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Episode 1 | SCRIPT

by Kevin Patton


Why Spaced Retrieval Practice is Your Most Powerful Teaching and Learning Tool

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 LISTEN button provided.

retrieval practice

Episode 1 | Transcript

Why Spaced Retrieval Practice is Your Most Powerful Teaching and Learning Tool


Kevin Patton:                   When I recently retired from full-time teaching. My wife thought I should buy a boat. My brother thought an RV would be a good idea. And my friends Ellen and Dick, suggested a motorcycle. In the end, I got a Podcast.

Aileen:                               Welcome to the A & P Professor. A few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with host Kevin Patton.

In this premier episode of The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP Radio), Kevin introduces himself and his reasons for launching this new series.

Kevin Patton:                   You may be familiar with my blog the A & P Professor. And the companion website at theapprofessor.org. These have tips, content updates, teaching tools and links to resources related to teaching and learning human anatomy and physiology, all directed to … Yes, you guessed it. The A & P Professor. That’s you.

Kevin Patton:                   So, why am I doing a Podcast? Well, I love to teach and with my various speaking and publishing projects, this is an extension of my teaching. I love watching other teachers, talking to them and learning from them. I hope this Podcast will be an opportunity for you to do that. Not just hear what I have to share but also, those things I get from others and pass along. And hopefully, tips and advice that you, the listener, will share on future broadcasts.

Kevin Patton:                   First, a brief introduction on my background for those who don’t me yet. I’ve taught various flavors of A & P for more than three decades. In high schools, community colleges, undergrad University courses. And, I now train A & P Professors in a Masters program, Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction. I write several text books and lab manuals for A & P courses and, as I’ve already mentioned, have the A & P Professor blog and website.

Kevin Patton:                   And several other blogs and websites including, lionden.com, which is also focused on A & P. I’ve been very involved in the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, HAPS, since I first joined in 1990. I now serve as President Emeritus of that organization.

Kevin Patton:                   The plan for this podcast series is to focus mainly on the art and science of teaching. As applied in the human anatomy and/or physiology course. Included in that are, updates in the many content areas covered in the typical A & P course. I don’t know about you, but it’s always a struggle for me trying to keep up with the trends, changes, and new concepts in every sub-discipline that we cover in our course.

Kevin Patton:                   I’m hoping to pass along some information you might have missed and talk about how that might impact what and how we teach in A & P courses. And, I hope you’ll do the same for me. Letting me share what you’ve found with all the listeners to this podcast.

Kevin Patton:                   I’ll also share teaching and learning resources that I or others, have discovered to be useful for the teaching and learning of A & P. Along with announcements of events or projects or grants or other opportunities that might interest us.

Kevin Patton:                   So, pass those along too.

Kevin Patton:                   To start off with, I expect most episodes to be somewhere around 20 to 30 minutes long. Those who’ve gone before me, tell me that, that’s the most convenient length for somebody who wants to listen to an episode while they commute, walk across campus, grab a quick lunch in their office, or walk their dog.  Or cat. Or, whatever it is you do when you listen to a podcast.

Kevin Patton:                   I expect there to be several segments in each episode. Most often, a mix of a few very short ones along with a longer one that delves into the featured topic for that episode.

Kevin Patton:                   But I also expect all of this to evolve over time. Just like my course, and I how I teach has evolved over the several decades I’ve been doing this. On the one hand, a short time format makes the episodes easy to listen to while you’re on the go. And it doesn’t overwhelm you with information all at once. There it is. Teaching tip number one: chunk your content into small bites.

Kevin Patton:                   So, expect some topics to come up again and again as we explore different aspects of each topic eventually, building a solid understanding once we get through them all. Wow, wait a minute. There’s our next teaching tip. Using layering as a strategy to slowly build understanding rather than, trying to cover every aspect of a topic all at one time.

Kevin Patton:                   I also want to mention that I’ll be referring to various sources. These are sources for which, you’ll want to have the hyperlink or the URL. If you’re listening in an app, it may show you the show notes for each episode, and the links should be there. The show notes are also found at theapprofessor.org when you click on the podcast link and find the episode page for that episode. You can also find a transcript of each episode there at the website.

Kevin Patton:                   Because we really need your feedback, advice, contributions, and so on. There outta be a way to reach me easily. And there is. You can email me at podcast@theapprofessor.org. Once again that’s, podcast@theapproffesor.org. Or call me toll free at 1-833-lionden. That’s L-I-O-N D-E-N. Or put another way, it’s, 1-833-546-6336.

