS as I do in TAPP-ed. Now remember, TAPP-ed is my shorthand for The A&P Professor Education. That’s the program I just mentioned that allows you to earn a badge for listening to any episode of this podcast. It’s not quite as easy as having it integrated into an LMS, but it’s still pretty easy. First I set up a Badgr certificate micro-credential at Badgr.com. I have to do that step, whether I’m using an LMS or working outside an LMS, that’s where the credential lives. But I have to have a way to connect you to that badge when you earn it.
What I do in TAPP-ed is use an online form. You can use Google Forms, but I use JotForm, which I like slightly better than Google Forms. Maybe you have a different forms platform, that really doesn’t matter, as long as you have a form. When you click on the claim your credential link in the show notes, you’ll get a form to claim the badge for this episode. Making the form is easy. Once I made the first form, I just copy that over and over, as I add each new badge, simply changing the title and the badge number. By the way, you don’t have to number badges, but I do because the episodes are already numbered and well, that’s how I keep track of them in my brain, so yeah, they have numbers. Next, I use Zapier, which is a service that connects actions in one online platform or software to another platform or software. And there are other linking services like Zapier, for example, IFTTT or well, any of several automation services. In Zapier, I set up an action or a Zap as they call it.
Each Zap has a trigger, which is the submission of the form for a particular badge. When you submit the form, the Zap gets triggered and enters that information from the form into the Badgr database, causing the Badgr database to award the badge to you. I don’t need to do anything, it’s automatic once I’ve got it set up. And each Zap is simply a copy of the previous Zap. All I have to do for each news Zap is change which form triggers it and which badge gets awarded. It’s a really simple process. You know what? I’ll be back in a moment with even more about gamification.
Sponsored by AAA
A searchable transcript and a captioned audiogram of this episode are funded by AAA the American association for Anatomy. You can find them at anatomy.org. As I mentioned in the previous episode, that is episode 87, AAA supports a new virtual dissection database called the VDD or Virtual Dissection Database. You can access it at www.virtualdissectiondatabase.com. Just fill out the form when you’re there, wait for approval it only takes a day or two, and then you can start exploring. Now, I recently did that and wow, it is amazing. We don’t do dissection of human body donors at our community college, so I can see this being a great resource to help our students extend their learning far beyond what we can normally provide for them. For access to the VDD and other AAA resources, remember just go to anatomy.org and click resources in the navigation ribbon.
We’re revisiting that magical strategy of gamification in the A&P course that I first mentioned in the previous episode, that is episode 87. I told you in that previous episode that I was learning the Esperanto language, using an app called Duolingo, that uses gamification as one of its teaching and learning strategies. I said that one of the things that I’ve found myself watching is what level I’m moving up into next. I was hoping to get into the obsidian level when I recorded that episode, and I’m proud to say that I achieved that, and next is the diamond level. And if nobody passes me in the next four hours, I’m in. Wow, the diamond level, a dream come true. Okay. That’s not a dream of mine. Learning Esperanto, that’s a dream I’ve had since my Western Civ course, when I first learned about this constructed language, it’s built expressly to promote world peace.
The word Esperanto means “hopeful one,” and well, it’s supposed to be 10 times easier to learn than any existing language. So yeah, of course I would be attracted to learning that language. So I don’t really care about achieving levels named for minerals in Duolingo, but you know what? Now that I’m doing it, I kind of do care a little bit enough to watch the board and see if I’m in the promotion zone that will get me into the next level when the week ends, or if I’ve dropped down into the demotion zone, which means I dropped from the obsidian back down to pearl, so I’m even further away from the diamond level. I don’t want that to happen, so yeah, I’m going to do a little bit more learning and keep myself up in that obsidian level and hopefully move further up. The reason I care is that I’m under the spell of that magical ingredient, gamification. On a day when I’d rather skip my Esperanto lesson and I don’t know, start lunch early, my inner voice tells me that it only takes five or 10 minutes, I know I’ll get out of my work thoughts and into the hope based world of Esperanto, and I’ll be more likely to move up into the diamond level finally.
The reason I’m telling you about my Duolingo experience is that this is another aspect of gamification called leaderboards. The least leaderboard is built into the Badgr platform in my Canvas course. The Badgr leaderboard automatically populates in Canvas and shows each student and it shows the badges they’ve earned so far in the course. And as in the Duolingo leaderboard, each student’s name moves up or down the leaderboard because it’s sorted by the number of badges they’ve earned. So the leader moves to the top, and they might get knocked out by someone who earns more badges, because that new person with more badges is going to move up, and that leader’s name, that former leader’s name is going to move down.
