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Anatomy & Physiology Syllabus: It’s an Art | TAPP 120

by Kevin Patton

Anatomy & Physiology Syllabus: It’s an Art

TAPP Radio Episode 120


Episode | Quick Take

Host Kevin Patton discusses the importance of the course syllabus in setting the tone for a course and helping to create a positive course culture. He includes a list of practical, yet artful, steps we can take as we review and update our anatomy and physiology course syllabus.

  • 00:00 | Introduction
  • 02:02 | What, If Anything, Is a Course Syllabus?
  • 13:03 | Sponsored by AAA
  • 14:16 | Sparking a Course Culture
  • 23:58 | Sponsored by HAPI
  • 25:07 | Odds & Ends: Part 1
  • 36:13 | Sponsored by HAPS
  • 37:28| Odds & Ends: Part 2
  • 47:15 | Staying Connected


Episode | Listen Now

Episode | Show Notes

A typical syllabus is a boring list of mostly unrelated rules, regulations, and procedures. Wouldn’t it work better if our syllabus was instead an engaging, illustrated story? (Kevin Patton)


What, If Anything, Is a Syllabus?

11 minutes

Getting the plural form of syllabus straightened out, we explore what sorts of syllabus exist and which one we’ll focus on in this episode. Below are some other episodes related to the anatomy and physiology course syllabus:

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Sponsored by AAA

69 seconds

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.

Searchable transcript

Captioned audiogram 

Don’t forget—HAPS members get a deep discount on AAA membership!

AAA logo

Sparking a Course Culture

9.5 minutes

We sometimes fail to realize the power of a syllabus in providing a foundation—a spark—at the beginning of a course to form a course section’s culture. That culture influences every aspect of teaching and learning for the entire term. Let’s be artists when it comes to making—and tweaking our A&P course syllabus.


Sponsored by HAPI Online Graduate Program

96 seconds

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 at Northeast College of Health Sciences. Check it out!


Logo of Northeast College of Health Sciences, Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction

Odds & Ends: Part 1

11 minutes

Let’s talk about specific, practical things we can do make our syllabus more artful and more effective. How exactly can we make our syllabus smile and chuckle? Why is illustrating our syllabus a good idea? What about transparency?


Sponsored by HAPS

72 seconds

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!

Please fill out the HAPS Lab Survey! (use either link)

Anatomy & Physiology Society


HAPS logo

Odds & Ends: Part 2

10 minutes

The artful syllabus includes inclusion (see what I did there?), but how can we do that? What if our syllabus is getting too long—what strategies can we use to trim it? Come on, can we really make our syllabus into a story?! What do we mean when we say that students read and raid their syllabus?

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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.

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Kevin Patton (00:01):
A typical syllabus is a boring list of mostly unrelated rules, regulations, and procedures. Wouldn’t it work better if our syllabus was instead an engaging illustrated story?

Aileen Park (00:20):
Welcome to the A&P Professor, a few minutes to focus on teaching human anatomy and physiology with a veteran educator and teaching mentor, your host, Kevin Patton.

Kevin Patton (00:33):
In this episode, I review some ideas for making our A&P course syllabus work better for us and for our students.

Kevin Patton (00:44):
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. In case you think this is just a summer rerun of previous episodes in which I discussed the A&P syllabus, I want to make it clear that this is an all-new episode. Well, a pretty darn new episode because, as usual, I’ll be revisiting a few things from past episodes, but not in exactly the same way. But you know what? Reviewing what we’ve already learned is a great practice, right? Reviews not only reinforce what we’ve learned, they also help us see things that we either didn’t see before or simply forgot about. But in this episode, I’m going to approach the whole syllabus thing from a different angle. Okay, I don’t want to miss out on the end of that hip intro music so let’s rewind and finish that properly.

Kevin Patton (01:43):
In this episode, I review some ideas for making our A&P course syllabus work better for us and for our students.

What, If Anything, Is a Syllabus?

