Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Using Animations to Learn - No Matter What Your Learning Style

In the last blog post I described how to interpret your results of the Learning Styles questionnaire.  Once you know about how you learn, you can tailor your studying to try to maximize learning based on those styles.

In class, I use a number of animations and videos to help demonstrate some of the physiological processes that we are studying.  From the Interactive Physiology cd that I recommend on the syllabus to the Wiley Plus online material that accompanies the textbook, there are a number of animations that we view in class.  Added to that are videos and links posted in Blackboard, and there could be hours of materials to view for each chapter or system.

Many times, students who score more strongly as Verbal tend to steer clear of animations, thinking that because they are not a Visual learner, that they might not be able to benefit from the videos and animations.  In this post, I would encourage students of various different learning styles to use the videos and animations, although the way you use them may vary.

Active Learners will likely benefit from animations or videos that are presented in a step-wise manner.  By being forced to click to advance to the next step or screen, students remain engaged with the process.

Reflective Learners might benefit from animations or videos that are short and present a single concept at a time.  These students can watch a single concept, and then take the time to process the information, before moving on to the next concept.  If you are a Reflective learner and you find yourself watching an animation or video that is long or covers several concepts, feel free to pause or stop it, make notes or review the material in your mind, and then resume with the next concept.

Sensing Learners often enjoy learning from animations because watching and listening cater directly to their learning style.  These students should be careful to understand the entire process, rather than memorizing exactly what the animation displays.

Intuitive Learners can benefit from animations that are part of a series.  Because Intuitives like to look for relationships between concepts, they enjoy hearing more than one animation explain the same concept or demonstrate relationships between them.

While it is obvious that Visual learners often use animations because of the movement and visual effects, Verbal learners should not discount the use of animations and videos in their studying.  Many animations and videos also contain narration that many Verbal learners find just as useful as the visual effects.  Also, many Verbal students find that a static figure is too difficult to decipher, but an animation that introduces just a section at a time, or that gives verbal explanation alongside, is enough to help them understand the visual aid.

Sequential learners often benefit from animations and videos that present information in a logical sequence.  Because this is how these students process information best, the stepwise sequence helps them to understand the process they are studying.  As in the previous post, I encourage Sequential learners to stretch themselves by summarizing to try to see the “big picture” and the connections with other processes.

Global thinkers often find animations tedious if they seem to be a series of details that the Global learner has trouble fitting together.  Check to see if the video or animation has an overall summary – this might even be at the end.  By quickly reviewing the summary, you can have a kind of overview that might help you understand where the details fit when you re-watch the video or animation from the beginning.

As you use your learning style to get the most from animations and videos, keep track of the kinds of animations or videos that seem to work the best for you.  Is there a particular textbook publisher’s animations that work well – because they give an overview, for example, or they are short and focus on a single concept?  Bookmark their page, or look for other animations by the same publisher.  Is there are YouTube user whose videos you found especially helpful?  See if that user has posted videos on other topics you need to learn about.

I am of the opinion that animations and videos can help every student learn new concepts.  Different learners might use different ones, or might use them in different ways, but I encourage you to give them a try, and see what works for you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interpreting Learning Styles Results

The Learning Styles Inventory that I recommend to students gives results on four aspects of learning styles.  The authors of the Questionnaire have published a guide to help you interpret your results, and your position on each index.

The first index is Active versus Reflective learning styles.  The authors emphasize that everyone can be active and reflective at different times, but “a balance of the two is desirable”.  This is particularly true in A&P, where part of the class is taught as lecture and part of the class is taught as participation in lab. 

Sometimes students that score more strongly as a Reflective learning style tell me that they find it hard to work in lab, which requires a more Active learning style, because they need time to think about and process the information.  Those students then find that they either have to attend more Open Lab times to actually do the lab material, or they don’t get to work with the materials as much as they would like.  My suggestion to those students is to make sure that they come to lab prepared.  I recommend that they look at the lab sheet (posted on Bb) ahead of the lab, and review the relevant sections of the lab ahead of time.  This will allow them time to reflect on the lab material and organize their work prior to the lab session.  By completing some pre-lab activities, reading sections of the book, and looking at what items are required for identification on the models, a Reflective learner can process the preliminary information at their own pace, and might feel more prepared for the lab class.