Kevin Patton:                   When you get there press three, and you can leave a voice message with a question I can answer in a future podcast. A tip or a source. Or, to record your own tip or advice that I can play back during a podcast.

Kevin Patton:                   If you’d like to be interviewed in a podcast or, know someone you’d like to hear interviewed, you can let me know that too on that voice mail. Or, in an email.

Kevin Patton:                   One last thing. I’m doing this all by myself. Well, except for Andres Rodriguez who composed and recorded that music you just heard. And my daughter, Aileen who does my announcing. It turns out that everything I learned during the radio production course I took back in the late 1970’s, as an undergraduate at Saint Louis U, pretty useless now. Now that we’re in the digital age, I can’t use any of that stuff I learned early. It’s not much of it. And I’m not a professional voice talent.

Kevin Patton:                   So, between the stutters in technical quality and the stutters and “umms” and deep breaths in my voice, I hope you’ll hear the sincerity behind it all and forgive the glitches. Until I get better at it, at least.

Kevin Patton:                   Okay, one more thing. I already said one more thing, didn’t I? Okay. One more last thing. Please consider subscribing to this podcast in the Apple Podcast app or on Google Play or, wherever it is you get your podcast. And please, please, please, that’s three pleases. Share it on social media and by email to all your A & P colleagues. Cause, I can’t keep doing it if nobody’s listening. I don’t want to keep doing it if nobody’s listening so, please share it.

An update regarding the role of platelets in innate immunity follows.

Kevin Patton:                   Platelets. We all know about platelets, right? There’s billions of these tiny little cell fragments, something like 750 billion of them circulating around in the human bloodstream. And we know that they have broken off from a much larger body of cell called a megakaryocyte. And, as they travel around the bloodstream when an injury occurs in a blood vessel. The collagen in the vessel wall is exposed and that causes some of the platelets to become sticky and as they stick to the collagen and start piling up, they form a platelet plug. Which, helps stem the flow of blood. But it also, along with some other chemical pathways, triggers a whole cascade of reactions that eventually, results in a blood clot.

Kevin Patton:                   Now that’s the story we all tell in our class, right? But did you know, that they have other helpful jobs, too? One of those that was recently outlined in the literature, is that they can round up bacteria and literally feed them to our immune cells, which in turn, can devour the bacteria and help make us safe.

Kevin Patton:                   So, we can say that platelets besides, having a role in hemostasis, have an innate immune function.

Kevin Patton:                   So, what are these functions that have been recently outlined? Well, to boil it down to a few simple points. One thing we can say is that, when you have a vessel injury or inflammation, platelets that contact the intact collagen, they stick together. Those are the sticky platelets we all know about. But, we now know that, platelets that do not contact collagen, are motile. They can move around. And those motile platelets, they change shape. The platelets that start out with look kind of like a fried egg when you look at them under an electron microscope. They’re kinda, flattened out and have a little bulge in them. And, they’re going to change when their motile and become sort of, an uneven half moon shape. And, it turns out that, that half moon shape helps them better navigate the strong, sheering forces that exist in the flowing blood.

Kevin Patton:                   And not only that, but these motile platelets, they can even navigate upstream. That is, they can go against the flow of blood. Now, that’s something I didn’t expect to see but well, you know. We’re always finding new and amazing things about how our body works.

Kevin Patton:                   Another thing that the researchers found is that these motile platelets, they use mechanical force that is the force of the molecular motors in their cytoskeleton to pull particles including, bacteria from the surrounding sub straight. So, if there’s bacteria piled up on a vessel wall, at the site of an injury where there’s some inflammation going on. Those motile bacteria can go over and grab a hold of those bacteria and pull them off the sub straight.

Kevin Patton:                   And then, they collect those bacteria and actually, form little bundles of bacteria. So, they’re gathering up these potentially harmful bacteria. They’re bundling them up and that in turn, is going to facilitate neutrophil activation. And we know what that means, right? That means that we’re going to have phagocytosis going on. So, the immune cells, the neutrophils, are now going to be able to take those bundles of bacteria from the platelets and, gobble them up. So, that makes the whole process of what the neutrophils are doing in an inflammation response. That much more efficient, something that we didn’t really know about before.

Kevin Patton:                   Now, I’m not saying that we need incorporate this whole story into our course. But it might be a good thing to mention when we’re talking about platelets that “Hey, here’s their main job. But, they do other things too. For example …” Let’s put it in there. Just drop it in. Simplify it. Don’t make a big deal out of it. And then, usually a little bit later is when we run across a discussion at some level of innate immunity and, we might wanna drop it in there and mention it like. “Well, you know. We’re gonna cover some of the main mechanisms of innate immunity. But, there’s lots of other things going on in terms of, immune protection. Remember those platelets we talk about and how I mentioned that they can gather up bacteria, the ones that aren’t being involved in a platelet plug? They can gather up the bacteria and help make that phagocytosis by the white blood cells, that much more efficient?”