Kevin Patton (02:02):
The first part of my review of the A&P course syllabus is kind of a “word dissection” thing. Specifically, I want to address the plural form of syllabus. There isn’t one because we should just have one syllabus in our course, right? No, heads is goofy. If you print out your syllabus for the class and have a big stack of them sitting on your desk, you need the plural form. It’s syllabi or it’s syllabuses. Well, it turns out that either plural form is correct. Syllabuses is probably more linguistically correct, considering that syllabi infers a Latin origin, which isn’t so, but really, who cares. Either is just fine in the land of mortals where I live and work. I sometimes find myself going back and forth between the two forms and well, that’s probably not correct, is it? Or at least not good style because it’s not consistent, but you know what? I still catch myself doing it. And you’ll probably catch that too. Another thing we need to set straight before heading into the marrow of this episode is exactly what I mean when I say syllabus.

Kevin Patton (03:35):
There are two main kinds of syllabus we usually see in a course…

Read the Entire Transcript →

One is a complete catalog of all the course content and summary of all the learning and assessment strategies. And well, just about everything about the course, except maybe for the instructor’s shoe size. In the olden days, especially, or in contemporary times in courses that have a lot of learning materials that are not separate textbooks or manuals, but need a place to put them, we see that kind of syllabus. Another kind of syllabus is used when you have learning resources that live in their separate containers, such as textbooks and manuals, or maybe online activities and things like that, which leaves the syllabus as an overview. If you will, an organizational document that lists the title and short description of the course, course objectives or learning outcomes, perhaps, even if just a brief version, who the instructor is and how to contact them and a brief list of course, department, and school policies that may be needed for students to refer to. A description and schedule of the assessments that is tasks, quizzes, exams and assignments is usually included as is information on how grades are determined.

Kevin Patton (05:16):
It’s this kind of syllabus that I’ll be talking about in this episode, but, of course, almost any of it could be applied to the first kind of syllabus that I mentioned. That is the massive everything’s in it type of syllabus. Another thing I need to set straight from the start is how much latitude each of us has in designing and implementing our A&P core syllabus. Sometimes we have a blank slate and can do anything we want. The upside to that is that we can be as creative and experimental and effective as we want to be. The downside is that we don’t really have any built-in guidance or a rough framework to get us started. For somebody like me, who has had a lot of experience with this sort of thing for four decades, count them, four decades, that’s not a problem, but when I was new to it, I usually didn’t have any kind of framework.

Kevin Patton (06:28):
And my syllabi reflected that. And they weren’t as good as they are now. Now, not that my syllabi are great works of art, but they are a lot better than when I’d only been teaching, maybe, five or 10 years before I understood what power they have for creating the course culture. Now let me pause a moment with that thought those thoughts. First, making a syllable is an artistic endeavor. It’s not merely a drudgery, a necessary bureaucratic task. Well, it is those things I guess, but if it’s also executed as art, it’s a much more useful tool for teaching and for learning than it otherwise could be. As in other arts, we need to be proficient in the technical skills and understand the underlying principles of a syllabus for it to work. But what makes it an art is executing it with flare, with style, and with beauty. That is create something that leaves the beholder changed, moved, thinking or feeling a certain way, which leads to the second reason to pause here.

Kevin Patton (08:01):
That is consideration of the course culture. Every course has a culture, a way of being together as faculty and students. That culture varies with every section of every course, doesn’t it? And that course culture has a big impact on how each course will evolve over the term. I have often mentioned in past episodes that I try to foster a course culture that values integrity. That embraces honesty, partly because, well, that’s the kind of people I think my students ought to want to be, especially those going into health professions. But also because I find it greatly reduces cheating in my courses. Are you hearing that? That I’m trying to intentionally nudge each course’s culture toward integrity and away from cheating? Toward respect for each other and for the course, and for the program? Colleagues sometimes ask me, “Well, how do you do that?” And my answer always starts with the course syllabus.

