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Taking Bold Steps in Teaching | Notetaking | Science Updates | TAPP 90

by Kevin Patton

Taking Bold Steps in Teaching | Notetaking | Science Updates

TAPP Radio Episode 90


Episode | Quick Take

Episode 90 of The A&P Professor podcast is a thematic smörgåsbord, full of tasty tidbits to share with students and colleagues. Host Kevin Patton talks about dealing with resistance when we try to take bold steps in teaching. Is note taking better with a paper or an electronic device? The effects of diluting blood plasma on aging (don’t try this at home).And the phenomenon of pandemic weight change.

  • 00:00 | Introduction
  • 01:06 | Notetaking: Paper or Digital?
  • 13:14 | Sponsored by AAA
  • 14:53 | Pandemic Twenty?
  • 19:27 | Sponsored by HAPI
  • 20:39 | Diluted Blood: Fountain of Youth?
  • 28:25 | Sponsored by HAPS
  • 29:37 | Taking Bold Steps in Teaching
  • 42:57 | Long-Term Learning Seminar
  • 44:20 | More Bold Steps
  • 50:46 | Staying Connected


Episode | Listen Now

Episode | Show Notes

 Of all frictional resistances, the one that most retards human movement is ignorance, what Buddha called ‘the greatest evil in the world’. The friction which results from ignorance can be reduced only by the spread of knowledge and the unification of the heterogeneous elements of humanity. No effort could be better spent. (Nikola Tesla)


Notetaking: Paper or Digital?

12 minutes

It’s the battle of paper notetaking vs. digital notetaking. Who’s the winner? Are are we ready to declare a winner?

  • The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking (journal article from Psychological Science) my-ap.us/39qbNCo
  • Don’t Ditch the Laptop Just Yet: Replication Finds No Immediate Advantage to Writing Notes by Hand (blog article from American Psychological Association) my-ap.us/39svN7h
  • Don’t Ditch the Laptop Just Yet: A Direct Replication of Mueller and Oppenheimer’s (2014) Study 1 Plus Mini Meta-Analyses Across Similar Studies (journal article from Psychological Science) my-ap.us/3fpmHff
  • Paper Notebooks vs. Mobile Devices: Brain Activation Differences During Memory Retrieval (journal article from Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience) my-ap.us/3u3YjEb
  • Stronger Brain Activity After Writing on Paper Than on Tablet or Smartphone (article at Neuroscience News) my-ap.us/3ftufxE

student writing in a notebook


Sponsored by AAA

1.5 minute

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


Pandemic Twenty?

4.5 minutes

Originally conceived as the equivalent of the mythical “freshmen 15,” the “pandemic 15” may turn out to be the “pandemic twenty” or more. Or less. Listen and find out.

  • How Much Weight Did We Gain During Lockdowns? 2 Pounds a Month, Study Hints (article from New York Times) my-ap.us/3fqgX5a
  • Body Weight Changes During Pandemic-Related Shelter-in-Place in a Longitudinal Cohort Study (journal article from Journal of the American Medical Association) my-ap.us/3dg5L8y

woman with medical mask looking out window


Sponsored by HAPI Online Graduate Program

1 minute

The Master of Science in Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction—the MS-HAPI—is a graduate program for A&P teachers, especially for those who already have a graduate/professional degree. A combination of science courses (enough to qualify you to teach at the college level) and courses in contemporary instructional practice, this program helps you be your best in both on-campus and remote teaching. Kevin Patton is a faculty member in this program. Check it out!


NYCC Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction


Diluted Blood: Fountain of Youth?

7.5 minutes

New research suggests that diluting our blood plasma could reduce or reverse some effects of aging. Don’t try this at home!

  • Rejuvenation of three germ layers tissues by exchanging old blood plasma with saline-albumin (journal article) my-ap.us/31lDHeq
  • Diluting blood plasma rejuvenates tissue and reverses aging (summary article of the recent research) my-ap.us/3cjkGiR
  • Rejuvenation of aged progenitor cells by exposure to a young systemic environment. (Journal article on the 2005 research) my-ap.us/3ckyUQu

camera phone showing a baby, but pointing to an elderly person


Sponsored by HAPS

1 minute

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!

Anatomy & Physiology Society


Check out: My Experience in Striving for Equitable Education in A&P Curriculum: Why it Matters to my Students (HAPS blog post) my-ap.us/39q8R8B

HAPS logo


Taking Bold Steps in Teaching

13 minutes

Ever feel resistance from peers when suggesting a try of  new or different teaching or curriculum strategies? Yeah, me too.

woman leaning forward


Long-Term Learning Seminar

1.5 minute

Here’s a great refresher of some basic evidence-based strategies that you can use to take a bold step in teaching: Five Powerful Ways You Can Enhance Long-Term Learning in Your A&P Course

  • Topics include:
    • spaced retrieval practice
    • test debriefing
    • pre-testing
    • cumulative testing
    • initial exams
  • Don’t forget! You can earn a digital credential in professional development for this online seminar.

