modifying the process, not the outcome: part two.

I am a mess at making series properly. I’ll provide background, but for full context…
Related posts:
Modify the process, not the outcome: Assessment results. . . and hope | March 23, 2013
Modifying the process: Part one | April 3, 2013 
Beyond expectations | September 9, 2013
—–

This one time, I failed anatomy. You know how many people fail anatomy? Lots. You know how many medical students fail anatomy? Lots. As I discovered after googling “failed anatomy”. So, after that I wasn’t too fazed by my first F in university. I mean, it’s anatomy, I didn’t really even expect to come close to passing the first time, it was like the experience round.

Except then, this other time, I failed anatomy again (and social psych, the only other class I was in at the time), and I was not cool with that at all.

Then I was diagnosed with learning and attention issues, and was handed a report that literally says, in part, that I am “not suitable for visual learning” and “therefore, finding ways to have information presented through other means may be [of considerable help].” and to “[…] be mindful that subjects that require an abundant amount of visual learning, such as understanding graphs, charts, and diagrams may be a challenge […]” (Wang, 2013).

Key word there is understanding graphs, charts, and diagrams. That says nothing of the abundance of memorization and application of [memorized] knowledge required to pass Human Anatomy. Yes, a lot of people struggle with these things—anatomy is by no means an easy course for most people (there are some people who are wizards, however, and I cannot explain them). Except not only was it simply extremely difficult for me, I then learned after two terms of extreme frustration that I am pretty much not even wired to do it—especially, at least, not in the format they were providing.

 help me if you can, it’s just that this is not the way i’m wired so could you please, help me understand…

the outsider, a perfect circle

I took this knowledge alongside my recent registration with Accessibility Services to chat with Dave, the Department Chair of Kinesiology. At the time, program requirements for my degree kept changing, so I made a few swap requests which he took to the departmental review committee for approval—two of the requests were approved. The swap of anatomy to physiology, though, was not, as “the department feels it’s important for all of our grads to have human anatomy”. I don’t disagree, but with documentation like the above, it sucked to hear. I had a meeting scheduled with Dave to follow the e-mails, and when I asked if we needed to keep the meeting, the Associate Dean of Kinesiology, Glen, replied, “I think we should still meet to discuss how you are going to handle the Human Anatomy requirement.”

Pause right here to note that Glen has a PhD in Human Anatomy, 30+ years of teaching experience, and a reputation for being awesome. So I was kind of like “Okay, see you Monday.”

I’m pretty sure this was the day he said for the first time “We’ll get you through anatomy, whether I have to help you through, or drag you through.” Yes, dragging apparently can be a thing. I was expecting . . . not nearly as much as he had worked out. I left the meeting with him saying, “Let’s get you through this and get you out of here.”

This was September. I started anatomy in January, for the first time with accommodations (and my iPad).

By three weeks in, I was meeting with Glen once or twice a week. He would quiz me, attempt to figure out how to make things stick in my brain. We’d go sit with a model in the athletic therapy lab, or in the anatomy lab, or around my iPad and binder of notes from the instructor. Beyond this, I was making anatomy a full time job (on top of two other classes and a part-time job, and a contract project with the Asthma Society). A week before the midterm, week 5, I texted him this picture:

Yes, that’s a 3/10 there. 30%. Despite everything we were throwing at this, well, it sucks when your best simply isn’t good enough. I met with Glen the next day—we intended to meet in the open lab session to study, but given that lab quiz result a mere three days before the exam, we took a detour and took over one of the kinesiology instructor’s offices instead.

“Well, I told you that we’d get you through this, whether I had to help you or drag you,” (yes, this was probably more dragging than anticipated) “I know you’re working hard. What’s not working? What can we do to get you through this?”

My brain isn’t working, that’s what. “If I knew, I wouldn’t be almost-failing again.”

Back to the drawing board. We talked about the lab quizzes—the big issue in previous terms, and becoming the (an) issue in this one. We’d already accommodated those by having me do the lab quizzes before lab with the lab demo before my weekly labs so that the time component (quickness required in having the models move by me too fast). Since this was my only form of assessment thus far, it was the one that needed to be addressed. We also covered what, exactly, the struggle was for me outside of processing speed: visual memory. It was just too much for me to be able to hold that information in my head, and manipulate it to get the correct answer without any sort of visual guide to work with. I tried to explain more about this, but three days before the exam I was just really stressing and emotional (I was thankful that the office we borrowed contained Kleenex). Fortunately, to an extent, he got it; he said again that he knew I was working hard, but that things just weren’t working. After three attempts, I knew that I knew more than I was able to demonstrate. Sometimes lab questions involved the model being partly covered and flipped in another direction, and being asked “Does this bone belong to the left or right side of the body?” So not only would I have to figure out the bone from it being partly covered and oriented bizarrely, I had to flip it around in my head and identify the side or structure in question.

