Master of Science in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kevin Patton
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I've lived in Missouri, in and around St. Louis, most of my life. While in high school and as a biology undergrad, I worked as a zookeeper and animal trainer at the St. Louis Zoo--which led to an apprenticeship as a circus lion tamer after graduating. As much as I loved my big cats, I realized that my best fit was as a teacher. I worked on two graduate degrees while teaching in high schools, then colleges. My teaching eventually expanded out of the classroom to include authoring textbooks, then also publishing blogs for both students and professors.
How did you first get involved in teaching Anatomy & Physiology?
I started teaching general biology and microbiology, but found that the real need for teaching professors was (and still is) in human anatomy and physiology (A&P)--a subset of the animal biology that got me started in science. I love A&P and focused my doctoral studies on that. My graduate research was fun and interesting, but the main lesson I learned is that I'm a teacher, not so much a researcher--and have focused on teaching ever since.
What drew you to A&P and why are you passionate about it?
A&P is very interdisciplinary--combining cell biology, histology, neuroscience, and all the human "-ologies" into an integrated study of the human body. I love the challenge of helping students learn necessary details while at the same time seeing the "big picture" of human structure and function. Although often frustrating to me as a teacher and author, scientific knowledge in human biology is changing and expanding rapidly. That makes A&P exciting and fun, but also challenging--sort of like the thrill of lion taming.
How did you become a part of the HAPI program?
As a President Emeritus of the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society (HAPS), I had been asked by a serving HAPS President to head up a new initiative to provide graduate courses to professors teaching A&P. Most of us don't start out wanting to be A&P professors when we grow up, but somehow end up there after being trained in zoology, clinical professions, or something else. The accrediting agencies were starting to get concerned that many A&P professors didn't have the proper credentials. So our initiative, HAPS Institute (HAPS-I), was formed to provide some of the training and credentials needed by our members. At about the same time, NYCC also recognized this need and began developing the HAPI program for similar reasons. NYCC contacted me in the early stages because of my work with HAPS-I, and I shared what I'd learned in the formation of our program.
After the program started, and new HAPI faculty were being added in each trimester as the first cohort progressed, I had the opportunity to join the fun and teach a class.
What were your first impressions of the program?
When I first began working with NYCC on developing the HAPI program, I thought to myself, "Oh yeah, this is what I'm talking about!" Or maybe I said it out loud. I loved the idea of it and I realized that everyone involved in the project was passionate about it--and were all bringing great ideas to the table. I've often told my own students in HAPI that, "I wish I'd had a program like this when I first started teaching A&P."
What courses do you teach in the HAPI program?
My primary responsibility is the Nervous System course. I'd taught some neuroscience at St. Louis University, where I also directed the undergraduate Human Physiology course, so we thought it would be a good fit. Also, I love the challenge of teaching such a complex (and ever-changing) set of concepts. Mentoring teachers who face that same challenge teaching their own students cranks it up a notch. My goal is to keep learning myself, and teaching neuroscience won't let me settle in and teach on autopilot.
I'm also a member of a faculty team doing a course in "how to be a professor." We teach students about the roles of professors within institutions, how to find and get a good teaching position, what policies and procedures they'll be working within, and related topics that prepare our graduates to be "ready to go" in a professional academic position the moment they graduate.
What do you find are the differences, challenges and benefits, between online teaching and traditional face-to-face instruction?
I've spent decades teaching face-to-face and never thought online teaching would be something that I'd like, nor a mode in which I could be very effective. But being an "early adopter" of many technologies, I was willing to try it when we started HAPS-I. I loved the challenges of learning new ways of reaching students and was becoming more effective as I gained experience and learned more about distance education. When the opportunity arose to teach in the online HAPI program, I was ready to go.
I think online teaching has more of a challenge in creating an interactive, social learning community than a small on-ground class--but less of a challenge than in a large lecture class. Some huge advantages of an online course include flexibility of time and place for learning, and a closer connection to the instructor, who is always interacting with students in discussions, videos, email, and phone. Its sounds counter-intuitive to those who haven't taught online for a while, but I think students feel more individually connected to their teacher in most online courses.
What do you enjoy most about teaching in the HAPI program?
I love the interaction among everyone in each course. There's always a diversity of approach, experience, and training that helps us all understand different perspectives and ways of thinking. Students are always digging up new discoveries and ways of teaching difficult topics and sharing them. I'm learning as much as the students, I think--and I love that.
What do you see as the program's greatest strengths?
This may sound self-serving, but I truly believe that the HAPI staff and faculty is the backbone of the program's success. Everyone I interact with in our program puts the students and their success above all else. Because each of us has a collaborative approach, it's easy to work together to continuously improve our program and help our students. This collaboration is organic, arising naturally out our respective passions for teaching A&P. We learn from each other as much as we do from our students.
How well do you feel that HAPI graduates are prepared to teach?
Our graduates are extremely well prepared in several different ways to walk into any A&P course and teach effectively from day one. First, they've solidified their mastery of the important concepts of A&P. Second, they've learned a wide variety of different teaching strategies and have mastered the key tools and processes of teaching. They know which tool to use for which job. And they've gained a level of comfort in applying what they know to both distance and face-to-face teaching. They know a lot of different ways to tackle teaching difficult concepts. They are creative and experimental--willing to try new things and jettison methods that aren't working well. Many experts in one area or another of human biology do not have the broad range of content knowledge, mastery of teaching skills, and ability to walk into any existing course, or create their own course, that our graduates have.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Grading papers. Just kidding. I spend some time every day practicing Tai Chi Chuan--which is my favorite way to both boost energize and relax at the same time. I love taking walks with my wife or dog, or both. I also enjoy biking, photography, reading, and travel.
What is the most helpful advice you have ever received?
I have several useful principles that I remind myself, and my students, frequently. And I learned them all from my mentors in animal training. One is: practice, practice, practice. We can't learn or improve unless we do it, forget some of it, try it again, then again. Another one is make it look like fun, and everyone will have fun. Even when things are not going quite right, if you work at maintaining a positive demeanor anyway, then you, your students, and everyone else can still enjoy the process--or at least tolerate it better. And lastly, we'll do better next time. Everything isn't always going to go right. Rather than dwell on the failure, fretfully rethinking past performance, focus on (and plan for) doing better in the next go-around.