Kevin Patton:                   So, couple ways you can drop it into your course, if you want too. And, even if you don’t. Boy, it’s just an interesting story to hear about, right? And there are links to more detailed information, and the show notes and also, in the episode webpage at our main website theapprofessor.org.

Kevin then invites listeners to the Regional HAPS Conference in St. Louis.

Kevin Patton:                   Hey, I want to make a quick announcement and invite you to the central regional meeting for the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, HAPS. Which, is occurring in March of 2018. Specifically, March 24th, put that in your calendar and save it. It’s right here in my hometown of Saint Louis. As a matter of fact, I’m on the organizing committee so, here’s an extra special invitation from the committee.

Kevin Patton:                   It’ll be hosted at the Saint Louis College of Pharmacy. If you’re not familiar with Saint Louis, or where that is. It’s in the central west end, and it’s right in the heart of a big medical campus that includes, several teaching hospitals and Washington University in Saint Louis’s Medical School. And Saint Louis College of Pharmacy is one of the premier colleges of pharmacy nationwide.

Kevin Patton:                   And, their faculty have been longtime members and contributors to the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. I’m really looking forward to this. We had an annual meeting there a few years ago, and it was great. So, just go to the HAPS website and click on Events and then Regional Conferences, and you can register. You can submit a workshop or a poster proposal. And, hopefully, I’ll see you there.

The featured topic is Spaced Retrieval Practice.

Kevin Patton:                   Spaced retrieval practice. What in the world is that? Well, I’m focusing on that topic in my very first podcast because, I believe it’s the most powerful tool in my toolbox of teaching strategies. It’s also in this other toolbox that I have, my learning strategies, how I learn things. So, it’s a really, a set of strategies that can be used in designing a course and, delivering a course. But also, as a learner myself, in how I’m going to learn information and understand that information no matter how that information was relayed to me. Whether through reading, or through a formal course, or a seminar, or whatever.

Kevin Patton:                   So, that term, spaced retrieval practice, might seem a little daunting. But, it’s a like a lot in what’s coming out of learning science over the last few decades and that is that, a lot of these new strategies or at least, new sounding strategies, are things that we’ve really been doing all along. At least in some shape or form. And, now we’re starting to understand how they work and, when to use them and, when to adapt them. And, when to use something different. And, space retrieval practice, even though you may not be familiar with the name. I’m sure you’re familiar with the technique and so, let’s get into it.

Kevin Patton:                   Retrieval practice, what is that? Well, if stop and think about it for a moment you’ll be able to retrieve that information buried in your brain of that term retrieval means, getting it out of somewhere. So, you’re retrieving learning, prior learning, from your brain. So, you have memories not only of basic fact. But, you have memories of various levels of understanding. Of connections. Of applications, you’ve made successfully. Of creative solutions to problems that have worked before. Or, on the other hand, have not worked before. So, you have this vast store house of knowledge and if you need to use it, in the future. You need to be able to retrieve it.

Kevin Patton:                   And, we’re finding out, the learning science is telling us that, in order for that to be reliable. In order for us to be able to retrieve it when we need it and often that’s immediately. We can’t say to ourselves. “Oh, yeah. I think I know that. Let me sleep on that.” Well, you can’t always do that.

Kevin Patton:                   So, we need to practice the retrieval. And the learning science tells us, that the more we practice retrieving the information, the stronger our long-term memory is going to be and that means that, the case of retrieval is going to be that much better.

Kevin Patton:                   So, if we wanna learn things for the long-term, we need to practice, practice, practice the retrieval of knowledge. Now, with the space part of it. Is sort of, a little nuance to it and that is that, if we spend all day practicing a few bits of information, retrieving it. That’s not going to be nearly as effective as if we wait a while and then, practice it again. Just in a short spurt and then, wait a while and practice again. And wait a while and practice again. Doing it all day long isn’t going to do anything because, number one. Our brain is not going to be able to focus that long. Maybe a half hour or 45 minutes at the longest. Possibly, a lot shorter than that, depending on the circumstances at that moment, and the way our own particular brain works.