Kevin Patton (09:26):
I think it helps everyone in profound ways. If we approach our syllabus as an opportunity to set the tone for the course and thereby provide a foundation for the course culture to grow and evolve into something beautiful and effective and, well, joyful. Which leads me to something at the other end of the spectrum from that blank slate type of syllabus I mentioned a few minutes ago. That is the syllabus template. Handed down from on high. I don’t like those when there is little to no creativity allowed. Now the upside of being handed a pre-built syllabus with little or nothing for us to add or change is that if we’re not sure what to do, well, we don’t have to flail around at the start and make a mess of the course before it even starts. But sometimes, it just can’t be avoided.

Kevin Patton (10:35):
Sometimes the state, to the district, the program or department has mandated, this is how syllabi are going to be handled. What I’ve done and what I’ve seen others do is work within those lines to be creative and artistic and culture influencing. It’s sort of like coloring in a coloring book or painting a paint by number piece. We usually have some choices in which colors to use or how intense the color is or whether we stay inside the lines or not. There’s almost always something that we can do to give any pre-built syllabus a bit of our own cultural style. The downside of that extreme, however, is that it is limiting and therefore not only limits our ability to express ourselves as individual artists of teaching, it limits the learning possibilities for our students. Sure, it’s an attractive option for administrators who think it’s going to eliminate hassles and gray areas and tricky situations, but by limiting faculty creativity, I think, in the wider view, it is also damaging to both faculty and student morale and therefore damaging to success.

Kevin Patton (12:03):
To me, it’s a kind of authoritarianism. Which, yeah, okay. It has its efficiencies and attractive qualities, but in the long run, is harmful to culture. I think the ideal scenario is somewhere in that long expanse in the spectrum between no choices at one end and no guidance at the other end. Yeah, set some broad parameters and must-haves, but also leave a lot of room to color outside the lines or to use crayons or pencils or paint or ink or glitter. Wait a minute, not glitter. Please, not glitter. That stuff gets all over and ruins everything. All right. Let’s assume we live in that ideal middle space and talk about some ideas to think about when executing our glitter-free art. That is our syllabus.

Sponsored by AAA

Kevin Patton (13:03):
I try to make this podcast easily accessed by all A&P faculty. One of the ways I do that is to provide a surgical transcript and a caption audiogram of this and every episode each in multiple, easy-to-find locations and formats that costs money. You know, who helps me with that? You bet. It’s our friends at AAA, the American Association for Anatomy. Now, I’ve been a member since I was a child. Okay. Not exactly a child, I guess, but pretty darn young. Looking back, it seems like I was a child and I don’t regret a minute of it. There’s just so much going on in AAA and so many resources that I can use for my A&P teaching. Don’t forget. You get a deep discount on AAA membership if you’re already a member of HAPS, check it out anatomy.org.

Sparking a Course Culture

Kevin Patton (14:16):
If we look at the syllabus as primarily a way to spark the formation of a course culture that supports effective collaboration and effective learning, which is the way I suggest we do look at the syllabus, we need to think about what mission and values and goals we have. These are what we’re going to work hard in our art to reflect. Coming from inside all that are the feelings that we want to evoke in ourselves and in our students; because it’s those feelings that are going to drive and shape the culture of the course. Here are some thoughts on what I try to do with my syllabus art. You’ll notice that they all entangle with each other a little bit or a lot. Okay, here it goes. The first one is integrity, honesty, respect for each other and for the learning process. As I mentioned, the better we can nudge our course culture toward integrity, the less will likely see cheating or bullying or other destructive behavior.

Kevin Patton (15:35):
I think that building integrity also helps make communications among students and faculty more collegial and productive with less whining and less foot-dragging about workload and due dates and stuff like. Integrity kind of leads to some of the other things important in my syllabus, such as compassion. I want to let students know in my syllabus that I care about them and care about their success in learning. I also try to let them know that I expect them to work on developing their own compassion and empathy and love for each other. Which kind of flows into my next thing I want in my syllabus and that is inclusion and equity. I want the message that diversity has great value and that each person has inherent dignity worthy of respect. I want that to be evident in my syllabus.