Whoever has the most badges is at the top and is ranked as number one. Now you might be thinking that if you’re behind your peers, that might be kind of discouraging and maybe even a little de-motivating to see your name at the bottom of the list where everyone can see it. Well, it turns out that there are two additional functions of the Badgr leaderboard that help with that. One is that Badgr uses silly, made up nicknames instead of the students real names until, and unless an individual student opts to use their own name. I, as the instructor can see their real name and they can see their own real name, but unless they have unlocked their real name, which is an option, nobody else can see their real name and well, of course, they can tell their buddies what their nickname is in case there are any inside bets going on.
Another function of the Badgr leaderboard is that they can opt out of being on the board at all nickname or not. So they don’t have to play that part of the game if it’s something that’s not helping them. By the way, all of these functions can be toggled on or off. So you don’t have to let your students opt to use the real name. Now, my pre A&P course in which I’m using badges is self-paced, unlike most of our A&P courses. But in a self-paced course, just like in the self-paced world of Duolingo, those leaderboards can be a potent tool for keeping students moving. They kind of want to get out there ahead of the rest. One last thing about using badges and leaderboards in our course, as with nearly any non-traditional thing we do in our courses, we need to be transparent and actively forthcoming about why we’re using them. That is students need to be taught about badges and leaderboards, what they are and how they’re used, how they help in learning, and that they have the support of research in learning science.
We want to do this at the very beginning, of course, but also our students need to be reminded about badges and the leaderboard from time to time, throughout the course, and just after the course ends, reminding students where they can access their badges and link to instructions for downloading them and posting them to their social media profiles if that’s what they want to do. Now, I do that through pre-scheduled occasional course announcements in my learning management system. Maybe you have your own way of doing that sort of thing. And by the way, I have a link to my badge page in my pre A&P course, so you can see how I do some of that work of being transparent.
Another last thing about badges and leaderboards is that your institution may already have started an in-house scheme of badges using Badgr or some other platform. And you’re going to want to explore that before doing anything, so that you can let others guide you and you’re fitting into the plans of your school and not working at cross purposes with your peers. Or by exploring what’s already going on at your place you may find out that it’s not really going to work for you, and you may want to do badges on your own anyway. For example, if you’re part-time faculty teaching A&P at two or three different places, maybe you want to have just one badge scheme that you control. Or you may want to be able to take your badge scheme with you to a new school in a few years without having to restart in a new system. So there’s pros and cons for doing it either way. That is pros and cons for using your school’s badge system, existing badge system, or by using your own external badge system. Okay. One final last one thing I want to say about badges and leaderboards and gamification, and that is don’t forget to claim your badge for listening to this episode.
Sponsored by HAPI
Ever thought of taking a course, or two form me, and a group of other well seasoned veteran A&P faculty, plus a few education professionals who are experts in contemporary teaching practice, including online and remote strategies? Well, if so, maybe you should look into the Master of Science in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction, the HAPI degree. It’s the HAPI degree that pays the distribution costs so you can listen to this podcast for free. And it’s the HAPI degree that has provided amazing professional training to hundreds of your colleagues in A&P education. Whether it’s you or someone you know who wants to up their game in A&P teaching while at the same time brushing up on content in every essential area of both anatomy and physiology, well, now’s a good time to go to nycc.edu/hapi that’s H-A-P-I or click the link in the show notes or episode page.
Pandemic Feelings of Learning
During the pandemic this switch to remote learning has caused a lot of frustration, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other health unhappiness issues among students, their families, and among ourselves. These are serious and we need to take them seriously. And well, we ignore them at our peril. As educators, we have some responsibility to think about these things, to try to understand these things and try to be part of the solution if we can, not just we educators as a group, but we individual educators too I think. Of course, this is not a singular phenomenon, it’s a complex web of causes and effects. It’s not a thing, it’s many things together and I have all the answers and I’m going to share them with you today. No, nobody has all the answers and okay, I was not being serious about that just then, even though I just said, we should be serious about these health unhappiness issues.
As I’ve quoted John Dewey so many times… being playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the ideal mental condition. Like getting back to the issues of frustration with pandemic teaching and learning I want to spend a brief moment laying out an idea I’ve had about that. This idea goes back to episode 83, which is a journal club episode. Our friend, Krista Rompolski brought us a journal article, examining the gap between student feelings of learning and their actual learning achievements. We learned in that episode that when students are invited to veer away from classical passive learning in a lecture only format, for example, and instead do a lot of active learning, then well, they feel like they haven’t learned as much as they do in a passive lecture, only format. But when we assess their learning in the active format, we see that they’ve actually learned more, not less than in the passive format.