He rolled with it. He first contemplated with me whether oral quizzes would be better—except, writing’s not the problem (he’s seen this blog—he knows that now :]). Well, if writing’s not the problem, then, it was decided we’d eliminate the lab quiz aspect altogether, and then assess me in a way that worked with that. He took the reigns and simply pulled me from lab quizzes—the grades thus far were thrown out. Instead, I submitted weekly 1-2 page papers on an aspect we covered in anatomy that week to cover that portion of my grade. We also agreed that I would be allowed to sign out the lab models to work more with them at home, because by my 4:30-6:30 lab time, with all the potential chaos on lab, I simply wasn’t able to absorb enough in that allotted time to make a difference.

Then, of course, I was brought back to earth with, “This doesn’t help that you have a midterm on Friday.”
“Yeah, I have one tomorrow too that I haven’t even started studying for, since I’ve been trying to keep my head above water in anatomy.”

With that he told me he was deferring my midterm and to “get the hell out of lab and go study”, and he would talk to my instructor about the new plan of action. He met me briefly outside the lab after I’d gotten my stuff to discuss when I’d write the midterm (since the next week was Reading Week), but since I had test accommodations with Accessibility Services, I didn’t need anybody to invigilate so I got the “Oh, you can write whenever you want!” response again (like I’d gotten in the Fall when my instructor approved a midterm deferral in Sport in the Ancient World because once-upon-a-time-my-uterus-tried-to kill-me-except-it-failed). We also briefly discussed that we’d have to figure out how we were handling the final lab exam, but we’d deal with that after the midterm. Tutoring was also basically off the table (which we hadn’t implemented yet aside from working with Glen), as were my study sessions with Glen beyond if I had specific questions. In reality, if the sessions with him weren’t working, I think we’d be hard-pressed to find many tutors who could help. As much as this man knows anatomy, he’s an educator through-and-through in my perspective :).

I wrote the midterm a week after the rest of my class, on the Thursday of Reading Week (since I had a project deadline the Sunday of Reading Week with the Asthma Society). I got my test mark back a couple weeks later—53%.

I was all

My instructor was all “How do you feel about that?” “AWESOME. I PASSED.”

These people really didn’t understand I was serious when I said “I just want a D.”

Glen, however, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I was (I mean, I maybe was overzealously excited about my bare-pass, but SO?): 

I have looked at you midterm exam and it is unfortunate to see that you were not able to score better (42/80). […]
 
You had difficulty with almost every part of the exam except for the short answer questions.  You had the most difficultly with the Charts section which gave you one or two clues from which you had to determine the anatomical structure being asked for.  Similarly you had difficulty with the diagram section which I would have thought you have done well with given the drawing you were doing on your iPad.

[This] exam is challenging in that it calls for information that is gained by memorization, visualization, conceptualization and functionality.  I think you did well in the  functionality portion of the exam (short answers) but had the most trouble with the visualization aspect (relation of now structure to the other, charts based on one or two clues, diagrams).
 
Not sure where we go from here.  Do you have any suggestions?  Who in disability services are you working with?
[Note: The charts are torture.]

Of course, I was like “WHAT I DID AWESOME” (there’s no punctuation in my brain), and told him that. Except at this point, we not only moved forward with the alternative assessment in labs, we got Accessibility Services in on the shenanigans once more, and Jess had a lot of good suggestions on how we could work with the lab component for the final. For the finals, we eventually decided that we’d do a modified format to both the final written [lecture] and lab [bellringer] exams (more on that shortly).

I kept pushing through—I had, fortunately, also made two friends in the course, helpful in working through the labs with and teaching each other, and also having people to study with outside of labs (…”The articulating end of the radius is conCAVE because that’s where the radial bear lives!” Merry: It clearly worked!). I studied my ass off, with Merry and Ashley, and by myself: with a pile of pencil crayons and coloured pens, many killed trees (sorry trees, blame anatomy), Quizlet and other online flashcards, and $50+ worth of iPad apps to try to get smart things into my brain one last time. I asked initially if there was a way I could get into the lab to use the models more often (since we had so few open lab sessions in a term and were only really allowed to use models during our lab times) but with limited availability of people to provide supervision, I ended up getting permission to take models home. I’d like to say it helped, but I’m also realistic about the amount of information from visual input my brain actually is useful for.