Active learners are usually more successful working in groups, actively discussing the material they are trying to learn.  Lab material lends itself to this type of learning, but some students have a hard time figuring out how to manage lecture information if they are an Active learner.  These students usually find they are more successful when they work with their lab partners on both lab material as well as lecture material.  By discussing concepts in an active way, they can use their learning style to be successful in both areas of the class.

The second index is Sensing versus Intuitive learning styles.  This is another index where students can be Sensing at some times and Intuitive at other times.  The Sensing learning style refers to the “5 senses” – Sensing learners like learning material with a factual basis, that can be measured by the sensed.  Intuitive learners are more successful learning material by determining relationships between concepts.

According to the authors, If you overemphasize Sensing, you may rely too much on memorization and familiar methods and non concentrate enough on understanding…”  While there are elements of the course that require memorization, there are other areas of the course that require comprehension and making connections between concepts presented in different systems.  I always encourage students to try to remain balanced in using the Sensing and Intuitive learning styles.

The third index shows your preference for Visual and Verbal learning styles.  Most people do have a definite preference in this index.  Many people who take science courses are Visual learners, but that is not true of all students.  I have worked over the years to make sure that when I present information in lecture, that both Visual and Verbal learning styles are accommodated in my Powerpoint slides.  While I may have one slide that will be a figure from the textbook that I will explain in class, the next slide will often have words that explain the same process.  Verbal learners may prefer the slide with the written explanation – or the accompanying paragraphs in the textbook – while Visual learners may prefer the figure or diagram to help them learn the process.  That isn’t to say that Verbal learners should never look at a figure or Visual learners should never read the text.  It is to say that you can use your preference, if possible, when learning physiological processes like we are studying.  For example, Verbal learners can use the figure caption and text beside each step to help them determine what the figure is trying to convey.

The last index helps you understand if you are a Sequential or a Global learner.  Sequential learners prefer to have information presented in steps or a logical order.  Global thinkers need to see the “big picture” for new information to make sense.  In class I try to meet the needs of both kinds of learners.  I will often give an overview of a new topic, so that Global learners can see how the information we will discuss fits into an overall framework.  For Sequential thinkers, this overview can be overwhelming, as they are trying to understand all the details at once instead of in a step-wise fashion they prefer.  After the overview, I then present information in a step-wise way, which is where the Sequential learners will begin to feel comfortable.  I then conclude by summarizing or trying to tie together the information covered.  This helps the Sequential learners make sure they have their logical order of steps, and helps the Global learners see again how all the details fit together.

Because critical thinking and mastery of a subject often requires relating different concepts that you have learned, it is always good to practice Global thinking and challenge yourself if you are not a Global learner.  By forcing yourself to summarize or see the “big picture” you can help break out of a purely stepwise learning pattern and see the connections between larger concepts.  In fact, much of the critical thinking we try to develop is designed to move students from Sequential thinking to Global thinking, to see how different systems are working together to maintain physiological processes.

I have been using this Index of Learning Styles for several years now, and every semester I have students report that learning their style for each of these indexes – and how to optimize their studying based on their learning style – has been helpful for their success in A&P.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Big Equation

At the beginning of A&P II I usually write the following on the board:

CO2 + H2O <-> H2CO3 <-> H+ + HCO3-

While I am writing, I narrate it this way:

"When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, especially in the presence of the enzyme carbonic anhydrase, they combine to form carbonic acid, which readily falls apart into a hydrogen ion and a bicarbonate ion."

This ends up being a stock part of my A&P2 lectures because it comes up in discussion of so many systems this semester.  So I thought I would dedicate a post to the reaction - and its implications for the systems that we study this semester.

The first time we discuss this reaction is often the first day of A&P II.  Discussing the chapter on Blood, we say that red blood cells (RBCs) contain an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase.  The textbook shows the equation in a paragraph of the text, and we say that this enzyme in the RBCs helps form H+ and HCO3- from CO2 and H2O.  This is the first mention of the enzyme and the reaction.

We discuss the reaction a second time in the Respiratory system chapter.  A number of concepts are introduced in the Blood/Cardiovascular chapters that are expanded/built upon in the Respiratory chapter, and this is one of them.  In this chapter we learn that carbon dioxide is carried in the bloodstream mostly as bicarbonate ion (HCO3-).  So how does it get converted to bicarbonate (and back)?  By using our reaction!  The carbonic anhydrase enzyme that is in the RBC (which we learned on Day 1...) converts the carbon dioxide to bicarbonate ion and back again.