Long-Term Learning


More Bold Steps

6.5 minutes

The conversation continues with some practical advice. For example, how to bring your critics on board with your bold ideas!

Need help accessing resources locked behind a paywall?
Check out this advice from Episode 32 to get what you need!

Episode | Transcript

The A&P Professor podcast (TAPP radio) episodes are made for listening, not reading. This transcript is provided for your convenience, but hey, it’s just not possible to capture the emphasis and dramatic delivery of the audio version. Or the cool theme music.  Or laughs and snorts. And because it’s generated by a combo of machine and human transcription, it may not be exactly right. So I strongly recommend listening by clicking the audio player provided.

AAA logoThis searchable transcript is supported by the
American Association for Anatomy.
I'm a member—maybe you should be one, too!


Kevin Patton (00:00):
The inventor and futurist, Nikola Tesla, once wrote, “Of all frictional resistances, the one that most retards human movement is ignorance.” What Buddha called the greatest evil in the world. The friction which results from ignorance can be reduced only by the spread of knowledge and the unification of the heterogeneous elements of humanity. No effort could be better spent.

Aileen (00:34):
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 (00:47):
In this episode, I talk about taking bold steps in teaching. I ask, is digital note-taking better than paper? I talk about the pandemic 20 and diluted blood plasma’s effect on aging.

Notetaking: Paper or Digital?

Kevin Patton (01:06):
Well, here’s an argument that’s been… Okay, I’m sorry, debate that’s been going on for quite some time. And that is the debate between whether it’s better for students, as far as their learning goes, to write out their notes in paper notebooks or to use a digital device such as a tablet or a laptop or something like even their phone maybe and take their notes that way.

Kevin Patton (01:34):
There’ve been several papers that have suggested that writing out your notes on a paper notebook or in a paper notebook with a pen or pencil work better for memory and for learning than using a digital device such as a tablet or a smartphone or a laptop or whatever. Even if it’s a tablet or a pad device that can be used with a stylist, so it’s kind of like writing on paper, there’ve been a bunch of studies that seem to prove that writing out the notes is way, way better, but there’s also been a bunch of studies and replications of those previous studies and meta-analysis of the various studies that say, “Nope, there’s no statistical difference.” So one is not truly better than the other.

Kevin Patton (02:27):
And of course, another issue with a lot of these studies is…

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what they’re actually measuring. They’re measuring often short-term memory. So they’ll have the participants take notes on some kind of presentation or whatever, and then let them wait an hour, maybe distract them with cookies, or I don’t know what they’re distract… Cookies would distract me donuts. Yes, they would distract me. And so, then they come back in an hour and then they take a quiz or test or whatever, and they measure how much learning was done and compare that. And I don’t think these were any different than I am in this regard. I don’t want my A&P students remembering things for an hour and then that’s it. But I guess that does get us somewhere. It does tell us something.

Kevin Patton (03:16):
And very recently, and again, there’s links in the show notes and episode page. Recently, there was a study that showed that students writing notes by hand in paper notebooks can record information 25% faster than when using a digital device, which to me seems counterintuitive and certainly counter to the prevailing thinking. And yeah, okay, I guess some people are slow typists and so-and-so. There’s that, but there’s also people who are slow writers. They found that, but that’s not really the purpose of that study. They just happened to find it and said, “Whoa, we didn’t expect that.” What they were really looking for was, well, they were using an MRI to look at brain activity during learning to see if there was a difference in that between writing notes on paper and using a digital device of some sort.

Kevin Patton (04:19):
And they actually had a couple of experimental groups there, some with regular computer type device and I think there were tablets or something and then the other was a smartphone. So they used the MRI when they were doing the testing to see, well, what kinds of things are going on in their brain when they’re trying to recall the information from whichever kind of note-taking they did, whichever group they were assigned to in the research. And they found out that when learners were recalling information after an hour had passed since note-taking, we want to compare apples to apples, right? And that’s the way most of these studies are done. When they looked at them after that hour had taken place and they were trying to answer their questions based on the notes that they had taken an hour before, the folks that had used a paper notebook had way more brain activity in way more places than did those that were using the digital devices of either group, the smartphones or the ones that were using the tablet devices.

