School of Health Sciences introduces “discovery learning”

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Excelsior College recently introduced the first hands-on lab for the School of Health Sciences. As of August 2015, the College now offers two Anatomy and Physiology (A & P) labs, HSC105L and HSC 106L. Each is a one credit course for undergraduate students, focused on the study of bodily systems. Excelsior Life recently sat down with Lisa Rapple, School of Health Sciences faculty program director, and Dr. Scott Benton, developer of this new course, to discuss how this online course will provide students the unique opportunity to use all their senses as they learn about human anatomy.

Excelsior Life: Can you tell us about this new course? Benton: Students can use these one credit labs as companion labs to our current A & P courses or they can be taken as stand-alone one credit anatomy courses. Each course focuses on a different cohort of human anatomy body systems. These courses are unique in that we are teaching students at a distance (all over the world) in a laboratory setting.

Students receive a customized lab kit which they use to set up a full-fledged laboratory in their home to safely conduct experiments and lab specimen dissections. They work with the faculty and other students in an online classroom where they meet to collaborate, troubleshoot, and more fully understand what they have learned from these experiments.

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Excelsior Life: Where do the animals come from? Rapple: These animals were not raised for the purpose of dissection; they are a byproduct of the food industry. These specimens would be discarded were they not reutilized for educational purposes.

Excelsior Life: How does this course work? Rapple: The course is 8 weeks long. Students are based in the secure learning management system of the college, just as they are with any of our courses. Each week the class studies a different body system. The students meet asynchronously in a discussion forum to share what they are learning, how the experiments are going, what results are they seeing, and to support one another just as they would in a face-to-face lab. The students conduct the experiments using specific step-by-step guidance and pictures. We have a very interactive faculty who are readily available for questions. eScience is also available 24/7 for students that may need an item replaced or a question about any of the materials in the kit or guidance in handling the materials.

Students are completing a lab report each week as they work on the experiments and then submit these lab reports for grading and feedback from the instructor.

Excelsior Life: Who would be interested in taking this course? When do you need to register for course by? Benton: Anyone who is a tactile, visual learner, inquisitive, and loves to explore how things work. I think this type of learner would really enjoy this learning experience. If someone needs just one or two credits, this might be something interesting. You do not need to take the A & P course to participate in the lab.

Rapple: Anyone can register during the regular registration period. We are closing the course for late registration on August 21, 2015, because we want to insure that students have their kits in their hands by the time they need it for the course. Registration for Fall II is open until October 16. The first week, if the kit has not arrived, the students will be able to complete the work because, as was said earlier, the first week is focused on learning the safety procedures and lab set up.

Excelsior Life: Who teaches this course? Rapple: Excelsior College’s School of Health Sciences boasts a highly-qualified and experienced faculty that teaches the A & P courses. This same faculty will be teaching the laboratory courses. Most faculty have PhDs in the sciences and many years of experience in teaching anatomy and physiology. Additionally the faculty have experience in teaching anatomy labs. Just as important, the faculty are highly skilled in teaching at a distance, highly involved with the students, and the online classroom. Faculty know that this is a 100 level course and students learning experience is enhanced by the facilitation and guidance, so they are very present in discussions and available for one-on-one support.

Excelsior Life: Are there step-by-step guides for students who might be concerned with doing labs at home? Benton: Absolutely! Just as with any hands-on lab, be it on a campus or at a distance, we stress safety first. eScience is the company that we partnered with to supply the custom kits and website support. We have integrated their well-tested safety lessons and materials into the learning management system where the students are working. Students start out week one viewing a safety video, locating all safety materials like MSDS sheets (material safety data sheets), and safely setting up their home lab.

In choosing the materials for the kit, eScience was very careful to limit the amount of fluids and to use non-caustic substances. The preserved specimens are not like days of old when formaldehyde was used. The preservation of the specimens is done with substances that are non-caustic.

Excelsior Life: What is the cost of this lab and what is included in kit? Rapple: The kit includes a CD of the Student Lab Book and the cost is around $230. It can be used for both lab courses. Shipping is additional.

Excelsior Life: Does this one credit course have the ability to use the same kit for HSC106? Rapple: Students use the same kit for both lab courses, even household items, such as tape, markers, or paper clips. We don’t want the student distracted with looking for things, plus a student located somewhere other than home may not have these items available to them.

Excelsior Life: What is the difference between labs at a traditional college and the new course offered? Benton: Students who take these courses will have experiences that are very similar to taking the course in a traditional campus setting. Many traditional colleges use the same kits on campus that our students will be using in the convenience of their own homes. This online course offers a comprehensive kit, detailed instructions, and multiple levels of support provided by their instructor and eScience.

Excelsior Life: Do students and professor interact and share feedback? Rapple: One of the best learning experiences of the online classroom is the high interaction with other students and the knowledgeable faculty. This lab is no exception. We have been particularly cognizant of the lab having a very connected feeling to others. Working alone in a lab would not be a positive experience. Here the students are checking in with one another throughout the week. Being asynchronous you are always going to find another student or faculty available to answer a question, lend guidance, or just give some encouragement or feedback. There are many touch points in the courses that bring the students together with the other students and faculty.

Alicia Jacobs
About Alicia Jacobs 298 Articles
Alicia Jacobs is Excelsior College’s Director of Communications and Community Engagement. She responsible for internal communications, public and media relations, employee and community engagement. She assists with special projects, events, committees on behalf of the President's Office. Jacobs career includes television production, broadcast media, healthcare, renewable energy, sports & entertainment, hospitality and higher education. She is also an Emmy Award-Winning TV Producer. During her career, she has worked for three international charities. Her work with non-profits continues today as she leads community engagement initiatives for the College including the Annual Excelsior Cares Volunteer Week. Outside of work, Jacobs is community-minded. Jacobs is a graduate of the University at Albany and earned her Master of Arts, communication with concentration in public relations from Western New England University. She is also a graduate of Excelsior College's Leadership Academy.

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