With a now 175% time accommodation for tests, I asked if I could write one exam Monday [two days before the day my class was scheduled to write] and one on Wednesday [the same day as the rest of the class], as otherwise I’d be writing for like 9 hours on a single day, which all parties agreed to—I was no longer writing the same exams as my class, so this was no longer an issue. I did my lab exam in a way similar to the class, except through flash cards and without a per-question time limit, and formatted in multiple choice to reduce the number of variables in front of me (the traditional bellringer allows students one minute per station with an open-ended question and most times a sticker on the model identifying the structure in question. The model can’t be touched). For the lecture exam, I was provided a multiple choice/fill-in-the-blank/true-false exam created by Glen and based on the class exam, and allowed a very simple, un-detailed, un-labelled diagram to use simply to orient myself to the questions.

(I spent much of the night before my final lab exam doing this, above—I have no clue if it helped, though!)

The lecture exam went okay, or so I thought, except for the amount of lower-body questions (what we had covered on the midterm) that I hadn’t realized were going to be on there. The lab exam? I was freaking out even prior to it starting, because of my difficulty on the lecture exam. The epitome of all this? If I failed anatomy, I wouldn’t graduate in June. From Facebook, Jess in accessibility services knew how hard I’d been working, and told me so while I was waiting—she asked me how I was doing and when I almost broke down, she asked if I wanted to go talk in her office. I basically knew if I did this, I’d lose it and declined, so she said to come see her or go take a walk during the exam if I needed to. Of course, the exam was kind of an emotional disaster—I have never cried during an exam before, but this was the one. I spent some time staring at the ceiling and eating a Rice Krispie square to calm myself down; I knew I could leave and take a break, but I also knew if I did, I wouldn’t want to go back in, so I kept going. 

I finished the exam, and went to see Jess, who got the whole anatomy-related breakdown (and was awesome about it, because she’s always awesome), and assured me that if I didn’t pass we’d figure things out, and regardless I’d worked really hard. I went out for lunch and then as I was waiting for the bus, got a text from Glen saying “Check your e-mail – good news :)”. 

Turns out, four minutes was too long for him to wait for a reply to his e-mail.

 

Anatomy = PASSED.

A photo posted by kerri (@kerriontheprairies) onApr 4, 2014 at 3:58pm PDT

77% on the bell ringer? Yeah, my brain just about exploded because that’s the thing I’ve failed hardcore the last two times.

Final grade? C+.

Yes, I had some pretty awesome people on my team. Some very awesome people. But, I didn’t work any less hard than I worked other terms: in fact, I probably worked harder, but also more effectively. The style of my assessment was heavily modified, of course, but in no way was I handed this grade: after the exam, I texted Glen to thank him for all of the work and hours he invested in me, he replied “No thanks required, you earned it” (thanks were still totally required); he told me the same when I took him cupcakes one day in May to [attempt to!] thank him. Not only did I potentially work harder than many of my classmates (who possibly received better grades), I worked that much harder for the second time (the first time through was the first time through, really—many people have two attempts at anatomy).

Accommodations don’t give an advantage—they level the playing field. I know this, and the people on my team know this. I just hope that other people realize it, too. Sometimes, students would ask about certain things, accommodations I had, and say “I wish I had that”—I wish I could use the instructor’s notes/have a volunteer note-taker; I wish I could write tests in a private space; I wish I had electronic textbooks. An honest response, yes, but one that is not well thought out: I wish that I could spend the normal amount of time reading a chapter and taking notes, not one or the other; I wish I had a GPA higher than 2.8; I wish I knew the right technology to access earlier.

Mostly, I wish I knew earlier what I know now. That I have a learning disability and ADHD, that it’s a part of who I am, and that I can work with this.

Maybe it took a bit more time, but I accomplished what I set out to accomplish—and that’s what is important: learning and attention issues or not.

My cousin Dean and I—I still got to graduate 24 hours before him.

Photo credit to Linda Mikulik.

an interview with bryan penfound (@pencentre): twitter in the classroom.

Though he has never, to my recollection, asked how I found him, my cousin Dean is in a math class with an interesting twist.  It has a hashtag, thus making tweeting through class permissible.