Kevin Patton (05:27):
Now, the volunteers who used paper had more brain activity in the areas that you would expect. The areas associated with language, the areas associated with imaginary visualization, and of course in the hippocampus. And we know that the hippocampus is thought to be a very important region of the brain for memory and for navigation. And so when the researchers saw that, they thought, well, the activation of the hippocampus indicates that these paper methods, the analog methods versus those digital methods with the digital devices, those paper or analog methods, they probably contain a richer set of spatial details of things that can be recalled later and that the volunteers were recalling as these MRIs were recording brain activity. Maybe in their brains they were kind of navigating around a little bit in their imaginary notebook in which they had taken their notes.

Kevin Patton (06:39):
So I don’t know. Maybe this goes back to that memory palace technique that we heard about from Chase DiMarco at the beginning of last year in episode 64 when I was talking to Chase about how medical students often use a memory palace to memorize large amounts of information in a short period of time. And we recall that a memory palace is where you imagine a physical place, for example, your bedroom, and then you imagine different concepts you need to recall in different specific places within that bedroom.

Kevin Patton (07:16):
Now, with paper notes, you’re kind of making a physical memory palace on paper. You can often recall, I can often recall where ideas are written on a page like where on the page and how that relates to the position of other ideas that I have written out on the page. Is it halfway down? Is it all the way down? Is it up in the corner? And so on. But when you’re using software to take notes, it’s all kind of the same and it scrolls past and so on. And you can’t really visualize where in that scrolling long piece of a virtual paper that information is. So it’s less likely that you’re going to be subconsciously building a memory palace when you’re using the software, when you’re using a digital device.

Kevin Patton (08:11):
Now, I use digital notebooks as well as paper notebooks. And I find that the more often I use digital notebooks, the better I get at it. And a big part of that getting better at it is that I’m learning how to take some of those physical things about paper notes and replicate them in my digital notebook. I usually use Microsoft OneNote, and that lets me draw connecting lines and add different color highlights and different colors and styles and typeface of fonts and I can add images, I can even draw out little sketches. Not as easily as I can with my green pen on my little note cards or in my notebook, but I can do it and I’m getting better at that. So I’m probably going to be doing that more and more.

Kevin Patton (09:01):
When I first started using OneNote, I just typed things up just whatever the default type style was and so on. And then I started using different color fonts. And then I started using some big and small font. And then I started adding highlights. I was building up my repertoire. So I’m using all of these things together. And then I start using the draw feature and I start drawing things in, usually arrows one part of the page to the other. It’s getting more and more like my use of a notebook. As a matter of fact, I added in, I didn’t even know I could do this at first, but I added in a background so it actually looks like notebook paper. It has the little light blue lines with the red margin along the edge, left edge, and so on. So it even looks like a physical notebook. So it’s getting more and more that way.

Kevin Patton (09:51):
I use my digital notebook for these podcast segments. I’m right now looking at some highlights and other markups that guide me as I put my thoughts out there vocally. That’s where my notes are. I’ve done the research and I’ve jotted down my notes and now I’m looking at them as I explain this. And that’s how I do almost all of the segments is using my digital notebook. I can’t recall ever using a paper notebook for these podcasts segments, but you know what? After all that note-taking and from doing research in different journals, it’s not until I do this part, explaining it all verbally, out loud to you that it really sinks enough for me to remember it for the long-term.

Kevin Patton (10:46):
In other words, I can do a bunch of research, put together all I need to do one segment and then set it aside and when I come back to it, I have to refresh myself. I don’t remember it all that well. I remember some of it and it starts to click a little bit. But you know what? After I’ve done one of these segments and actually recoordinate, I can easily recall it for quite awhile afterwards. So maybe that’s like when we tell students to get in study groups and explain your notes to each other. It’s adding another kind of learning activity that adds even more kinds of brain activity to the mix, and therefore adds more kinds of memories about those ideas. And I’m thinking that makes retrieval easier. The more places and the more kinds of ways we represent that information in our brain and the connections made between them, that’s going to make retrieval easier and especially for the long-term.

Kevin Patton (11:52):
In this recent study, they did find that the paper note takers also scored better than the digital note takers, especially on test items that required deeper and more solid cognition. I think that’s kind of intuitive. I think we would expect that. I think that for now, paper is winning the battle, but I suspect some clever folks are going to find ways to translate some of these advantages to the digital platform. Maybe we’re not quite ready to call the winner yet, and maybe I should hold back on my tendency to want to assign superior magical properties to this or to that particular learning strategy and maybe more fully embrace the idea that learning A&P is complex and involves a whole lot of different brain functions and connectivity and processing that no one strategy can do at all. And maybe there are many different combinations of strategies can get the job done equally well.