The gas laws tell us that gases move down their partial pressure gradients.  This is, in fact, the driving force for "our equation" too.  When CO2 is high, it drives the equation to the right, converting the CO2 to bicarbonate.  When the partial pressure of CO2 falls, it drives the reaction to the left and converts bicarbonate back to carbon dioxide to be breathed out.

So we started by learning RBCs have an enzyme called carbonic anhydrase that catalyzes "our equation".  Then we learned that bicarbonate is how the majority of CO2 is carried in the bloodstream, and it is formed by that enzyme and that equation.  So that's it, right?

Nope.  Eventually we discuss the digestive system.  Parietal cells lining gastric pits also express the enzyme carbonic anhydrase.  So what happens in those cells?  You guessed it .... "when carbon dioxide dissolves in water ... " In the stomach, the point isn't to make bicarbonate, the point is to make the acid.  The hydrogen ion moves down its concentration gradient into the lumen of the stomach where it forms HCl - hydrochloric acid.  So stomach acid forms from the same mechanism, "our equation".

Then once the stomach contents reach the duodenum, the pH needs to be neutralized.  The pancreas secretes bicarbonate to neutralize the stomach acid.  Don't be surprised when I tell you that pancreatic acinar cells express the enzyme carbonic anhydrase which help them produce the bicarbonate that is secreted.

So if you didn't learn it initially, and you didn't learn it with the respiratory or digestive systems, you might think you could get away with not memorizing or understanding the equation.  Then ....

In the renal system chapter, we review a number of figures that appear to be a complicated mess of transporters.  In one set of figures, though, we see something familiar.  We see the carbonic anhydrase enzyme.  We see .... our equation.  And suddenly, it is something familiar in a complicated process.

Renal tubule cells also express carbonic anhydrase.  They also do "the equation".  The bicarbonate ion is important for blood pH homeostasis, so it is reabsorbed into the bloodstream.  The acid is pretty much a waste product and can be excreted in the urine.

By this point is it usually April or November.  Did you ever think you would understand a chemical equation so well?  But wait, there is another chapter to go...and we end up coming full circle.

Because this last chapter is about acid-base balance in the blood.  About respiratory acidosis and alkalosis, caused when the respiratory system doesn't expel CO2 correctly. About metabolic acidosis and alkalosis, which are compensated for by changes in breathing.  We have come back to the beginning of A&P II, to the Blood and Respiratory chapters.  But we have also come back to the beginning of A&P I, to pH and acids and bases and buffers.

"Our reaction" is reversible.  High PCO2 drives the reaction to the right, low PCO2 drives the reaction to the left.  These are facts that we memorized in August or January.  Now we can use them to understand the body's reaction to acid-base imbalance, one of the most complicated topics of the semester.

This post is getting a little long, so I think I will save the details of acid-base balance for another time.  Suffice it to say that we can "blow off" CO2 to lower the partial pressure to restore pH imbalances.

"Our equation" is an efficient little reaction.  It uses one enzyme to convert a waste product into bicarbonate and hydrogen ion.  But it is more than that.  It is how the blood carries carbon dioxide through the bloodstream.  It is how stomach acid gets made, and then neutralized.  It is how kidney tubules retain bicarbonate and dump acid.  It is how we maintain blood pH homeostasis.  One equation, but a multitude of homeostatic and regulatory functions in the human body.

So readers, do you find it fascinating?  What question do you have about The Big Equation?

Resources for Studying "The Bones"

This week begins a period of study in A&P I lab that will last for several weeks.  We are beginning to learn the bones and bone markings of the skeletal system.  Here are some resources to help you with your study.

Print Resources:

Likely students will start with the textbook as a source of information about the bones and bone markings, and this is an excellent place to start.  Your textbook has a number of figures and exhibits that name the bones and label the bone markings.  Remember that you are responsible for the ones on your "Bones List" handed out in lab (and posted on Bb).  If you have the three-ring binder version of the textbook, you can just pull out chapters 7 and 8 to carry with you with the labeled bones.  If you have the bound version of the textbook, that is usually more cumbersome to carry around.  For this reason, the package in the bookstore with the bound version of the textbook also contains an atlas of the skeletal system with a red cover.  That will be easier to carry around to labs, open labs, and study groups.

Your lab manual is another print resource that you have available.  The lab manual also shows photographs of all the bones and bone markings.  However, most of the markings are not labeled.  This is a good way to get active with learning the markings from a print resource, by working on writing in the labels or quizzing yourself to see what you already have mastered.

