Physiology Re-design – content heavy courses

How to help students be successful in courses with high amounts of content? Cal State Northridge associate professor Kim Henige reduced her DFWI rates from 42% to 11% over seven semesters in a physiology course by re-designing along 3 lines:

  1. The nature of the discipline being learning
  2. The way it is taught
  3. What students bring to the learning

Nature of Discipline

  • She re-examined the amount of content to be taught – talked to instructors before/after in the sequence – what was needed? What could be dropped?
  • Gave students a pre-test for important and necessary pre-req knowledge for success in this course and advised accordingly
  • Taught at conceptual level  – used integrative nature of content to reinforce important concepts – target common misconceptions
  • Used concept map assignments to reinforce learning of integrative nature of content

Teaching Approach

  • Reassessed content to be taught
  • Use assignments to get students ready for more interactive class time and discussion
  • Learned and targeted common misconceptions through discussion and assignents
  • Provided multiple forms of assessment: concept maps, exams, workbook assignments, workshop activities
  • Targeted higher-level thinking skills through assignments
  • Workbooks: practice questions for each chapter – target higher level thinking, causality, misconceptions, reinforces integration of concepts, examples of rigorous answers – used as study guide and sets expectations for exams
  • Concept Maps
  • Workshops – Supplemental Instruction – Peer learning facilitators (Title V grant) are selected by instructor and trained on SI. They then lead weekly reinforcement sessions with active learning – jeopardy, etc…Meet frequently with instructor – Students receive points for attending AND completing the workshop assignment.
  • Getting students to think about the why and how… and not just the what of physiology

What students bring to the learning situation

  • Emphasis on rote learning vs critical deep thinking
  • Low motivation
  • Poor academic skills
  • Exam anxiety
  • Personal challenges

She models higher-level thinking/exam quality answers in her workbook examples. Awareness of issues and doing what she could to address them or get students connected to resources made a difference for her.

People who still got DFWIs after the changes…missed lecture, quizzes, exams, assignment due dates, workshops, and/or workbook assignments.

Another similar resource by PSU Berks John Shank – Chemistry Course Guides -

Return to the Gateway Conference posting
Go to details of other strategies:

  • Econ course re-design makes big dent in DFWI rates; data collection tells the tale – UMBC
  • Dev Math sequence re-design: blended course/My Math Lab computer sessions = huge success! Univ. of Southern Florida
  • Intensive chemistry prep thru summer bridge – Cornell
  • Pairing ENGL 4 concurrently with ENGL 15 – same instructor – counter-intuitive?… but successful! Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) – CCBC
  • Physiology  re-design – content heavy courses – 42% DFWI rates drop to 11% in three semesters Cal. State Northridge
  • Interventions that matter in the first week!Intro to Psych – analytics drive change and success – key?  – IUPUI

One Response to Physiology Re-design – content heavy courses

  1. Pingback: John Gardner Institute: Excellence in Gateway Courses Conference April 13-16 Indianapolis, IN | Suzanne C. Shaffer

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