Sponsored by AAA

Kevin Patton (13:14):
A searchable transcript and a captioned audiogram of this episode are funded by AAA, the American Association for Anatomy at anatomy.org. I’m always suggesting you go to anatomy.org to check things out, but I don’t always give you a place to start your exploration. Sometimes I do though, and this is one of those times. I don’t know why I did this or how I got there. And I know I didn’t start out wanting to go there, but I somehow ended up on the AAA mission, vision, and values page. That’s not really a place I head straight for most websites. Okay, I don’t go there on any website. I admit it. Unless I’m on a mission, vision, values task force and I’m looking for things to copy for my committee’s homework assignment, yeah, then I might go there.

Kevin Patton (14:17):
But somehow I ended up on AAA’s mission, vision, and values page, and I’ll admit it, I’m glad I did because it really does capture a lot about what I like about being a AAA member. If you want to get a feel for AAA, then go there. Now, don’t ask me how to get there though. All I know is that I started at anatomy.org and just started poking around.

Pandemic Twenty?

Kevin Patton (14:53):
You’ve heard of that mythical Freshman 15, haven’t you? That’s the supposedly weight gain in pounds that college freshmen experience when they move away from their home environment and start living on campus. And it’s expected that they would gain weight of 15 pounds. And of course, that’s not true for every individual, but it is this sort of concept that we have. And so about a year ago when people started sheltering in place, we started talking about the pandemic 15 because we were experiencing a shift in lifestyle. And when that happens, all kinds of things in our body shift around, particularly in our metabolism. And that may affect how much fat or adipose tissue that we’re carrying around in our body.

Kevin Patton (15:44):
And so, as you might imagine, some people have been doing some studies and I think it’s a little early to say anything for sure even looking back over the past year because, well, we’re not done with the pandemic yet. So there’s that. And also these sorts of things involving weight and metabolism, we don’t even have that science all figured out what all the factors are. And there’s obviously a complex of interconnected factors that influence that, but yeah, some people have been taking a look. And there’s one study, there’s a link in the show notes and episode page where you can go in and look at some of that information, but there’s a study done recently in a group of adults that had these wireless Bluetooth enabled scales and they were already in the process of monitoring their weight.

Kevin Patton (16:37):
And so they took that information that was coming in from that other study and they looked at the adults that were sheltering in place, and they found that these adults gained more than half a pound every 10 days. So that works out to roughly about two pounds a month. So you multiply that out by how many months a person might be sheltering in place. So maybe that pandemic 15 is more like the pandemic 20 or pandemic 25. The pandemic is not over and there are people still sheltering in place, including myself. Yeah, that’s going to affect a lot of things in our body. And of course there’s a lot of individual variation within any group you look at, but that’s significant when you’re looking at a group like that.

Kevin Patton (17:28):
Now, this particular study was a small study. There were only 269 people that took part in it and they were already enrolled and participating in a different study. It was a cardiology study called the Health eHeart Study. And they volunteered for this. They volunteered to report their weight measurements using these wireless smart scales that were already collecting that data. The researchers gathered that data over a four month period and they got an average of almost 30 weight measurements from each participant, and that’s how they came up with those numbers. So one issue is that these were people who were already watching their weight in some way. So that’s going to skew the results. They were part of a health study, so they’re probably health-conscious individuals, or at least some of them were probably.

Kevin Patton (18:30):
Another thing is when you look at the demographics, you see that about three quarters of them were white and only three and a half percent identified as black or African-American. About 3% of them were Asian American. And the average age wasn’t the typical age for these weight studies and so on. The average age was 51. Well, yeah, in a cardiology study, that would make some sense, right? And there were split pretty evenly between men and women. So there was that. And they were not from all the states of the union, but they were scattered around the country and so on. So if you want to know more about it, go ahead and look at the links that I have for you in the show notes and episode page, but I think that was an interesting finding. Maybe some of us have noticed a shift in our body and others have not.

Sponsored by HAPI

Kevin Patton (19:27):
The free distribution of this podcast is sponsored by the Master of Science in Human Anatomy & Physiology Instruction, the HAPI degree. As a faculty member in this program, it’s my awesome privilege to work with a mix of those wanting to teach A&P at the college level, those who’ve recently started that journey, and those who have been on that road for quite some time. Every cohort is made up of such a mix of folks. And to be there with them as they listen to and support each other and they work through those classic and the new ideas about teaching and learning, well, it’s one of the most joyful things I do. And I have more than a few joyful things in my life. You’re thinking about becoming part of that, or maybe you know somebody who might want to be part of that. Well, check out this online graduate program at nycc.edu/hapi, that’s HAPI, or click the link in the show notes or episode page.

Diluted Blood: Fountain of Youth?