I may not really know my multiplication tables, or remember anything about trigonometry, or be able to correctly execute the order of operations reliably. But I know that in-class tweeting is something that I quite dig, as evidenced by my own Twitter feed.

Bryan Penfound is the instructor who brought math and Twitter together at my university (and the other night posted about what it would look like if a person fell into a volcano).  I may not like math, but in the last week or so engaging with Bryan on Twitter has been super fun.  He agreed to share some thoughts on using Twitter in higher education here today, and with that, I will let him introduce himself!

—–

Bryan ziplining.
Hi Bryan! How are you?
I am excellent. Just played a decent round of DDR so I’m focused and ready to go! What about your day so far?
Fantastic! I’m doing well, thanks! Care to tell us a bit about yourself?
Aside from being an avid gamer, I enjoy teaching mathematics now and then. I currently teach for the math department at the University of Winnipeg, and for the International College of Manitoba. When it comes to my background in mathematics, I received my B.Sc. from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and my M.Sc. from the University of Manitoba. I have been teaching at the instructor level for about 4 years.Aside from my first and second true loves (Yes, I am taken – sorry readers! Although I will let you decide if mathematics comes first or second! :P), I have an interest in insects, yoga, chocolate-covered anything, puppies and Starbucks. I dislike drivers who don’t know how to merge properly, that feeling of sand drying to your skin after swimming, mosquito bites, people who don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” and waiting in line.
Okay, the Starbucks and the differentiation between you’re/your have it sealed why we click! Back to the beginning, what got you engaged in Twitter, and what were your first thoughts?
Well, I never really used Twitter that much at first. I just used it to follow my idols, like Justin Bieber. But then getting all of their updates was a little annoying, and I felt that I could never have as many fan-girls as them on Twitter, so I stopped using for a quite some time. Then when I bought my smartphone last fall, the Twitter app got me back in business.
It seems like many people have a first aversion to Twitter following sign up–I know I had one!  I’m happy you got back on board.  What sparked your choice to integrate Twitter into your classes?
I have been searching for the right social media to use for class updates for some time. A couple of years ago I used a Facebook page to keep my students updated, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. If I had been teaching multiple courses this would have meant multiple pages for multiple courses.As I was designing my course website over the winter break, I realized there was a Twitter widget to display tweets, and I was sold. It snowballed from there to include a live twitter feed projected during class time as well.
Very cool! How do you feel it works?
By far, Twitter is the best social media I have ever used for keeping my class updated with course announcements. Many students either had Twitter, or signed up for Twitter once they realized they were able to tweet during class. Having a running hashtag #math2106 and #math1102 (check ’em out) is both easy and effective. Perhaps I should take a few lines to explain the premise of Twitter for those who don’t know. Users, once registered, will have access to a main page. In this main page you can view all the tweets from anybody you are following. So if my students follow me, their class updates come to their main page and are easily viewed. Another neat aspect of Twitter is that conversations can also include “hashtags” (#) which effectively sew a bunch of tweets together that contain the same hashtag. By clicking a hashtag, one can view all the previous tweets containing that hashtag. For instance, if you search the #math2106 hashtag, you will see tweets from my Intermediate Calculus class.One of the best parts of the whole set-up is that students don’t need a Twitter account to keep updated in my course. Students can click the hashtag related to their course and they are sent to that page with all of the tweets containing the hashtag – and this page includes all of my updates! So students can choose to check out the updates at any time they wish.
I feel like the constant real-time aspect of Twitter really helps with engagement, but also in the fact that you can go back over certain information at a later point–I would love tweeted reminders about things, since I have the tendency to throw reminders amongst my notes . . . possibly never to be seen again!
 
