Below, you will find some of the more commonly asked questions about the courses I teach, and their answers.

  1. What are my chances of getting an A? (... or a B? etc.)
  2. What kind of tests do you give, and on what are they based?
  3. I heard you give students a list of the questions you use on "A&P" tests, is that true?
  4. How much time will I have to spend on homework?
  5. What is your teaching style in lecture?
  6. What is your teaching style in lab?
  7. Why am I failing the course when others are doing well?
  8. This is my third attempt at this course: will I pass this time?
  9. I'm not good at test-taking. Why aren't there other components to the grade?
  10. You've seen how hard I worked in this course. Can't I get some credit for effort?
  11. I've failed this course three times! What do I do now?
  12. I work two jobs and have a family - do I have to come to class and do homework to do well in this course?
  13. Why is this course so hard? (Why can't this course be spread over three or four semesters? Why do we have to have cumulative exams? ... or, for A&P: Why do I have to study physiology, can't it just be "A" instead of "A&P?" Why do we use PhysioEx?)
  14. Why do you "just read your slides?"
  15. (One just for the A&P students ...or, perhaps you can generalize!) How does anyone get an "A" in A&P!?


What are my chances of getting an A? (... or a B? etc.)

I can't tell you your own, personal chances, but I can assure you that so far I have not taught any class in which there were no A or B students. It can definitely be done, and is done by several students each semester!

What kind of tests do you give, and on what are they based?

I use multiple choice or "modified true/false" questions for almost all lecture tests. (For modified true/false questions, if the question is false, you must correct it to make it true in order to get the point.) For lab exams, most questions require a short word or phrase as the answer, or interpretation of experiments.

In A&P, for lecture exams, I have a computer program that randomly selects questions from a test bank that contains hundreds of questions. (About 70% of the test questions are identical to those in the book of questions that I give to students. The others are based on the same material, but are re-worded so that simply memorizing the first few words of each sentence isn't enough.) For anatomy lab exams, many questions simply require you to name of an item on a model or in a picture.

I heard you give students a list of the questions you use on "A&P" tests, is that true? Do you do it for other courses?

That is true, but misleading unless you know the details. There are roughly 1800 question in that list for A&P I, and another 1800 for A&P II. I have a computer program that randomly selects questions from that test bank for use on tests. (About 70% of the test questions are identical to those in the book of questions that I give to students. The others are based on the same material, but are re-worded so that simply memorizing the first few words of each sentence isn't enough.)

I haven't managed to write such a book for other courses. (I averaged 4 questions per hour when I wrote the A&P question book, and so it took many, many long months.) I can't promise that I ever will write such a book for other courses, but I can promise to provide as many learning tools and exercises as possible.

How much time will I have to spend on homework?

Every student is different, but I've done surveys near the end of the semester in prior years, and the average amount of time seems to be about 15 hours per week. (That's not unusual for a 4 credit science course. Students taking 12 credit hours are called "full time" because in most subjects they'll spend about 28 additional hours doing homework, and that adds up to a 40 hour week. That's full time! Science and math courses usually take more than that. (I was such a student once. It's hard, I understand, but it's the nature of the subject. I still remember friends asking me why I had to study on weekends when I was taking "so few" classes ...)

What is your teaching style in lecture?

I've experimented with non-traditional class formats, and they have been hugely unpopular. At present, I act as a "sage on the stage" and use PowerPoint in response to student demand. Some students believe that there is no need to come to lecture when a teacher uses PowerPoint and puts the slides on WebCT, but I don't "just read my slides." In every class I try to add analogies, mnemonics, stories, and explanations, and in many I show animations; I also encourage students to ask questions and contribute relevant comments. My goal is to avoid penalizing students who may, for one reason or another, have to miss a class, but also to provide enough "added value" to make it worthwhile for students to attend.

What is your teaching style in lab?

I believe that lab should be driven mostly by the students, not by a "sage on the stage." I assign learning objectives and activities, and then circulate to respond to questions. For classes in which students will have to follow a written procedure, I usually give a pre-quiz to ensure that students have read the procedure before lab.

For anatomy and physiology, the approach is a bit different, and quizzes are at the end of the lab. More than most subjects, anatomy involves memorization. The body's parts are referred to by formal names derived from Latin or Greek roots, and there are literally thousands of parts. The only way to learn these parts is to interact with the material in some way: while I list them in lecture, ultimately, only working with them yourself will bring mastery. I generally recommend sketching and tracing the structures and labeling the sketches, and this is a common activity in lab. Expanding your understanding of the relationships among different structures by identifying them on a three dimensional model is also required. Any extra time you have in lab, you should use to master weak points or to work ahead. Paying for lab time and not using it is like paying for dinner and not eating it. On some days, instead of emphasizing anatomy, physiology is studied. Memorization is only a beginning for physiology: the goal is to understand the processes well enough to predict what will happen if a variable is changed. To practice this, we use computer-simulated experiments.

Why am I failing the course when others are doing well?

Those who are doing better than you may (A) have more time to study, or (B) may have a better foundation. The "foundation" for science courses include an excellent memory, very good reading comprehension with attention to detail, and skill at solving puzzles. The foundation also includes excellent time management and will-power, since study at home, without supervision, is absolutely required.

