Virginia Tech became the first four-year comprehensive university in Virginia to offer both the human anatomy and physiology lab and lecture delivered online during the 2011 summer sessions.
The university will offer the lab and lecture again during the 2012 summer sessions. While the lecture and lab enrolled 84 and 68 students, respectively, during the 2011 summer sessions, more than 81 students enrolled in the 2012 lecture and 59 for the lab.
This milestone has been long in the making, said Michael Herndon, director of University Summer Sessions, who began hearing from students interested in taking the course online in 2010. The face-to-face course, offered in two parts once a year, often sees enrollment of more than 500 students and is a required course for the human nutrition, foods and exercise major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. This course is also widely popular for pre-med students, in addition to those pursuing the fields of physical therapy, dentistry, nursing, and veterinary medicine.
“This is an exceedingly popular course with heavy enrollment of students from diverse disciplines including human nutrition, foods, and exercise; biological sciences, psychology/sociology; biochemistry; chemistry; human development; and even engineering,” said S. Ansar Ahmed, head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.
The demand for the course — coupled with the desire for it to be offered more than once a year — led Herndon to the idea of offering the first part of the two-part course online during the summer sessions. “It made sense for Virginia Tech to be the pioneer in the expanding the reach of the course to students across the commonwealth and beyond — a course that has a solid track record of enrollment success,” Herndon said.
In 2011, Herndon partnered with the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning’s instructional designers to prepare the class for online delivery.
Terri Gillian, an instructor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, was approached to teach the course, after instructing the classroom course for three years. Compressing complex course material into a six-week summer semester would require students to immerse themselves completely in the course to be successful, Gillian said. “Such immersion can give students a deeper appreciation for the topic and allow them to make stronger connections to the material,” she said.
Gillian said she had a healthy dose of nerves while developing a deeply-rooted traditional course in the online environment. Being one of the first her peers to do so, she could not draw upon the experience of others. “Before starting the course, I was worried about all the potential problems that could arise in launching a new online class of such a large size. For the most part, everything went very smoothly.”
Gillian uses McGraw Hill’s Anatomy and Physiology Revealed software, which features an interactive cadaver dissection tool that students to peel back layers and as if they are part of a dissection.
“I feel like the students draw a lot out of the virtual dissections and come away with a good understanding of human anatomy and physiology,” she said.
Students gain hands-on experiences equivalent to those in a face-to-face lab through customized LabPaqs developed by Hands-On Labs Inc. These experiences included touching the skeleton bones and viewing tissue slides under the microscope. Several instructors in the College of Science are working with Hands-On Labs for their introductory online classes, the first of which also launched summer 2011.
Gillian said she wants to fold in new elements to the course, such as more videos and building upon the discussion board feature.
She said she is excited about more and more students embracing the online delivery. Several students have requested that the second half of the course be taught online, which now is only offered in a face-to-face setting during the spring semester, she said.
“I liked the fact that I could take this online course over the summer to stay on schedule toward my degree,” said Katie Lake, a junior from Mechanicsburg, Pa., majoring in biological sciences. “I would advise that if your summer is completely busy to really think whether you can put the time and effort in to this class because the material is very in depth and taught in a short amount of time.”
University Summer Sessions, a department within the Division of Undergraduate Education, is launching the inaugural Virginia Tech Summer Academy during summer 2012. It will allow first-year students to get a jump-start on their college experience.
Instead of waiting until fall, participants will move to campus in July 2012. They will select one of 13 learning tracks, each consisting of two classes. In addition, special workshops and activities will be offered to immerse students in university life.
For more information, visit the Virginia Tech Summer Academy website.
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