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A Blended Learning Experience in the Anatomy Classroom

Dr. Theresa Patitucci is a passionate educator who likes to explore new formats in teaching her students. Recently, this resulted in creating a blended learning, or flipped classroom, experience for her students in the Clinical Human Anatomy II (CHA-2) course. Dr. Patitucci favors the term “blended learning” over “flipped classroom,” as the latter can have a negative association for some who have experienced sub-optimal implementation of this teaching and learning strategy.

For this year’s CHA-2 session on the Larynx and Pharynx, Dr. Patitucci created a 17-minute video that was assigned to students as pre-work. While the video technically took 17 minutes for learners to view, she recognized that the information was very dense and would likely take more than one viewing for the students to get through and learn the concepts. To aid students in getting through the dense information, a notes handout consisting of an outline format of the video content was posted as well

A series of in-class and Brightspace announcements helped Dr. Patitucci set the expectation for the students to complete the session pre-work. The in-class session began with “food for thought” warm-up questions to get the students thinking about what they learned in the pre-work. She then used questions augmented by brief recaps from the video content to gauge student understanding and clarify concepts for them. TopHat audience response system questions allowed her to review content, check for understanding, and move to the next topic in an efficient manner.

Dr. Patitucci also engaged the students in a Think-Pair-Share activity on links between the ears and throat, having them discuss their thoughts with a peer before sharing them with the group. She wrapped up the session with a TopHat hot spot question regarding lymphatic drainage before she summarized the session for the students. Students were given the opportunity to ask remaining questions after the session, to which Dr. Patitucci provided the answers in Brightspace Announcements so all learners could benefit from her expertise.

When asked what went well from her perspective, Dr. Patitucci reports that she felt it was important to have everything put together into a comprehensive package when it was presented to the students. Organizing the content and delivery in this manner minimized student confusion and maximized their participation. A reported 93% of students completed most or all of the assigned pre-work, with 56% of students who responded to the session survey reporting they learned the material better with a blended learning approach.

For those who are interested in creating a blended learning experience, Dr. Patitucci recommends recruiting faculty to provide face-to-face instruction at each campus running the session. Also, when running a multi-campus session, try to evaluate each campus separately as well as collectively to identify unique campus needs. While she plans to work on clarifying some materials that confused the students, she is overall pleased with the structure of the session and does not plan to make major changes to that for the future.

Students reported overall satisfaction with the session, including appreciation for the consistency of materials used as that served to minimize confusion. Dr. Patitucci acknowledges that it is difficult to switch to a blended learning format when all other sessions are given in a lecture or lab format. It can be difficult for students to incorporate the expected pre-work into their busy study schedules as it is different than their normal routine. She recommends faculty be mindful of that when creating and assigning pre-work for a blended session.

Effective facilitation is an important part of the blended learning experience – students appreciated the skills of the instructors in leading discussion and focusing teaching points while they were in the classroom. Faculty should focus on those skills when implementing a blended approach.

For those interested in potentially created a blended learning experience for students, Dr. Patitucci offers the following advice:

  • Set clear expectations, such as what is expected before class, and prepare them for what will happen in class.
  • Establish a relationship with your students – create a welcoming, non-judgmental learning environment that encourages asking questions and making mistakes.
  • Pre-work should be reasonable in length – not overly cumbersome and time consuming. It should also be engaging in some way (multimedia versus reading a chapter).
  • Pre-work should be highly relevant to what will be done in class and designed to aid them in developing knowledge and skills they need to complete the in-class work.
  • In-class should not be a recitation or rehash of the pre-work – it should build on the concepts and work on application
  • Your design should match your objectives – and those should be communicated to your students.