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Three keys to effectively teaching anatomy and physiology online

Dr. Peter Nickless instructing students

The demand for online instruction, particularly in anatomy and physiology, has a wide range of professionals looking to excel in virtual classroom teaching. These professionals include later-career high school educators planning for adjunct teaching positions at the college level; undergraduate college life and health science faculty seeking to advance their careers; and professionals with a variety of medical degrees (BSH, MSN, D.O., D.C., DVM) considering a career change or new focus in retirement.

Unfortunately, even the most experienced clinicians and educators often find that, despite their subject matter expertise, making the transition to virtual instructor can be fraught with difficulties if not preceded by specific training.

 

Explore MSHAPI Program

Northeast College of Health Sciences offers a unique program to fill the gap between being a content expert and an expert instructor in online, blended or traditional classroom environments: the Master of Science in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction (MSHAPI) degree.

We spoke with Dr. Peter Nickless, dean of online education at Northeast College, who is responsible for the MSHAPI program. He told us, "We're the first school -- and the only one at this point -- to offer this degree." Dr. Nickless continued, "There are a few schools teaching things like health science education, but that's not equivalent, and doesn't offer the same level of pedagogy. As a teaching degree, ours is more application-based, where an education degree can be largely theoretical."

As Dr. Nickless continued to describe the MSHAPI program, three keys to effective teaching became clear. 

Key #1: Learn to look through a teacher's eyes

A Northeast professor providing instruction with a power point

The first key to effective teaching is learning the difference between understanding medical concepts for clinical application and being able to convey them in an educational environment.

As Dr. Nickless said, "It may be easy to grasp some of these concepts for yourself, for your tests, or even for the relationship to clinical matters. But to be able to explain to somebody what the sliding filament theory is, as an example, now that's an art form. It's also extremely difficult to do, especially through, say, a series of multimedia lectures. But that's what we're teaching these future teachers, how to explain it appropriately.

So, the emphasis in our program is not on learning the anatomy and demonstrating that knowledge via test and quiz -- after all, most of our students are practicing medical professionals or life science educators, so they already have an extensive background in anatomy and physiology. Instead, students are equipped to deliver (and be assessed on) teaching outcomes: the creation of teaching materials, delivering lectures in a variety of formats, creating test banks, quizzes, et cetera about the content."

Key #2: Learn in the best online environment, so you know how to teach in one

While Northeast's MSHAPI program is designed to optimize teaching anatomy and physiology in any mode, the program goes to great lengths to prepare students for the future of such teaching: online instruction. The program encompasses not only the technology for creating presentations and the techniques for building student engagement in remote environments, but also the mastery of virtual tools that provide the learning usually done in labs.

According to Dr. Nickless, "There's a wide variety of tools, from online images of human cadaver dissections to 3D virtual human anatomy dissection. In addition, there are the physiologic labs where we teach topics like osmosis, thyroid balance and control using computer simulations. Students get a 'hands-on' chance to address specific conditions with a choice of inputs, watching that simulation take place, and generating results in the form of a lab report."

Key #3:Learn to flex in any teaching environment

Dr. Peter Nickless headshot

Emphasizing that the MSHAPI "is not an anatomy degree, it's a teaching degree with an emphasis in anatomy," Dr. Nickless described the practical advantage graduates have in the teaching marketplace: they're prepared on day one to teach practically any anatomy and physiology class, in any environment.

He said, "The core of the program is 18 credits of human anatomy and physiology instruction, and 18 credits of teaching preparation. We use a variety of tools and a range of the most common textbooks used in the undergraduate environment. The result? When you get hired, your dean can say to you 'Okay, we're using textbook X, teaching student population Y (be they general education, nursing or pre-med students, et cetera), and this is the week we're on subject Z.' Rather than scrambling to put together a plan and materials, as a Northeast College grad you likely already have a PowerPoint, course lecture, and assessment tools ready. You can easily fine-tune them according to the institution and step into a classroom tomorrow, ready to teach."

Educate yourself to be an effective educator

There's a growing demand in the education marketplace for full-time and adjunct anatomy and physiology instructors -- not just knowledgeable professionals or experienced practitioners, but effective, engaging, well-prepared educators. The Northeast College of Health Sciences Master of Science in Human Anatomy and Physiology Instruction can equip you to be exactly that -- so learn more today

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