Online Resources:

Several textbook publishers have online content that includes labeling exercises and other tools for studying bones and bone markings.   Some of these links are also posted in Blackboard.  McGraw Hill has some good labeling exercises associated with one of its A&P textbooks.  And of course, the Wiley Plus access that many of you have purchased will also have lots of labeling activities.

For learning the general terms for bone markings, Quizlet has a series of flashcards for learning those terms.

Apps: (some of these are iOS only and some are also for Android).

Winking Skull is a website that also has an app.  It has quite a bit of anatomy content on topics including the bones.  Thieme, the company that produces Winking Skull, also has their anatomy atlas available on the Epocrates app.  Anatomy and Physiology Revealed has an iPad app.  You can also do a web search for apps and there are several review articles like this one

There will be no substitute in the next three weeks for attending labs and as many open lab times as you possibly can.  No amount of studying a photograph or practicing online labeling exercises will replace study time with the actual bones that will be displayed on the practical exam.  You can't pick up a photograph and turn it around like you can the bone models.  Despite the many study tools you have, the best one will be the bone models in the lab.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Twitter - Suggestions for Using Academically

I have already written a post about how to use Twitter to create a “learning network”.  This post will be more helpful if you are brand new to Twitter.

Twitter is a social media tool.  You “follow” people, and the things they “tweet” appear in your timeline.  You can access Twitter from any computer with an internet connection and a web browser.

To get started on Twitter, first create your Twitter account.  Think of a Twitter handle.  Some people do Twitter totally anonymously, others use real names.  Because your handle appears in the tweet when people reply to you, you will want to keep it fairly short.  As with email addresses, if you expect peers or professors to see this, try to make it professional. 

Next: start following people.  It is easy to follow and unfollow people.  In the beginning, I followed tons of people.  Then when I found myself skipping over their tweets in my timeline, I realized that I wasn’t that interested in what they had to say.  As you use Twitter, you can edit the people you follow so that your timeline is filled with things that are interesting to read.  Where to get ideas of who to follow?  Twitter will make suggestions of people similar to who are already in your timeline.  Some of these are more accurate suggestions than others.  One source of good people to follow is to see who other people follow.  If you have come across someone interesting, see who the other people are who follow them, or see the list of people they follow.

Eventually, you figure out hashtags.  These are ways of marking tweets with a subject tag.  For example, I suggest that when you ask questions about lecture content, you mark your question tweets with the hashtag #BIO139.  Then it will be easy for me to search for the tweets that have that hashtag in them, to make sure that I haven’t missed any.  Hashtags start with the pound sign (#) and can’t contain spaces.  So sometimes you see hashtags like #thingsthatareboring

You can "star" a tweet, or mark it as a favorite.  Some people use that function similar to a "like" on Facebook.  I use it to bookmark tweets that have links that I want to come back later and read (see later paragraph on sending those tweets to Read It Later/Pocket).

To be perfectly honest, I find the actual Twitter website to be my least favorite way to access Twitter.  Instead, I use a program called TweetDeck.  Using Tweetdeck, I can manage both my personal and my professional Twitter accounts.  I can view tweets from the #BIO139 hashtag, or “@ replies” directed toward me, or tweets related to other searches.  Tweetdeck displays tweets in columns, so you can see different types of tweets at once.  TweetDeck also has an app for a smart phone, so you can view and send tweets from your phone.

And while I am talking about apps, here is one really cool way that I manage information that I find on Twitter.  By using a website called "If This Then That" and an app called Pocket (used to be Read It Later) you can more easily track and read the articles and links that are in your timeline.  Basically you tell the If This Then That website your Twitter logon information and your Pocket/Read It Later logon information.  That links the two accounts.  The next time you "star" a tweet in your timeline that contains a link, that link will be sent to Read It Later/Pocket.  So when you have some time (waiting in line, etc) you can open Pocket/Read It Later and catch up on the article and links that you have starred.

One aspect of Twitter that I am getting ready to experiment with is the function called Lists.  Lists are a way to organize the various types of people that you follow on Twitter.  For example, I follow a number of higher education organizations.  Perhaps grouping those into a list might be a better way to follow what those organizations are doing.  If I get the lists to work, I might write that into a new post.

So what about you, dear readers?  What questions do you have, or what ways do you use Twitter that you find to be helpful?