Kevin Patton (16:44):
I want all of my students to feel safe and to feel accepted. So I want my syllabus to reflect that. Another thing that I think about when I do my syllabus art is that my role as faculty is to facilitate. We know that we can’t do the learning, each student is the only one who can do that. I want to reflect and encourage a growth mindset because the evidence shows that it improves learning outcomes in general, and may reduce learning gaps among some minority students as we discussed at great length in episode 71, one of our journal club episodes with Dr. Krista Rompolski. On the other hand, when we have a fixed mindset and thus promote a fixed mindset among our students, it may have the opposite effect and be an obstacle to learning in some students. My syllabus needs to clarify and support that because our wider culture and the histories of most students in previous schooling has led them to believe that faculty can teach only when they’re telling.

Kevin Patton (18:06):
We know that quality learning comes mainly when students work through well-designed learning tasks and not mainly by passive listening. Another thing I think about when I’m doing my syllabus art is professionalism. We are preparing for our ultimate professions by being professional students. That’s what I want my students to be thinking. Here is where we, the students can make mistakes without killing anyone and learn from those mistakes to eventually become experts. Professionalism requires professional language and professional communications and following certain policies and procedures. For example, respecting the schedule and following safety protocols. Besides professionalism, another thing that I think about when I’m doing my syllabus art is playfulness. You know me. I’m always thinking about playfulness. A professional inclusive and supportive course should also be playful and at least somewhat informal. Business casual, if you will. We can be mildly or maybe even wildly playful in our syllabus without abandoning seriousness.

Kevin Patton (19:30):
I’ve often quoted education pioneer John Dewey, who wrote, “To be playful and serious at the same time is possible and it defines the ideal mental condition.” Another thing I think about when I’m doing my syllabus art is being personal and authentic. That playfulness I just mentioned has a style that is personal to me. You do you. Don’t be playful, just like I’m playful. Be playful or be whatever in a way that reflects who you are or who you want to be. If you’re a regular listener, you recognize my style of playfulness in this podcast. You feel a bit more connected to me than if I wasn’t being me if let’s say I was simply reading or acting out words written by somebody else. When we are personal and authentic in our syllabus, that tips things in a certain direction as our course culture begins to develop. That direction we tilt toward is one that allows and encourages our students to be personal and authentic with us and with each other.

Kevin Patton (20:50):
And hopefully that will carry through to later courses and to their professional lives. Another thing that I think about a lot when I’m putting my syllabus together and trying to give it some flare and some art is that my course is a story. Now, I’ve said this a million times, maybe a million times a million times, but this may be your first time listening. So maybe you’ve never heard me say that before. My central role, as a course facilitator, is to tell a story of the human body. I do this partly as a presentation, much like folks do at storytelling events or in a play or novel. But it’s also what I do when I design a sequence of active learning opportunities. And when I design assessments and, well, when I work on every darn aspect of the course. I’m facilitating the imparting of and understanding of the story of the human body to my students in ways that it becomes part of them so that they can remember the story and apply the story to solving problems in their professions and in their personal lives.

Kevin Patton (22:14):
That means I approach the syllabus as a story. I don’t start my syllabus with once upon a time. Although, I think I might try that someday once upon a time. But okay, I don’t know if that’s a good first impression. But you know what I do? I organize my syllabus in a logical way. So that one topic flows into another naturally as it does in a well told story. It’s not a legalistic list of regulations. It’s more like one chapter after another in a novel. A novel with very, very short chapters and clear descriptive titles. Well, okay. That’s most of it. You know what? When I put together my notes for this segment and wrote down each of these eight things that I usually want to accomplish in my syllabus, it turned out to be a really helpful exercise. As I look to reviewing the syllabus for the upcoming fall terms, I think I’ll have a fresher perspective on all this then I otherwise would have if I hadn’t taken the time to assemble this list and write it all out as a set of notes. I feel much better, much more energized about stepping into another big pile of syllabi. Now that I’ve made this list, hey, what’s on your list? How will you know for sure, unless you actually write down your list?