Kevin Patton (20:39):
I don’t know if you remember this news story back when it happened in 2005, but I remember it. Some researchers at the University of California had taken an old mouse and a young mouse and enjoined them together. So they were basically like conjoined twins sharing their blood supply in their organs. And they found that the older mouse reversed some of it’s aging effects. It sort of turned more youthful at least in terms of its biological parameters. And of course that caused a big splash in the news and our headlines all over and the idea was that perhaps there was something in young organism’s blood that can rejuvenate older organisms. And that’s certainly a potential possibility from the results of that kind of research.

Kevin Patton (21:35):
But they also realized that there could be another explanation, and that is that maybe there’s something in the blood of people as they age that builds up and builds up. Maybe a blood protein or something like that that builds up and has detrimental effects that cause some of the signs or symptoms of aging and reduce some of our functions in our body or make us more prone to certain diseases and disorders. And so that was the other option.

Kevin Patton (22:05):
So, more recently, that is within the last year, they published another study where they did something a little different. They went in and replaced half of the blood plasma of all the mice with a solution, not from a young mouse, but it was just a solution of mostly water with some ions in it. That is basically saline solution with some albumin in it. So it’s sort of like artificial plasma and they put that into the old mouse. So half of its blood plasma was what it had before and the other half of the blood in this aging mouse was now just filler, artificial filler. And so they were basically diluting the blood of the older mouse. And guess what? It showed that rejuvenating effect.

Kevin Patton (22:59):
So of the two most likely possibilities that there was some chemical or group of chemicals in young organism’s blood that causes older organisms when introduced to appear younger, that’s one possibility, they found out, well, that’s not it. What it is is that there must be something as we age that builds up. And that kind of goes along with some research I talked about in the previous episode, episode 89, where that protein called NfL can build up in people, and if it’s at a low level, then that may mean that a person will live longer. When you’re looking at a person of advanced age, if they have a high NfL level, maybe they’re not going to live so long. And if they have a low NfL level, maybe they might live really long.

Kevin Patton (23:56):
And so, yeah, this kind of goes hand in hand. So basically, what we’re looking at here is the possibility that by diluting the blood of older organisms, maybe even including humans, we can reduce some of the effects, probably not all the effects because aging is a very complex thing, but some of the effects of aging. In humans, we already do some therapies involving plasma. There’s something called therapeutic plasma exchange or plasmapheresis. And yeah, that’s a great word, plasmapheresis. I love that word. I love saying that word.

Kevin Patton (24:35):
And maybe it’s time for a quick Word Dissection, where I do what we all do in our A&P courses and break down a new term into its word parts to both understand it better, but also to remember it better and to get better at recognizing word parts of new terms that we encounter later. So let’s take a look at plasmapheresis. Well, the word part plasma in this case means plasma, blood plasma, the liquid part of blood, but plasma is a word part that literally means whey, W-H-E-Y, which is that watery stuff that can be separated from curds when we convert milk into cheese. So it’s the watery part. So yeah, that kind of makes sense why we would have named a blood plasma plasma because it resembles the whey that is formed during cheese-making.

Kevin Patton (25:27):
And then the apheresis part is, well, that’s a term that we use in therapy as well. It’s a therapeutic procedure in which blood from a donor has something removed from it and then whatever is left is returned back to the blood donor. And breaking apheresis down, the AP part of that is a variant of the word part apo, which means away from or could be interpreted as off of or apart from, and then the heresis part means to snatch. So apheresis means to snatch away or to snatch off of. So that kind of makes sense that we’re snatching something out of blood. And in that process of apheresis or plasmapheresis is apheresis in which plasma is removed from the body and some of the plasma is retained and then the formed elements and stuff go back into the donor’s body.

Kevin Patton (26:25):
So we already do that. That’s already an FDA approved treatment for a variety of autoimmune diseases. So this research team, they’re doing some finalization of some clinical trials to figure out if maybe a modified plasma exchange in humans could be used to reverse some of the effects of aging and maybe possibly be used as a therapy to treat some age-associated diseases such as immune dysregulation that can happen during aging, type 2 diabetes, nervous system degeneration, muscle wasting.

Kevin Patton (27:08):
So there’s all kinds of potential possibilities here and we’re really just kind of at the beginning of asking those questions, but I think it’s a pretty interesting bit of information and certainly one that I’m going to bring up when I’m talking to A&P students about why it’s important to know about plasma when we’re talking about aging, when we’re talking about new kinds of therapies that can be developed, and maybe talk about the fact that these researchers are kind of describing this as maybe it’s a kind of a molecular reset button that maybe is lowering some of the inflammatory factors that might build up in our blood as we age.

