Grad designs completely online introductory anatomy class

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News
Photo of models of human body.

Non-traditional students benefit from the completely online lecture and lab.

KALAMAZOO—A Western Michigan University graduate has designed an online introductory anatomy and physiology class that requires no trips to an on-campus laboratory and employs both a virtual anatomy lab and hands-on lab assignments students can conduct at home.

Taylor Paskin, who graduated last June with a master's degree in biological sciences, stayed on as a part-time WMU instructor to originate the online course. Paskin had helped teach anatomy for three years as a graduate student, occasionally filling in as class instructor.

Other universities offer 100-level anatomy and physiology classes online, Paskin says, but most of them require a minimum of three or four trips to campus for laboratory work. In Paskin's class, students complete all labs at home.

A big challenge

Setting up the at-home lab sessions has been a challenge, Paskin says. In most science classes, students will often conduct three hours a week of hands-on experiments. Paskin spent a lot of time talking to representatives of various companies, but found options were limited and, in many cases, cost prohibitive.

"My main goal was to find a way that students could do hands-on lab experiments at home in a budget-friendly manner," Paskin says. "There are some options out there, but the lab for each student would have been $300 to $350 and that's not including their textbook."

Paskin was able to find a textbook that came with some basic lab tools for experiments. Additional materials could be easily purchased.

"They can do their labs at home with inexpensive ingredients that can be purchased at the store," Paskin says. "The lab experiments are elementary, but you understand in greater detail how it relates to physiology and how things actually work in the body."

Experiments range from analyzing the components of bones by noting the effects of vinegar on them to learning how joints and muscles work by dissecting a chicken. Students record their observations, draw conclusions and turn in their analysis.

In addition to the hands-on physiology experiments, students learn human anatomy by accessing a virtual anatomy lab. The program allows students to view and virtually interact with common lab specimens, including a human cadaver, anatomical models and histology.

Paskin says the class was very successful in the fall, and she is excited to run it again this semester and over the summer. She's identified and resolved some challenges and will continue to add and adjust supplemental material to provide students with the best possible online learning experience.

Non-traditional students

Most of the students in the fall class were in the general university studies program and were from the Southwest Michigan area, with one student enlisted in the Navy. Another lived in Ohio. Most of the students are non-traditional and found the class fit in well with their busy schedules. The class would be too basic for a student entering a scientific field, but was fine for students in other disciplines.

"A lot of students are not going into the sciences," Paskin says. "They're business majors or pursuing another field and they haven't been exposed to science since high school. Many students enrolled in the course have families and travel for their jobs. So it worked out great for them."

As for Paskin, she's going to continue teaching the class for now, but plans on pursuing her doctoral degree and hopes to one day teach at a university or community college.

"Developing and teaching this class has been a great experience for me," she says. "Science has always been my passion, and I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to teach others about the amazing complexity of the human body. The processing and communication that occurs inside the body to keep us alive is fascinating. I believe that whether or not you're going into the field of science, it's important for everyone to have a general understanding of what goes on inside the human body."