Sponsored by HAPI

Kevin Patton (23:58):
It costs money to syndicate this podcast in all the channels and websites and podcast players and book readers and music players, and well, all the bazillion places that you can listen to or read this podcast. That funding comes from the Master of Science in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction, the HAPI degree. I have frequently mentioned that I’m on the faculty of this program at Northeast college of health sciences. And we recently graduated our most recent cohort who have all worked with evidence-based teaching strategies, and they’ve learned to apply those in their review of all the major topics in the typical anatomy and physiology course. Check out this online graduate program at northeastcollege.edu/hapi. That’s H-A-P-I. Or click the link in the show notes or episode page. A new cohort is forming right now.

Odds & Ends: Part 1

Kevin Patton (25:08):
Having given some thought to what our overarching goals are for our syllabus. That is ways we can take our syllabus beyond a legalistic list of dos and don’ts. And instead, try to get a jump start on building the kind of culture we want to see in our course. Now’s a good time to think about reviewing our dusty old syllabus with fresh eyes. Sure, we’ll get a list from our deans about what new must haves we need to add this year to the list of dozens of other must have entries that have accumulated over the years, but let’s go beyond that and see where we can color outside the lines with an artistic playful flare. Let’s see what we can accomplish in our syllabus that we never thought about before, or maybe simply forgot about. I’m going to list a few overlapping things that I do in my syllabus, or have thought about doing or would like to do, but haven’t found a way around the constraints yet.

Kevin Patton (26:18):
I’m also circling back to a few ideas introduced earlier in this episode. These are things you may not have been thinking about and are simply meant to get the brainstorm going, to spark some ideas. And maybe to see what we put in our syllabus really can produce feelings in us and in our students that affect the culture of our course. I think our syllabus should have a smile or even a chuckle. Well, the written equivalent of a smile or a chuckle. Strike a friendly playful tone from start to finish. Let the positive encouraging side of your personality shine through. In past episodes, I’ve mentioned having a teaching persona, which is authentically you, but emphasizing those aspects of you that support learning and project the kind of class atmosphere that you want to create. My teaching persona is kind of goofy, which you’ve already picked up on in my podcast.

Kevin Patton (27:32):
So in my syllabus, I put in goofy messages, like the little box that says, “Minor imperfections enhance the handcrafted quality of this syllabus.” That message actually tells students something useful. That is there are likely some typos and other mistakes and that doesn’t cancel anything out. Yeah. Okay. Expect there to be some imperfections. It also tells students that I recognize that none of us is perfect and that’s okay. And it signals to students that were going to be playful, expect some goofiness in this course, and you be playful too. That’s what I’m trying to tell them. The smiles and chuckles in our syllabus can send a message of love. Consider how you want to let students know you love them in your syllabus. This could be a lot of things. For example, if you’re enthusiastic about being available for students in your syllabus, that sends a message of love. Doesn’t it?

Kevin Patton (28:40):
Another thing for us to think about is maybe illustrating our syllabus. Yeah. I know. If you’re handed a template, there may be some restrictions on this, but if you can illustrate your syllabus, it’s going to make it a lot more inviting, a lot more engaging and a lot more likely it’ll help your students. When I say illustrate your syllabus, I don’t mean get out your colored pencils and sketch pad and start sketching the pancreas, which by the way, is the only human organ that I’m any good at sketching. Just kind of a elongated blob, isn’t it? I can do elongated blobs very well. Okay. So what I mean by illustrating your syllabus is to add some, oh, I don’t know, public domain images of people with smiles and possibly doing something related to the A&P course, or maybe just being playful or laughing for no apparent reason. Something that is going to lighten the mood.

