Dr Leanne Kenway, from the School of Medical Science, received a 2018 Griffith Learning and Teaching Citation for successfully designing and implementing two foundation year courses in Anatomy and Physiology delivered in mixed mode, intensively, that enhance student engagement and academic recovery.

We asked Leanne to tell us a bit more about her teaching practice and some of the strategies she has used for creating an active learning environment in a large foundation year course.

Dr Leanne Kenway

What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?

Witnessing student growth and helping them to develop of a love of learning inspires me to continue my own development as a teacher. I am particularly inspired by students who develop a newfound passion for studying anatomy! One of my highlights to date occurred when a repeating student started dancing in the laboratory with a smile from ear to ear. It was his ‘penny dropping’ moment – “Now I get it”!

I enjoy developing a rapport and forming a connection with my students – learning their names lets them know I am invested in their learning. This translates into increasing their motivation and engagement with course material, which further inspires me to optimise their learning experience.

I can offer unique insights during a student’s initial exposure to Anatomy and Physiology due to my clinical experience as a physiotherapist. I am able to provide them with real world examples gathered from my therapist-patient experiences, and I authenticate their learning, by using imagery to physically mimic motor changes occurring with various dysfunctions.

How have teaching practices in your discipline changed with the introduction of new technologies, and how has technology changed the way you interact and engage with your students?

Anatomy and Physiology Systems 1 and 2 have traditionally been offered to Foundation Year Health students in a didactic lecture format, incorporating active learning in a laboratory environment. I have redesigned and redeveloped these first-year courses, so that they are now also delivered intensively, and in mixed mode in subsequent trimesters. Students view their pre-recorded minilectures online prior to attending on-campus tutorials and laboratory sessions, and content is delivered across 6 weeks instead of 12. These courses support students commencing studies in T2 as well as those seeking academic recovery from T1. Online minilectures allow students the flexibility to interact with course content at their own pace, with face-to-face tutorials and a custom-designed tutorial workbook designed specifically to engage and support at-risk students, as well as assist new students with their organisation, aiming to enhance success in a fast-paced course.

New technologies offer flexibility and freedom to be creative in the design of the learning and teaching environment, and their adaptability allows me to cater for the diverse abilities and backgrounds of my students. Activities can be designed to allow students to progress at different levels of difficulty, offering support and challenges as needed.

With increasing student numbers and course offerings, anatomy laboratory space is at a premium, and students often have little opportunity for revision of cadaveric material after their allocated laboratory sessions. I have recently developed 3D digital cadavers of the Nervous System to supplement the laboratory sessions, providing students with a sustainable online tool for self-directed revision, enhancing student learning and engagement in a blended learning environment.

What strategies have you used for creating an active learning environment in a large foundation year course?

I aim to be responsive to the atmosphere of a given class and supportive of the unique personalities in our active learning environment; particularly encouraging those who might not have had the confidence to participate and collaborate in the past. As ~50% of my regular cohort are repeating students, levels of motivation, attention, focus and engagement may vary considerably from the high achievers or commencing students, needing consideration when designing a mixture of interesting learning activities to cater for all abilities.

Tutorials cater for ~80 students and are structured around discussion of questions contained within the tutorial workbook, clarifying threshold concepts, and encouraging students to work collaboratively in small groups during activities such as ‘Skeletal Scrabble’ focussing on anatomical terminology. Repeated testing through weekly in-class ‘Who Am I? quizzes helps consolidate learning. In addition, online activities aim to increase student engagement, including weekly online quizzes and the eTool containing 3D digital cadavers and associated learning activities to supplement laboratory sessions.

What have you learnt throughout your academic career about creating an engaging learning experience for students, and what have you learnt from experimenting with new approaches that didn’t quite work out?

It is important that the session is designed to stimulate student engagement, offering a variety of activities that support different learning styles in a diverse cohort. This course is offered in mixed mode, so students should have already engaged with lecture material online before attending tutorials, allowing more time to be allocated to active learning in the tutorial space. Activities should be short, purposeful and structured, yet varied, in order to maintain interest and maximise engagement, catering for both repeating and commencing students. Finding the right balance between achievable yet challenging activities can be quite difficult when teaching a diverse cohort. What might be stimulating for some students, may be too simple for others. In other cases, high level students engage with all resources on offer, craving more opportunities, where other students find completing the basic tasks a challenge.

Given it isn’t always easy to innovate within a learning and teaching context, what advice do you have for colleagues looking to try something new in their teaching?

I have been fortunate to benefit from group discussion amongst colleagues. I work within a supportive, collaborative learning and teaching environment in Foundation Year Health. Find friends and be brave! Don’t be disheartened initially if your ideas don’t come to fruition, it may be that the missing piece of your puzzle is just around the corner in the next corridor!

What is something new you are looking forward to trying in your learning and teaching practice over the next year or so?

I hope to build on the initial success of the 3D digital cadavers that were introduced this year. To date we have constructed online cadaveric brains, offering increased flexibility and accessibility to the laboratory learning environment, and enhancing student engagement. I hope to expand on this, adding to the library of cadaveric images and online activities – the human body has lots more parts to explore! In addition, I would like to consider adding resources to assist those students who have English as a second language.

What advice do you have for educators looking to enhance their teaching practice?

Be brave! Benefit from collaborative learning with inspiring peers and immerse yourself in the many workshops available to staff members from Learning Futures. There are nuggets of gold to be found in ExLNT (Explore Learning and Teaching), including EdTech helpful hints and Faculty Sparks from Griffith University Academics.