Kevin Patton (27:47):
And so if we’re diluting that, if we’re diluting and getting rid of some of these unusually high levels of immune regulators that might be associated with aging, then we are kind of turning blood back into young blood again. At least theoretically, that might be what’s going on or what could be going on in some future therapy. So that kind of fits into a discussion of the immune system too, doesn’t it? So, man, there’s just all kinds of ways we can fit this in and get students excited about some of the weird and wonderful things that happen in the world of science

Sponsored by HAPS

Kevin Patton (28:25):
Marketing support for this podcast is provided by HAPS, the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, promoting excellence in the teaching of human anatomy and physiology for over 30 years. I just read a recent HAPS blog article by my friend, Larry Young, called My Experience in Striving for Equitable Education in A&P Curriculum: Why it Matters to my Students. In the article, Larry does a great job of helping us better understand why inclusion and equity are important for us A&P educators to pay attention to. And he gives some simple, easily implemented practical strategies that have worked for him and that we can adapt for our own courses. To find Larry’s blog post and lots of other great articles, go visit HAPS at theAPprofessor.org/haps, that’s H-A-P-S, and then click on the HAPS Blog under the communicate tab in the ribbon along the top.

Taking Bold Steps in Teaching

Kevin Patton (29:37):
Over the last few years of this podcast, over the last decade or so of the The A&P Professor Blog, and over the last several decades of my various other publications and workshops and conversations with you and others in the A&P teaching community, I’ve proposed, advocated, and sometimes even pummeled you with some weird or at least non-classical ideas about teaching A&P. Some of these have been things based on my formal training in secondary science teaching that had not yet trickled up to college teaching where we’ve only fairly recently begun to teach ourselves all kinds of practical teaching skills that most college teachers simply don’t get trained in because my own such training is not expected of us.

Kevin Patton (30:35):
But because they weren’t part of the mindset of many college faculty, these ideas were seen as paradigm shifts, as newfangled ideas that should probably be met with some healthy skepticism, or sometimes they were met with unhealthy skepticism if they were too different from someone’s existing ideas about teaching. A few of the things I’ve proposed have been either borrowed directly from other teachers or from the teaching communities of other disciplines or adapted or repurposed or turned upside down and inside out and twisted around. Some of them have even had some creative embellishments that came to me in a dream or, well, more likely while walking my dog or taking a shower. I used to get almost all my insights while cleaning out animal enclosures, but I traded in that shoveling of stuff for a career and academia years ago.

Kevin Patton (31:52):
Anyway, you can imagine from hearing about all of my offbeat ideas about teaching A&P that I’m what you could call an experimentalist when it comes to teaching. I’m never satisfied that I’m doing things the best way that they can be done. I’m always trying new things to see if they work better. I’m always listening to what others are doing. If it sounds weird but the teller of the story is enthusiastic about it, well, I usually listen a little closer because they’re probably onto something because that’s what’s generating their enthusiasm.

Kevin Patton (32:37):
Why else would they take the risk of telling folks about their offbeat teaching techniques? Yeah, they’re experimentalist teachers too, but I got to tell you, every offbeat thing I’ve heard or pieced together while walking the dog, I’ve resisted at first every one of them. Randomized, cumulative online tests, open tests, mastery teaching where a student has to pass one test to be able to get to the next test, clickers, badges, flipping flopping and all the rest I thought wouldn’t work. Not in my class, not with my students, not at my institution, but these ideas just kept nagging at me. They popped back into my head from time to time. And then I try to work on all the kinks in the back of my mind, then on paper. And then, well, I just dive in and take a risk. The longer I teach, the more I realize that there are worse things than trying something new and having to fix it on the fly, or maybe even throw it away if it doesn’t work out.

Kevin Patton (34:04):
I have found that to be satisfied with myself as a teacher, I sometimes have to take bold steps to try new things to see if they work better or not. Some, not all, but some of the things that I’ve tried have worked unbelievably well for my students so much so that I excitedly explain them to whomever will listen, like you. But there’s the rub. Not many people listen. And of those, not many accept what I’m telling them, even when I have data, even when I point to experimental evidence that directly or indirectly supports what I’m telling them.

Kevin Patton (34:54):
And that’s discouraging. And that’s the reason I’m bringing this up because I think that if you’re listening to my podcast, you’re an experimentalist too. I think you’ve probably taken some bold steps in teaching and are looking for ideas from other experimental teachers taking bold steps of various kinds, and then molding them into a version that might work for you and for your students. And well, just try them out. And I think maybe sometimes you get discouraged too.

Kevin Patton (35:36):
So what I want to say to you right now is yep, that’s how it works. If you’re an early adopter, an innovative course designer, an experimentalist willing to try new things, you’re going to meet resistance. And if you didn’t, then it’s probably not really a newer, bold thing you’re doing. Maybe being discouraged by a lack of interest of others in the A&P teaching community is a sign that what you’re doing really is cutting edge. Cutting edges are sharp and potentially painful, right? That resistance we sometimes get from colleagues is like the sense of pain. It’s a gift. It tells us when we’re doing something potentially harmful. It gives us a warning to stop and think. And that’s good. If we just charge ahead with any new idea we dream up or hear about, it could be harmful to us and to our students.