Kevin Patton (29:45):
But it’s also going to add visual interest. When we lighten the mood this way and add visual interest, that makes the dense, boring, intimidating syllabus, a bit less dense and boring and intimidating, right? We could also, or instead, use illustrations of organs or bodies or graphs or healthcare scenes or other content. Or, we may have images from past courses with our own students doing the kinds of things that they’re likely to do in this upcoming course. Of course, assuming that we have signed model releases from anyone depicted in those pictures, or maybe we could shoot a few photos for the purpose of putting them in our syllabus. Another kind of image that goes beyond the aesthetic, which by the way, is not unimportant by itself, that aesthetic aspect, but if we go beyond that, we can put in maybe a screen clip of critical tasks from the learning management system or from the adaptive homework site or from the navigation and tools menus of their digital textbook, or maybe put a screen clip of an example of a highlighter with a note from the digital textbook.

Kevin Patton (31:12):
Or maybe we could draw out a map of how to find my office on campus complete with a big red X where my office is and a little treasure chest there. Yeah. I don’t know about that. Well, yeah, sure. That would fit into my goofy style. Maybe you have something else that would fit into your playful style. And there’s all kinds of practical images that really help students that we can add to our syllabus, just like they do in the directions that come with our sets of LEGOs. Those pictures, they really help a lot. Don’t they? So why wouldn’t they help in the syllabus? Okay. They will help. They don’t know why not about it. They will help. I guarantee it. Using images also gives students a good feel for what to expect in the A&P course. Right? A&P can be a highly visual course. Can’t it? Why do we include pictures everywhere else in a course, but not in the syllabus?

Kevin Patton (32:19):
Yeah. Okay. Think about that one hard. Okay? Another thing that I wouldn’t put out there in terms of tweaking our syllabus is to think about transparency. That is to do transparency, to model transparency, to be transparent. How do we do that? We do that by telling them why we do what we do in the course. I think it’s a good idea for us to mention that teaching is an art and science and we’ve carefully considered the student experience. That’s the artistic part, considering my experience and your experience, and I’m going to consider evidence from studies. So that’s the scientific part. If I look at evidence from studies that have been done. So I put that all together, the art and the science, the experiential part and the evidence part, and I put it all together in designing all the elements of the course. So I’m transparent in that.

Kevin Patton (33:25):
How did I make these decisions? Where did that come from? Well, here’s where it came from. And I could go into more or less detail depending on how much I need to. I also want to explain, on my perspective, on the role of the faculty member. I tell them that I’m a coach or facilitator and that, yeah, they’re going to feel like they’re doing all the work and that may not be what they’re used to, but you know what, that’s how athletes typically feel when they’re being coached. And really, that’s the only way to succeed in learning is by doing the work and me doing the work for them does nothing to help their learning. And not only does my experience, the artistic side of my perspective, tell me that, but that’s what the evidence says very clearly in many studies.

Kevin Patton (34:21):
I think it’s especially important to be transparent about anything that we’re doing in our course that students may not expect. Perhaps we’re using some less frequently used method of teaching or of grading. Well, that’s where we really need to be transparent. I don’t think it’s a good idea at all to just do it. Students are going to wonder about that. They’re going to resist it if they don’t have any clue as to why you’re doing that, how that’s going to be helping them learn by trying this different method. And maybe you’ve already tried it before and it’s been successful. Maybe there are studies that support it. Well, put that out there, be transparent about it. And I know that your students are going to trust you more and they’re going to give it a try because I’ve done that. And that has been the result. And I think it pays to be honest about possible pain points in the course.

Kevin Patton (35:20):
If there’s a particularly difficult or scary aspect to the course, for example, I don’t know, maybe a research paper or a midterm that past students didn’t prepare well for and just didn’t do well with, or maybe there’s going to be a huge number of assignments in the adaptive homework platform, admitting that there are potential obstacles and what they are, and that you’re there to help them through it.When the time comes goes a long, long, long way in helping students maintain that growth mindset. I mentioned in a previous segment. Okay. I have a few more ideas, but let’s take a short break and continue with those in just a moment.