Kevin Patton:                   And, I’ll never forget when I … Way back in the olden days, I was a wild animal trainer. And, I remember my mentor telling me that … We were working with lions and tigers. “We’re not going to practice them for more than 45 minutes. Most of the time it’ll be maybe, 20 minutes. And especially, for teaching them something new. We’re not gonna just keep doing it over and over and over. We’re going to do it over and over a few times. Then we’re gonna wait till tomorrow and do it again. And wait til tomorrow and do it again.” And I said. “Well, isn’t that going to take a long time for them to learn it?” He said. “Well, number one, they are going to learn it. They’re going to remember it and they’re going to remember it even if we stop doing it for a couple of years. They’re gonna remember it a couple of years later. They’re going to know it that well. It’s gonna be so embedded in their brains that, they’re going to be able to do that. But if we spend all day practicing with them, they’re going to get to point where no, they just want to do something else. This is just getting ridiculous and, they’re going to fight against it. They’re not gonna want to do this thing that they’d probably were having fun …”

Kevin Patton:                   Well, not probably having fun doing. Let me give you a secret of lion and tiger training. They only do want they want to do and, they only do what’s fun. Or enjoyable for them. So, the trick of the lion tamer is to, find the things they like to do and just get them to do that, at a signal. And with a certain timing and so on, so you’re just really kind of shaping a behavior that they already have.

Kevin Patton:                   So, getting to this idea of “spaced” is, it doesn’t work if you don’t space it out. Do it in short bursts, but space it out. And, you think to yourself. “Well, don’t they forget?” Well, yeah. I mean getting back to the lions and tigers. The next day, you’d go do this simple, little thing like, “Get on your seat.” And they would look at you like. “What in the world are you talking about?” And you’d have to retrain them the next day and the next day and the next day. But, by the second week, they kinda knew what you were talking about. And by the third week, they really had it down. Sometimes, it didn’t even take that long. Sometimes it took longer, just depends. Just like our own students, right? They have different ways of learning. Different speeds of learning. Different abilities to learn. And, different things they like or don’t like.

Kevin Patton:                   So, the space part is an important part of it. You have to allow that. And so, what does this mean for teaching Anatomy and Physiology? Well, what it means is, we need to give them practice tests. If we’re going to assess their knowledge, their level of understanding by giving them a test or an exam. Then, we need to give them practice in doing that.

Kevin Patton:                   So, the more quizzes we give, the more practice tests we give, the more test, tests we give. Using tests in this manner, not in a summative way that is an evaluation of what they already know. But instead, using it in a formative way that is, a mechanism, a strategy, for building the ability to retrieve. Building the ability to pull out the correct facts and put them … Practice putting them together in a way that helps them solve a problem.

Kevin Patton:                   So again, this just isn’t for remembering basic facts, but if we’re using those higher level thinking skills such as, application. Such as, problem solving, creativity, and so on. The more you practice being creative, the more creative you are able to be. And so, we space it out.

Kevin Patton:                   So, what are some ways to do that? Well, one would be a quiz every day. Another one would be using some kind of, student response system such as, clickers or a software based system where students can respond in real time during a classroom discussion or, lab, or lecture and do that … Just space it out. Just do a little bit, every once in a while.

Kevin Patton:                   Or, it could be increasing the number of tests you give. And, that’s the direction I went in a number of years ago, and I tell yah, it worked like magic. Now, the first thing you’re probably thinking is. “Oh my gosh. I barely have enough time to fit the tests that I do give into my course. Because that time with my students is precious, and I don’t want them sitting there doing tests for half of the semester when that time could be spent doing some active learning processes. It could be done by giving presentations. Having discussion, doing all that stuff. And not using it up for test time.”

Kevin Patton:                   So, what I did was. I moved almost all my tests online. I just started giving them practice tests. And I’m going to make that the subject of another podcast, exactly how I did that. But, in a nutshell in A & P 1, I gave them nine online tests. And, they were open for a certain frame of time. They actually, kind of overlapped one another. And they could take up to three attempts at each test, each online test. They could use their notes. They could use their textbook. They could stop the test and ask me some questions. Ask their fellow students some questions, as long as they weren’t getting the answers. So, there’s an element of the honor system here.

Kevin Patton:                   But, I found that, that really wasn’t an issue with the online tests. So, what they were doing was, getting the information they needed to answer the test correctly and, the first trial they usually didn’t do that great. Second trial, usually did pretty good. And, I had a program so that, only the highest score of the three possible attempts is what was recorded, and went into their course grade.