And in that episode, 83, we learned that making students aware of this natural gap and their self-awareness or metacognition from the start can help students become more aware of their actual learning. That is if we explain this phenomenon to them at the start of a course and keep reminding them, then their feelings that they’re learning less when they don’t stick with the passive format are mitigated. Now might be a good time to go back and listen to episode 83. Well, okay, not now. Wait until the end of this episode, then go back and listen to episode 83. Because in this episode I want to apply what we learned in episode 83, about student feelings of learning to pandemic teaching and learning. I’m thinking that some, not all, but some of the frustrations that both teachers and students in secondary and higher education are having right now have a lot to do with this gap in students’ self-awareness of learning when they’re asked to learn in a more student-centered, more active way.
How many times have we heard complaints expressed in the media, or maybe even in our own courses, of students lamenting that I have to teach myself now, the teacher isn’t teaching me anymore. I’ve heard rumors at one college I teach at that our administrators have been hearing a lot of that. And I think our administrators kind of see through that, but I think many of them, and I think many of us still kind of take it to heart. I still kind of take it to heart. And I second, guess what I’m doing and worry about whether we’re doing right by our students. I mean, really isn’t that the natural state of those of us who really care about our students and their learning successes? That is, the state of always being worried, whether we’re doing all we can? But I’m thinking of that all or part of that particular complaint is based on this natural gap in the feelings of learning, when students transition from passive to active learning. At least in courses where the faculty truly are doing real work, moving students to learning activities that work well remotely.
As we do that, we’re realizing that the mostly lecture-based teaching, mostly lengthy lecture based teaching needs to give way to more active learning, more student-centered learning during this pandemic. And as I mentioned, among my psychic predictions in episode 86, we will probably be continuing that transition even in the coming post pandemic era. Or maybe, I should say the coming inter pandemic era, if another of my psychic predictions comes to pass. In a nutshell, what I’m saying is that perhaps some of that student frustration with remote learning, isn’t about our failure to teach, as much as it’s about students coping with the change in how they learn, shifting from classical, mostly passive learning strategies to a more self-driven active form of learning.
As we often remind our students, the teacher cannot learn the concepts for the students, handing them over in a neat little 50-minute package so that the students need not to do any work. Learning can only happen in the student and can only happen with work. The tougher the work in general, the higher, the quality of learning. That’s what active learning is all about. It’s all about that desirable difficulty that helps us grasp and fully understand concepts that I mentioned way back in episode 78. I think that students will be far less frustrated when we tell them that. When we do what that research showed works. That is, tell our students that they may start to feel like they’re learning less when we let them off the leash to learn on their own, the only way real learning can take place. And keep reminding them of that, and keep finding ways to support them and console them and guide them and coach them and love them, so that they can wake up to their own role in learning and embrace that. And they will, if we step back a tiny bit and let them.
Sponsored by HAPS
Marketing support for this podcast is provided by HAPS the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, which has some awesome early bird rates for our 35th annual conference coming up May 23rd to 26th of 2021. 35th annual, holy smoke, was I like 12 when I went to my first HAPS conference, maybe I was, I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like we’ve been doing this for 35 years. Anyway, it’s going to be another awesome virtual conference, and these early bird rates, which end at March 5th, they’re just one of the many awesome aspects of a HAPS conference. You want to know more? Sure you do. Just go visit HAPS at theAPprofessor.org/haps that’s H-A-P-S to check out the early bird rates and learn how to submit a poster or a workshop, but do that before March 5th. Okay?
Order of A&P Topics
A perennial topic of conversation among A$P faculty is the proper order of topics covered in an A$P course. I’ve been talking to A&P teachers for decades and it’s always coming up. First, why do we all teach A&P topics in generally the same order? A lot of that has to do with the order in which they’re presented in A&P textbooks, which begs the question, why are they that way in A&P textbooks? And why is that order of topics nearly identical in all the A&P books? Do all the A&P authors and publishers get together in a secret meeting and fix the game? Well, as an A&P textbook author myself, and also an avid student of how textbooks are created and not being at party to any secret meetings, which I’m sure don’t happen, only non secret meetings where we mostly tell stories, and in any case, don’t do any untoward fixing of content, I think I have some authority to talk about how things got that way in textbooks.