Sponsored by HAPS

Kevin Patton (36:13):
Marketing support for this podcast is provided by HAPS, the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, which you can check out by going to theAPprofessor.org/haps. That’s H-A-P-S. One important initiative of HAPS is helping us figure out what the trends are in teaching A&P. I’d say that’s the most common thing that brings us together. A desire to learn from each other and hear about what others like us are doing in their A&P course. Well, it’s time again for the HAPS lab survey, where we are once again asked about our lab curriculum to see what’s new and what’s the same. That only works if people participate in the survey. I’m asking you to do your part by going to theAPprofessor.org/hapslabsurvey, that’s all one word HAPSlabsurvey to add your input.

Odds & Ends: Part 2

Kevin Patton (37:28):
I’ve been listing some things that we can play around with we want to project in our syllabus. The next one I want to mention is things we can do related to inclusivity, inclusiveness. Well, mentioning my pronouns helps with students feeling included. I usually link my pronouns to a webpage that explains why I give my pronouns. So there we are with the transparency again. Now, even if a student’s pronouns are not what makes a student feel like they’re not often seen by the faculty, it still sends the message that I’m trying to include everyone. And that’s an important message to get across. Something else that sends the message that inclusion is important to me and important in my course is having a brief land acknowledgement in my syllabus. Another way to reflect an inclusive attitude is to be generous and flexible in the help that I offer my students. For years in decades, I tended to overprotect my time and thereby, I was inadvertently sending, which turned out to be a not-so-subtle message that, eh, I’m too busy to help.

Kevin Patton (38:51):
Here’s a few minutes I have available and try to make it then if not, I don’t know what we’re going to do. That’s not a good message. That’s not inclusive. That’s not saying, come on, let’s do this and I’ll help you. I think our messaging can be off-putting when we do that. So in the syllabus and elsewhere in my course, I emphasize that I love to help students, which is true. It’s one of the best things about my job. And I like most things about my job. So if that’s the best thing I like about my job, that’s really saying something. So yeah, I really like helping students. So no, it’s not an intrusion and I don’t have something better to do because that’s the best thing I can do. There’s nothing better than helping my students succeed. I think a lot of students who don’t feel included are especially hesitant to ask for help. Considering that I’m an old white, straight, cisgender, male professor that probably makes some of them even more hesitant.

Kevin Patton (40:07):
So I have to work really hard. It’s showing that I welcome requests for help and projecting my desire to be inclusive. I want to make my syllabus as accessible to everyone as possible. That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? And I don’t think I’ll ever get to where I’d like to be on that, but I’m always reviewing my syllabus for accessibility issues and I make progress semester by semester. I think just that effort, even when I fall short, sends a message of love and inclusion that I want to include everyone, that every student is important to me. Episodes 108 and 109 of this podcast, give a lot more tips about ways to make our course more inclusive, nearly all of which can be reflected in our syllabus. So you might want to have a listen to those. That’s episode 108 and 109.

Kevin Patton (41:08):
Now in episode 75, which I call the syllabus special. I talk about what we can do if our syllabus gets really long, which they tend to do. If we’re being told to add things over the years, and if we’re adding things in our own that ideas that we’ve picked up here and there for having a better syllabus, well, you know what we can use both of these strategies I’m going to give you together to tackle that long syllabus. Strategy one is to move sections of our syllabus to some other resource. For example, we could move one or more sections of our syllabus to a short webpage on our course website. The course shell inside our learning management system or some other kind of course website you may have access to. I often put a one-sentence summary or description of each of those moved sections in the syllabus and then I link directly to the place where it now exists, the place where I moved it to. Thus, a student can find that policy procedure or topic in our syllabus. And then when they need the details, they can go straight to it because there’s a link there that takes them right to it.