Kevin Patton (36:49):
That wall of skepticism can prevent us from bad outcomes, right? It’s what we do with it at that point that matters. Do we let it completely defeat us? I don’t think that’s a great plan. Even though the stress of our lives sometimes lead us in that direction, it’s not really constructive strategy. If instead of simply giving up in the face of our own or other skepticism, we take time and effort to tease out all the criticisms and answer them in our own minds, we may find out that, well, it’s not a good idea after all. But then again, by analyzing the criticisms, we may find answers to those criticisms or we may find tweaks to our original ideas that take care of those criticisms, or we may realize that the possible negative outcomes maybe aren’t all that bad. That they’re manageable, or maybe not even all that negative.

Kevin Patton (38:09):
For example, when I’m throwing out one of my half-baked ideas to Cal Phoenix, I often hear them tell me that their students would complain too much. Heck, I tell myself that sometimes. My students are going to complain if I do this. But is that really an authentic negative? Is that a reason not to try something that’s potentially beneficial to learning? In our HAPI graduate program for A&P faculty, every one of our A&P content courses has a required written paper on a topic that relates to clinical applications to the basic science that we’re studying in that course. And our students complain, but we know it works for learning.

Kevin Patton (39:03):
One of the many bits of evidence that confirm that is that by the time they reach the end of our program, they’re telling us that they kind of regret the complaining because they now at the end of their program, see the value they gained from that experience. Maybe the desirable difficulty necessary for learning does generate some complaining. And maybe in that case, the complaining is okay even if it’s not very pleasant. Sometimes student complaints come from having to do something differently than expected. We all do that kind of complaining, don’t we? Every time we get a new college or university administrator, we get a new set of procedures that are fixing problems that probably don’t even exist and we complain. But even when the new procedures really are better, we still complain, right? Because it’s new and it’s different.

Kevin Patton (40:08):
Of course, student complaints aren’t to be ignored either because they sometimes do reveal things that are not going the right way. That the difficulty they’re experiencing is the undesirable kind of difficulty. But to dismiss some new strategy in our A&P courses simply because that may cause complaining to just give up on it without exploring the kind of complaining it may generate, that probably isn’t a good idea. So not all negatives about some bold step you’re contemplating are really all that negative, but thoughtfully exploring them before going forward is worth the trouble.

Kevin Patton (40:53):
Sometimes the pushback to our new ideas or newly discovered ideas of others comes from the same kinds of things that trigger student complaints. Maybe it’s just different from what our colleagues are used to, what we’ve all learned to think as, well, the right way to do things. And so they do what we all do and push back against it. As I just mentioned, I do that myself with these ideas. Then I work through them. And if it gets far enough along to tell others about it, or maybe I’ve even tried it in my courses and it’s worked and then I’m confident in the idea, but my colleagues haven’t had the chance yet to work through those criticisms.

Kevin Patton (41:48):
Sometimes those colleagues, they never come around. And worse, sometimes they try to block us from experimenting or from continuing with a strategy that our experimenting has proven to be effective for learning. Maybe these colleagues would even go so far as to dispute our strategy publicly to discourage others from going down the same or similar road or joining us in that experiment. I’m not talking about the kind of public debate that teases out the best possible outcome, I’m talking about that destructive, sometimes dismissive kind of criticism that tries to shut down honest debate. Why do our colleagues do that sometimes, go beyond that natural initial skepticism to a more harmful kind of blocking? Well, I have got an answer, and I’ll give you that answer after this quick brain break.

Long-Term Learning Seminar

Kevin Patton (42:57):
I recently finished my fourth decade of teaching anatomy and physiology. I can hardly believe it. And during that time, I have introduced things that were certainly new to me and new to a lot of my colleagues along the way. And some of them worked and some of them didn’t work. And the ones that worked, I took some of the best and distilled them into a list of five and put them into an online recorded seminar that you can get to at theAPprofessor.org/longterm because these are about enhancing longterm learning. As a matter of fact, the seminar is titled Five Powerful Ways You Can Enhance Long-Term Learning in Your Course. And just briefly, they include spaced retrieval practice, test debriefing, pretesting, cumulative testing, and initial exams. You want to know more about any one of those? Go to theAPprofessor.org/longterm and watch the seminar. And when you’re finished, make sure that you claim your credentials so you’ll have a badge that says you know about these techniques in enhancing long-term learning in your A&P course.