Kevin Patton:                   And, you might think. “Well, if they get the test the first time, and they can see what they got wrong and then, they’ll just work on those for the second one. And they’re just basically memorizing this test, right?” Well, I don’t know that I agree that, that actually happens when you give a student a test, the same test more than once. But, they weren’t getting the same test. I used randomized groups of questions so there was an unbelievably huge number of versions of any one online test, that were possible when you do it this way.

Kevin Patton:                   So, each question had maybe, five, 10, even 20 different possible variations in the machine, the software, would just randomly pick one and put it there. And then would do the same for the second one, third one. Sometimes even whole groups of them were shuffled around. And even if they got the same test item, if it was a multiple choice item, it would scramble up the choices. Now, some of them I didn’t do because, the order in which the choices were given was important. But, for many of them it didn’t matter. Okay, so last time the correct answer was A. It’s the very same item but now, the correct answer is D instead, so you can do that.

Kevin Patton:                   So it really mixes it up and students, they soon learn that trying to piece together the test back, just ain’t going to work. That is wasted time, and they don’t have enough time in a lifetime to do it, anyway. So, they really just get to work and start answering the questions.

Kevin Patton:                   And then, they get the next one, and they’re going to get some similar questions. And of course, it’s all on similar topics, right? And so, by the time they get through three attempts, they’ve had three times the number of questions. Okay, they’re might be a few of them they’ve gotten more than once or, recognizes really, just a scrambled version of one that they’ve seen before. But, it’s practice. It’s practice in doing that.

Kevin Patton:                   And because, it takes some time to do an online test. Most students don’t sit down and say. “Okay. All day, I’m going to work on my online test.” Now, if they’re up against a deadline, they might do that. But, they soon find out because, I council them this way. When they’re going to say, “Why didn’t I do so good on this?” “Well, let’s talk about your timing.” Well, if you space it out and at least, wait til the next day to do the next one. Maybe even, wait a couple of days and so on through.

Kevin Patton:                   Now one thing about this spacing thing that I want to get into for just a moment, kind of, a little back tracking here. And that is that, when we space things out. As I mentioned before in the example with the lions, forgetting how to sit on their seat or find their seat or get up on their seat, the next day. We want students to do that. The learning science tells us that if we forget it and then, relearn it. And forget and review it again. And forget it and review it again. That, that is going to strengthen that memory in our brain. We’re going to be able to retrieve it, much more easily if we’ve forgotten it and had to relearn it.

Kevin Patton:                   And so, by doing these online tests and really, encouraging my students to wait a day and then, take it again. And then, wait a day and take it again, within the timeframe that they’re given. That it allows them to forget some of what they learned the first day. And, they come back at me like. “That’s not the way to do it because, I’ll forget.” Like. “No. You want to forget. And do it again. And you want to forget and, do it again.”

Kevin Patton:                   And so, by the time they get to the in class exams and, I only do two of those. A mid-term and a final. Then, they’re really well prepared. I mean, it was amazing how well they did on their exams compared to when I was giving them the occasional test like maybe, four tests plus the mid-term and final, in the course in prior years before, trying this technique.

Kevin Patton:                   So, that’s an example of spaced retrieval practice. And again, I want to remind you that in another podcast, I’ll be going through more about that technique that I was using for my online test. Cause there are actually, several other things that we can learn from that case study and incorporate in that or other ways in all our various courses.

Kevin Patton:                   So, getting back to the main idea here, space retrieval practice. That is giving students, maybe forcing students, by assigning it to them what in the olden days we used to call ‘homework’ and nowadays. If we call it an ‘online test’ then, students will embrace it more than if we call it ‘homework’ cause that term carries a lot of baggage. But, the second thing is, with the availability of these learning management systems, it can be automatically graded.

Kevin Patton:                   Yeah, you can still have some hand graded essay questions and so on, in there. But, you don’t have to for the practice test or, you can just occasionally. Because there’s no way, if my students are taking nine tests, and they’re pretty lengthy tests. And they’re taking those nine tests, three times. That’s 27 tests. Oh my gosh, I don’t have time to do all that grading. Even if I run them through a scan tron or something, I don’t have time for that.

Kevin Patton:                   And so, by doing the online test, they’re automatically graded, and they get immediate feedback, and they can see what went wrong and evaluate where their weak areas are, brush up on that and then, take another attempt, and so on.

Kevin Patton:                   And there’s, as I say, some other aspects of that, that I’ll get into in a later podcast. But, this kinda, sets the stage for us right now.

Aileen:                               The A & P Professor is hosted by Kevin Patton–professor, blogger and textbook author in Human Anatomy and Physiology.

Aileen:                               No animals were harmed during the making of this podcast.

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Last updated: June 24, 2021 at 18:22 pm

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