What kind of reactions have you had from your students about having to use Twitter for math class? :]
I knew it was going to be an interesting semester when the first tweet I got on the projector was “Should we get #math1102 trending?” Thank you to Ian G. for that one. My upper-year students were even more excited than the first-years – believe it or not! I did have some skeptical faces at the beginning of the semester, but with me portraying a positive attitude and with some help from a handful of tweeters in my classes, it has become a success. It has really opened the door for much more collaboration and discussion in math class, which is a subject that is usually not viewed in this way.
Proof to the power of positivity . . . in everything! I wondered the same thing myself when I heard your classes were on Twitter–how it would spark discussion/collaboration in a math class, as opposed to something arts-related which is typically fairly opinion-driven. So, to me, that’s totally an unexpected bonus of Twitter integration.
What is the most unexpected thing you’ve found when integrating social media and education?
Honestly, everything so far has been unexpected! I never expected to have an experience like the one I am having this term. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of using Twitter is the classroom display. Being able to tweet during class might make teachers believe that Twitter is a distraction. Let me be the first to say that it is an excellent distraction! Disclaimer: once you get your students started, they will not be afraid to speak their mind! They will let you know if the last example you gave was too difficult, or if it needs some more explanation. Too many tweets might mean the material is too easy, or way over their heads. Whatever the case, you, as a teacher, now have invaluable insight into the minds of your students.Of course, a live Twitter feed during class can lead to distracting comments. The odd student will find a great opportunity to make an hilarious comment. But it is never often enough to distract from the overall pace of the lecture. Personally, since I have long lectures, I tend to point out the witty comments so that the whole class can laugh and take a short mental break. Having one or two of these per lecture is nice and keeps everyone more focused. Also, I find it helps me build a stronger relationship with my class – if they see me engaging their tweets and being easy-going about it, they are more likely to feel comfortable approaching me if they are having any concerns in the course.
I think the hilarious comment avenue is just typical for discussion in any forum–I cannot tell you, especially in kinesiology, how many of these happen in my classes! I feel like a kin class with a hashtag would be pure madness, but I’d still love to see it happen.  Any advice to instructors looking to get started integrating social media, like Twitter, into their classes?
Start slowly. It is very easy to get excited about trying new methods of instruction, and jumping in head-first will wear you out quickly! Find one new item that you would like to try in a future class, and do some research. It took me several weeks to get used to the various symbols and ways to tweet. After that, it took me about a month to think about the best way to implement the social media. It is not enough just to use the media, there must be an underlying purpose too!
Do you engage in any higher education Twitter chats/hashtags or have any resources to recommend?
I don’t regularly get involved in higher education hashtags, although I do follow some of the educational Youtubers – Destin from Smarter Everyday, James Grime from Numberphile, Michael from Vsauce and ViHart to name a few. One of my twitter highlights this term was getting a retweet from Destin about his “decoy” spider from the Amazon (really cool if you like bugs – I own a tarantula, her name is Charlotte).
One resource that I am trying out this term is called TopHat Monocle. It is an alternative to the iClicker system, where students use their smartphone, tablet or laptop in class to submit answers to questions the instructor poses. I use the feedback I get from my students to spark classroom discussion about certain topics. It also lets the students see how they compare with the rest of the class. It definitely comes highly recommended from me.
I love that you have a tarantula named Charlotte! Can she come for coffee with us? (Would Starbucks think that is weird?). Also the name TopHat Monocle cracks me up every time I see it on your feed (I cannot recall if he wears a monocle, but it reminds me of the Monopoly man for some reason).
On the topic of random, since we seem to have veered over here unexpectedly thanks to that spider-segway . . . Thoughts on that random girl who always engages on your class’s hashtag? 😉 [“She doesn’t even go here!”]
I think it is awesome that you “tweet-bomb” my class! Sometimes all it takes is one person to get the Twitter feed going, and you definitely have a knack for that! Sadly, it also lead to the most embarrassing moment of the term so far when I had to admit that I forgot the Mean Girls quote “She doesn’t even go here!” and my students had to explain it to me…
It is amazing how many Mean Girls references happen in University classes [we had one in my Physical Activity Promotion and Adherence class last year!]. Truly an epic movie :). Off topic . . . but completely on the topic of Twitter, what’s your favourite Motion City Soundtrack song?
Definitely “Happy Anniversary” from their newest album Go. It’s pretty dark and peppy – exactly what I love in a song. It is about a couple, and from the point of view of one member of that couple who is dying and trying to say all the things he/she wants to say before going. It is also a bit ironic, since it probably isn’t a happy anniversary for the other person who has to deal with the death of their loved one… Definitely get the tissues.
Will have to check it out–I’m sure I’ll cry all over it :].  Dark and peppy is how I roll too.
Any final thoughts?
Just wanted to say thank you again for a cool opportunity to discuss social media and education! Anyone who is interested in more information from me, or who is interested in giving me some feedback/pointers can find me on Twitter: @pencentre I’m always ready to tweet.

—–

Thanks, Bryan!  Have I ever told you how rad your username is? I had a ton of fun with this . . . and look forward to continued Twitter-shenannigans with you in the near-future!