Kevin Patton (42:30):
Strategy two is to chunk what remains in our syllabus into short passages, with clear descriptive headings. We’re going to want to use an actual heading style for each heading, not just bold type or large font or italics or something like that to actually use the heading style that’s embedded in Word or whatever program it is we’re using. In all programs that deal with text, well, except for the very simple ones like Notepad or something, they all have heading styles that you can embed in there. And that improves accessibility by making it easier for a screen reader to navigate the syllabus. But we also want to make a table of contents so that students can quickly scan it. It can be a real short table, or it can be a long table depending on your syllabus, right?

Kevin Patton (43:26):
But we want it so that students can scan it and find exactly where in the syllabus they want to be or where they need to go. In electronic documents, it’s usually pretty easy to link each table of contents entry to the heading on the page where that section lives. In programs like Microsoft Word, you can use the table of contents feature where it’ll just automatically generated. It’ll pick up all those things that are marked as headings, as I just suggested, and create a table of contents and create links. So all student has to do is click on each of those listings, each of those entries in the table of contents listing and it’ll go right to that heading in the document. It’ll skip a few pages if it needs to get to that heading. So our two strategies for handling along syllabus are number one: move parts out of the syllabus to one or more linked resources.

Kevin Patton (44:25):
Strategy two is organize the syllabus sections with descriptive headings linked to a table of contents. When we’re doing this organizing, I suggest keeping in mind that we’re telling the story of our course in our syllabus. It’s the first opportunity that we have to introduce our students to our storytelling approach, which is telling the story of the human body. The syllabus is the first part of the story, or, well, maybe it’s more of a forward or a prologue or a introduction, but still, it’s a kind of story within itself. Practically speaking, if we try to have a clear beginning, middle, and end to the syllabus structure, that will help form a story structure. As I’ve already suggested, arranging things that logically flow from one topic to the next makes the syllabus more of a story too. If we’re jumping back and forth with sections that don’t relate to each other in some kind of a linear flow, then no one will ever read it straight through.

Kevin Patton (45:36):
And no one will ever be able to raid it for the one little fact they need when they’re in the middle of the course and they’re wondering about the grading policy or the test structure or well, who knows what, when’s the withdraw date, when it’s the last data we draw from this course. They’re going to be going in there and trying to find those things, and if it’s doesn’t flow together, it’s going to take them forever to find that one little needle in the haystack. So making it more like a story helps students navigate. And a story structure engages and holds people more than just a random list can ever do. I’ve mentioned in other episodes is students use the syllabus in one or both of two main ways: they read all or part of the syllabus, usually at the beginning of the course and they also sometimes raid the syllabus. That is, they raid just certain parts of the syllabus when they’re trying to find an answer to a question that they have in that moment, as I just mentioned seconds ago. If we keep that read and raid principle in mind, as we use those two strategies to design our syllabus, I think it’ll turn on to be more student-friendly and, who knows, actually used by students instead of just sitting there at the bottom of their backpack all semester. Not just syllabi get sometimes too long.

Kevin Patton (47:06):
Often these episode segments get too long too. So you know what? Let’s just stop there.

Staying Connecting

Kevin Patton (47:15):
This episode has been all about the A&P course syllabus. How now is a good time to revisit how we think about the course syllabus as we begin to review it and tweak it for the upcoming new academic year. We gave some thought to the culture we want to build in our course and how we can use the syllabus to spark that process and guide it in positive ways that promote learning success. And, as I usually do, I included a long list of ways to think about doing that. If you want to know more or contact me, just go to theAPprofessor.org/120. I’ll see you down the road.

Aileen Park (48:14):
The A&P Professor is hosted by Dr. Kevin Patton, an award-winning professor and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology.

Kevin Patton (48:28):
Employees and their families are not eligible.

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Patton, K. (2022, August 5). Anatomy & Physiology Syllabus: It’s an Art | TAPP 120. The A&P Professor; theapprofessor.org. https://theapprofessor2.s010.wptstaging.space/podcast-episode-120.html

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Last updated: February 24, 2023 at 16:12 pm

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