More Bold Steps

Kevin Patton (44:20):
I’ve been talking about bold ideas in teaching and why our colleagues sometimes resist or even block us when we share those bold ideas or attempt to try them out. And I mentioned that I have an answer to that why question. Why do they do that? I do have an answer, but you’re not going to like it. No, you’re not because my answer is I don’t know. I don’t know why they do that. But okay, this is something I’ve looked into and I do have answers that other folks have worked out. And I think there’s something to all of them, but also I think that there are so many complexities and so many different situations that, well, these answers are not entirely satisfactory, but let’s look at a couple of them.

Kevin Patton (45:16):
One answer is that average people and mediocre people want everybody to be average or mediocre. I don’t know. That’s pretty simplistic. It’s probably not even true, but maybe that notion leads us to the possibility that it’s about an imbalance of power. It’s clear that sometimes blocking or lack of support comes from the widespread biases encountered by many junior faculty, especially people of color, women, immigrants, those who identify as LGBTQ+, and, well, other marginalized groups. And some folks tell me that it’s often hard to accept that anyone close to us may have an out of the box idea. Maybe that saying that no one is a prophet in their own land has a grain of truth in it.

Kevin Patton (46:21):
And that leads me to a useful strategy. That is accept that pushback or dismissal of your ideas are not always rational and not necessarily personal. Maybe it’ll work to try to find ways to, I don’t know, work around the situation so that you can continue with your bold experiment. One of the most effective ways of doing that that I’ve found is to find your most ardent critic and find out what’s motivating them. Ask them about their criticism and use that to try to bring them onboard with or, I don’t know, at least get out of your way if they can’t believe in the experiment itself. I’ve always thought that a superpower that we educators have but rarely use to solve these kinds of problems is that we can teach. So maybe educating our critics may help reduce the friction. Teach them. We know how to teach. I think that will either help others see our ideas more accurately and maybe get onboard, or it will help us see the flaws in our ideas. And probably it’s going to do some of both.

Kevin Patton (47:59):
Another way to find support is to go outside our usual circle. Perhaps discussing our ideas in online affinity groups or at conferences or things like that. Or maybe in a blog. Yeah, write in a blog and see what kind of feedback you get. Ask for feedback. Or in a podcast. Yeah, that’s a good idea. As a matter of fact, if you’ve got an idea that’s working for you or one that you want to just kind of shop around and see what others have to say about it and maybe see if somebody else has tried that or a similar thing, well, let me know and you can come on this podcast and share it. Really, I want to know about that. And I think we’d all get a lot out of that.

Kevin Patton (48:45):
Perhaps most importantly, I want to take this opportunity to tell you this, you are not alone. I’m here to support you, and I found out there are many others in the A&P teaching community who will support you. Please, please, please, know that it’s expected to feel some lack of support from those around you. Probably those closest to you. Those in your own department will give you the least support. We’d all feel that way even when it’s not true. And keep in mind that those who do support you are often not going to be as vocal as those who do not support you, or at least you’re not going to hear those supporting voices as loudly. And keep in mind that it’s natural for others to start out with that same skepticism you had when you first encountered that new idea. Paradigm shifts and other kinds of change are hard. We naturally resist them at first no matter how wonderful they could potentially turn out to be.

Kevin Patton (49:57):
And finally, a word to those around or near faculty who are taking or about to take a bold step in teaching, especially those of us who are senior faculty with some cultural or institutional power. Why not take a moment to ask questions and express interest and be open and, well, maybe just listen? If we don’t believe in the bold experiment proposed by our colleagues, we can at least be supportive of them as professional peers and as humans, right?

Stay Connected

Kevin Patton (50:46):
If you don’t see my links to resources related to the topics in this episode in your podcast player, go to the show notes at the episode page at theAPprofessor.org/90. And while you’re there, you can claim your digital credential for listening to this episode. And you’re always encouraged to call in with your questions, comments, and bold ideas at the podcast hotline. That’s 1-833-LION-DEN, or 1-833-546-6336, or send a recording or written message to podcast@theAPprofessor.org.

Kevin Patton (51:29):
There’s an easy way to share this podcast with a peer and also earn yourself a bit of cash. Simply go to theAPprofessor.org/refer to get a personalized share link that will not only get your friend all set up in a podcast player of their choice, it’ll also get you on your way to earning a cash reward. Easy-peasy. And you’re invited to join my private A&P teaching community way off the social platforms at theAPprofessor.org/community. It’s a place where you can test some of your bold ideas, hear bold ideas from others, or just hang out in our virtual happy hour every Tuesday afternoon. I’ll see you down the road.

Aileen (52:23):
The A&P Professor is hosted by Dr. Kevin Patton, an award-winning professor and textbook author in human anatomy and physiology.

Kevin Patton (52:35):
This episode contains no parabens or phthalates, which is too bad because I love saying that word, phthalate.

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