Evolution. That’s the answer, evolution. As the combined A&P course evolved out of separate A courses and P courses, some decisions were made. And like any of the things, any of us do in our classes, which are there because we heard about it and thought it, and thought it was a good idea, over time, we all kind of ended up telling the story of the body story and function pretty much the same way. I took A&P as a student myself, way back in the day when it was first invented. Okay, it wasn’t when it was first invented, but pretty long ago. So I kind of got that scheme burned in very early. And so for me, it just seems natural because that’s the way I first heard the story. But if you took a separate physiology course first where discussion of homeostasis starts the ball rolling, followed by membrane physiology, including membrane potentials, then the typical A&P sequence may seem kind of odd.
It will probably seem, well, just wrong. How can a student learn about muscle contraction, and then only later learned any details about membrane potentials? That just seems backwards, doesn’t it? How can one understand the concept of the neuromuscular junction without any prior discussion of what a synapse is? That’s just wrong. If you took a separate anatomy course first before being exposed to the esoteric secrets of the A&P course, you’ll be surprised by the typical system by system approach that we use in A&P. This is especially true if it was a human dissection based course, rather than an undergrad anatomy survey course. Every fiber, every microfilament of your being will want to cover things on a region by region basis. How can it possibly make sense any other way? The systems approach is just wrong. Am I right?
I remember a series of conversations a few years ago with a colleague who was trying to make the case that we should all start A&P with the liver. Yes. You heard me, right, the liver. That the liver and its functions connect to everything our students should know, and so it’s a logical place to start. She gave a lot of logical examples and interesting pathways to follow, to get to all the major concepts of A&P by starting at the liver. It really got me thinking differently about the liver I can tell you that. Of course, she was just being playful with us. I think, I don’t know, maybe she’s teaching her liver based A&P course as we speak, but the thing is it could work starting at the liver and maybe even work better than the traditional sequence.
So why don’t we ever move past the casual conversation stage and start a revolution? Perhaps get someone to write an A&P textbook that upends the traditional order of topics, or go out and give workshops and seminars and try to recruit an ever larger band of disciples telling the story of human structure and function in your new and better way? Well, that could happen. It’s unlikely because massive stones like the ordered universal Canon of A&P topics are hard to budge, but still it could happen. Decades ago, a friend of mine wrote a physiology textbook. You have never heard of it, and here’s why, he told the story a different way than all other physiology textbooks. Instead of having a chapter on endocrine function, he decided to leave out that chapter and instead integrate endocrine function as appropriate into all the other chapters. So all the endocrine material was there, all those essential concepts, they were there, just not in its own discreet chapter. I liked that idea. A few people did like that idea, but most physiology instructors did not like that idea. It messed up their syllabus. It messed up their schedule of lab activities. It messed up their schedule of teaching blocks for team teaching. What is that professor who teaches endocrinology, the whole endocrinology block, what are they going to do now?
So not very many schools adopted my friend’s textbook, and the publisher was losing money on it. And not surprisingly they stopped publishing it. So nobody got to hear that version of the story. Well, okay, a few people did, but they’re probably long gone. In case you didn’t know it, it’s incredibly expensive to produce textbooks, especially anatomy and or physiology textbooks. Really, you have no idea. So if you come up with a better story and put that into a textbook, you better have a large enough pool of adopters ready to jump on that, or your book will never see another edition, and then nobody gets to hear the story. Actually, it won’t get past the first review stage. So you can forget about that first edition anyway. And there’s the HAPS learning outcomes, and other standard guides on the order of topics. Yeah, I know, nobody is obliged or expected to follow the order of the HAPS learning outcomes, but they are there, and the topics are in the order found in all the A&P textbooks. So really, it’s kind of part of that massive body that resists chain.
Now, part of that resistance comes in other practical matters, such as transferability of credits. Being first and foremost a community college educator, this is a big deal for me. If I teach my A&P course in an unexpected order, and then my A&P I course will be different than yours, and if my student wants to transfer my A&P I course to your institution, so they can take A&P II there, it’s not going to work. Your school, probably won’t take my course as a transfer course, but if they do, well, they do, and then that student will get some topics twice, which is not bad, but some topics will be missed entirely, which is bad. Before moving on to my main point, and yes, I do have a point I’m getting to here, let’s catch our breath for a moment.
You’re invited to join my private A&P teaching community way off the social platforms at theAPprofessor.org/community, where we’ll soon be going over the badge thing in a lot more detail within a micro course that you can earn a badge too. And if you’re hearing this before the end of February, 2021, you can go to theAPprofessor.org/insider21 for a substantial discount on your subscription to our little community.
The Proper Order?