This is my third attempt at this course: will I pass this time?

This depends on why you failed it twice, and on whether that has changed. If you repeat the course without fixing the problem that caused you to fail, then unfortunately, no, you will not pass this time either.

I'm not good at test-taking. Why aren't there other components to the grade?

Most students plan to continue their education after passing these courses. Advanced courses in science and medicine all require test-taking skills, and their instructors assume that students who reach their courses have mastered test-taking. It is a skill that you should develop now, not later. (The Student Success Center offers seminars and advice on developing test-taking skills which may help you to master this necessary skill.)

You've seen how hard I worked in this course. Can't I get some credit for effort?

This field is a foundation for a medical career. In medicine, only knowledge and ability matter. "I worked really hard to save your husband's life," can never substitute for, "I saved your husband's life." I do sympathize, but credit for effort would be unethical.

I've failed this course three times! What do I do now?

Each person has unique talents. A fantastic musician might have made a horrible doctor, while the world's best surgeon might have made a horrible accountant. Medical and scientific careers requre an excellent memory (to learn the many terms) and skill at solving puzzles (to be able to predict how changes in one physiological or biological variable will affect others). In addition, the sheer effort required to master such complex fields requires extensive study at home, without supervision. They also require lots of time. If you have a poor memory, dislike puzzles, don't have much time outside of your job(s), or prefer to have constant guidance as you study, it may be that you have chosen a career path that does not match your talents.

I work two jobs and have a family - do I have to come to class and do homework to do well in this course?

If you don't have time to do what it takes to succeed, my advice would be to save your tuition money until things in your life are less hectic. There are times in life when we want to do something that we simply don't have time to do. Mother Nature forces us to make a choice. There are only 24 hours in a day, and so there is only so much that a person can do.

Why is this course so hard? (Why can't this course be spread over three or four semesters? Why do we have to have cumulative exams? ... or, for A&P: Why do I have to study physiology, can't it just be "A" instead of "A&P?" Why do we use PhysioEx?)

Several years ago, I received the following email from an "A" student who had graduated and entered nursing school:

'When I was at CCBC I thought that A&P was hard! I did not understand why I had to know all that I had to know. I enjoyed the anatomy of the course, but found myself hating the physiology of it all. ...

Well, reality has struck!! There is no whining in nursing school, because no one hears you.

.... The anatomy goes hand and hand with the physiology. ... Anatomy can be memorized, physiology must be understood. ... In my A&P courses, I could memorize my notes and pass the class, but that did not indicate my understanding of the material. It is important to understand and be able to apply the information, not [just] memorize it.'

While that student commented on A&P and nursing, much the same could be said for any introductory science course and upper level program. Students often suggest that we change the courses to make them easier by splitting them into more semesters or by cutting out material, by offering lots of little tests so that material could be learned and then quickly forgotten, by giving take-home assignments, by grading for effort, and so on. These courses, however, are intended to be "practice" for upper level courses in science and medicine. Students who pass them will be expected by later instructors to have mastered the study and time management skills that would make such suggestions unnecessary, and our job is to make sure that this expectation is correct. (Actually, you will forget many of the facts which you learn ... but you will keep the ability to learn quickly and under pressure for the rest of your life. It may be the most valuable skill you gain in your college years!)

Why do you "just read your slides?"

I use PowerPoint in response to student demand. In past semesters I have not, and students criticized me loudly and angrily for NOT making my lectures available in case they had to miss a class. I agreed to these requests and wrote what I was saying in PowerPoint. I've discovered that there is no way to please everyone on this point! Some students believe that there is no need to come to lecture when the PowerPoint slides are on WebCT, but I don't "just read my slides." In every class I try to add analogies, mnemonics, stories, and explanations, and in many I show animations, and so I hope that you will still find it useful to attend.

How does anyone get an "A" in A&P!?

Awhile back, a student who "aced" both semesters of A&P sent me a note that included the following answer to that question, and I think it pretty much says it all:
When I studied Lecture and Lab together, it not only helped me understand what I was reading, it also helped me remember the concepts. Associating foreign concepts (since I do not have a science background,) with a visual image makes the concept real and almost easy to understand. Looking over the Lab Sheets the night before class enabled me to use my Lab-time to it's fullest, as I would have a basic understanding entering Lab and I was able to ask questions to clarify what I wasn't able to get on my own. Once I completed the assignment for that day I would use the extra Lab-time to go over the material from other chapters that I didn't know so well using models and microscopes. If I needed even more Lab-time I would stay for the second Lab or come an additional morning or afternoon and someone from the science department would open the Lab for me or take out a model for me to study by the table next to your office [so that I could ask questions. <paraphrased>] I don't know how it would have been possible for me to do well on the tests without having spent all that time studying...

The chapters [for which] I spent the time going over the Review Questions before we learned the material in class, I had a much greater comprehension of after you taught it. By the time I got to class, it wasn't foreign anymore, you just clarified the understanding I already had. This helped me tremendously before a test, as I did not have to cram in information I never looked at! I just had to review it (and then cram the other chapters I didn't look at). Memorizing the difficult words from Lecture and Lab made it so much easier for me to label and learn what they do. When the words were not in my vocabulary I felt like I was reading a different language... which is practically impossible to memorize, let alone understand!