Okay, before moving onto my main point, I want to acknowledge two things. First, not all A&P textbooks or A&P courses or model syllabus or learning outcomes are exactly the same, only generally the same. There are topics or more often subtopics that slide around within the schemes of various A&P courses. Second, as with the evolution of organisms in nature, the evolution of the typical A&P scheme could see a rather rapid change sometime in the future. That massive resistance is not completely immovable, change is likely to be slow if it happens at all, but it could be fast.
For example, look at some of the profound and rapid changes happening in the curriculum of medical schools and other professional healthcare programs. Such a thing could happen in the undergrad A&P course too. But my main point is that there really is no proper order of topics in the A&P course. Let me say that again for emphasis. There is no proper order of topics in the A&P course, there’s a widely used order and that widely used order seems to work pretty good, which is probably why any efforts to change it haven’t gotten very far. But remember, it’s a way of telling a story, the story of the structure and function of the human body, and like any story, literally, any story, there are many ways to tell it. As I mentioned, way, way back in episode 12, the storytelling episode, and I’ve mentioned it many times since, we are essentially storytellers in our roles as A&P instructors. And we have choices about how to tell our stories.
Like a director handed movie rights to a novel, we can decide to start with the ending scene and use flashbacks or some other method to fill in the backstory. Or we could jump around in some other different order than what’s found in the novel and still tell a compelling story. Maybe even a more compelling story in film than there was in the written novel. It could happen, but probably the novel was successful enough to be made into a movie because the story in the novel worked, it worked in a certain order of events. Messing with that might work better, but it might be worse. It might end up being a confusing mess. I’ve seeing that happen with novels that I really liked and the movies based on them that I ended up not liking. The thing is, no matter how we tell the story of A&P there is no way to get around the fact that we will encounter topics that might benefit from having already learned a concept that comes later in the course.
If we fix that, then that will create another place where we’re learning something before that other topic that would probably help to have covered first. That’s the thing. Structure and function in the human body is all interconnected in circular. Everything seems to come back to something else, a bunch of somethings else. So it’s a circle with no beginning and no end. And if there’s no beginning or no end, there just isn’t a best place to start, or even a best order of topics or concepts, because it’s more than a circle, it’s a web. And so what order do you move through the web? Well, lots of choices. What’s the best one. I don’t know. Maybe there is no best one, or maybe there are several best ones. It probably doesn’t disrupt the universe much to slide some subtopics around a bit within the larger scheme. I think we all do that to some extent in our role as storytellers to better fit the perspective of our particular version of the story. But for the larger scheme, it could be that it’s best to follow the crowd and relying on our predecessors in A&P teaching to have worked out a reasonable order of topic. Or I don’t know, maybe it is best to disrupt that if you think that you’ve found a better way. How willing are you today to move out of the mainstream and be on the fringe?
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One of the major problems with today’s textbooks is that they don’t teach, they simply explain, and, they attempt to explain everything. They are encyclopedic. There is very limited pedagogy to today’s textbooks and content. This is both positive and negative, although I believe that the negatives outweigh the positives given our instructor needs. The positives are of course that an experienced instructor can pick and choose material from the encyclopedic book to have students learn. It is all there. No student could master it all. Given the poor study ability of many students entering A&P, the encyclopedic textbook is a hinderance rather than a help. A textbook that leads them through the course concept by concept reinforcing principles and themes is what is needed today.
The enormous negative in the use of today’s typical textbook is that the majority of instructors in A&P are not experienced initially. The majority of advanced graduates are in cell biology not A&P. They gain their experience from the textbook. Poor instructors will assign everything in the book and let 60% success be the A. This approach is detrimental since the A students will all have mastered a different 60% amounts of the content. What is needed is a pedagogical textbook that presents a reasonable amount of foundational content in an educational way. How about a textbook that teaches, not just explains. What is needed is a book that presents concepts in an order that reinforces content and its relationships, and connects material throughout the entire study.
Thank you, David, for your thoughtful response. There is a lot here to debate. I agree that new instructors who have some training in teaching A&P are in a much better position to be effective instructors. However, I disagree that a textbook serves as the sole and entire tool in the instructor’s toolbox for a course. The role of a textbook is to provide are reference for content and it is the role of the instructor to curate which elements become part of that course–thus having the textbook fit like a mitten, not a glove, which is the best we can expect. Pedagogy comes from those “other” resources and activities an instructor includes in their course. I think of it as job security–they need me, too, not just an all-inclusive textbook.
May I suggest that you also look around at more textbooks, because some do “presents concepts in an order that reinforces content and its relationships, and connects material throughout the entire study.” I have one in particular that I can suggest if you email me directly.
Would you consider being interviewed on my podcast? This would be an interesting and useful debate, I think!