I iteratively taught this course over the span of 8 years in online, face-to-face, and hybrid formats.
Course sizes ranged from 10 to 350 students. For larger sections, I formed teams of undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants (TAs) to ensure that students got the best learning experience. Since I always went to smaller schools, I know the value of feeling like you matter. Having teams of TAs was one of the best ways to make those huge classes seem a little bit smaller!
I developed this course to teach learners how to form and practice explicit, specific, individual learning strategies. This course was born from a combination of three factors:
The literature showed an obvious disconnect between college students' and professors' expectations. What worked for students in high school will not likely help them excel in college. They have to see this for themselves after struggling for a year or so (this experience is crucial to improvement).
My research. In grad school, I studied how undergraduate students learned science information from texts and video lectures. Let's just say that most students don't know how to properly learn, let alone how to improve their skills.
My observations. My assessments showed that students often had misconceptions about what is required of them in a quality learning experience. Some could give me textbook explanations about what constitutes as "good learning," but were still at a loss when it came to examining their own strategies.
My role was to make explicit the disparities between students' expectations and performances across multiple skill sets. I then coached them through a discovery process, how to adopt a growth mindset, and selecting appropriate learning tools in future courses. To do this, students engaged in daily readings, reflections, discussions, and assessments.
Learners of all backgrounds, goals, majors, and walks of life were invited to enroll. While some students aimed to achieve an A+ in all of their classes, others just wanted to pass math. This course was about honoring individuals' needs rather than prescribing an all-or-none philosophy.
Although I teach an entire course on learning strategies, I infused my other courses with helpful learning tips. Here is an email from a student who benefitted from such tips in a different class.
David is a former student who took my HTLIC course the first time it was offered. What set David apart was the fact that he continuously updated me on his progress the following semester! What a treat. David enrolled in my course because he was on academic probation and desperately needed to pass his math classes in order to continue at ASU. He not only exceeded these goals, but developed an entirely new relationship with education at large! I've received permission to share the following email screenshots with you.
David, if you see this, I'm still waiting on that cap and gown pic! 😉
Biopsychology is about exploring psychological phenomena through a biological lens. In my version of the course, we focused largely on the structure and function of cells in the central nervous system, relating these processes back to organisms' psychological experiences.
This class was usually filled with majors from neuroscience and psychology, but frequent fliers also included biology, education, criminology, and biomedical sciences.
After focusing extensively on the foundations of cellular structure and communication, some of the topics we usually covered included neurodevelopment, epigenetics, brain damage, learning & memory, sexual differentiation, emotions, sleep & consciousness, drugs, language, and psychiatric disorders.
Over the course of 7 years, I taught this class in online, face-to-face, and hybrid formats. In the latter years, I also flipped the in-person and hybrid versions and found excellent results. So rather than learning the content for the first time during lecture, students learned it on their own. Class was then used to apply the content, work on problems, engage in group work, and do in-class assignments.
"I learned that not only am I incredibly interested in the science of psychology, but that I am capable of learning that science. This class provided me the support and safe space to ask questions (both "stupid" ones and good ones!) which led me to realize that this is exactly where I want to be."
This senior- and graduate-level course was designed for students interested in the neuroanatomical correlates of psychological phenomena. Geared toward individuals who wanted wet-lab experience, it was one of the most difficult courses to teach. We mostly addressed structure (i.e., what is located where, and why) since function was covered in other courses (i.e., Physio/Bio Psych, Sensation & Perception, Cognitive Neuro, etc.). Almost 95% of students in the class had intentions to continue to medical school, graduate school, PA school, nursing degrees, or some other advanced degree. Sometimes the course was outfitted to accommodate graduate student enrollment simultaneously. Therefore, students who enrolled were usually masterful, critical thinkers and high-achievers.
I often receive emails from former students who are now excelling in their graduate, medical, or dental programs thanks to their learnings in Neuroanatomy!
Neuroanatomy is known for its wet dissection labs, but they were actually only a small portion of the activities I prescribed. During typical semesters, sheep brain and cow eye dissections made about half of the labs (which were always led by a graduate instructor). The rest of the semester was dedicated to behavioral experiments and learning to use open-source web tools.
"So far, everything in Dental School is literally a watered down version of your class. It allllll comes back! I'm so glad I took your class. I definitely have to go back to my notes to refresh my memory because these classes move VERY quick."
"After taking both Physiological Psychology and Neuroanatomy with Dr. Jennings, I have come to love the flipped classroom aspect of her teaching. I have had numerous teachers attempt this style in the past and they always failed. Dr. Jennings successfully flips the classroom by having us complete her Canvas pre-lecture assignments prior to class. In class, we go over any questions and further our knowledge of the anatomy with clinical application. Dr. Jennings is also the first neuroscience professor I have had that goes beyond the cellular study of neuroscience. How can we understand the importance of neuroscience without also relating it the behavioral impacts described in psychology? That is why these two schools of science are so intertwined. She does a wonderful job capturing both aspects in this class."
-Anonymous Course Evaluation Comment
"Hi Dr. Jennings, hope everything is going well with you, despite the craziness everywhere! I was a student of yours a couple semester back, and I'm now in medical school at Cooper in NJ. We just started our neuro block, and I've been going through your lectures as a supplementary resource. It jogged my memory about how much I enjoyed your class, especially because of the funny pictures/gifs and "El Quiz" lol. Just wanted to thank you for being an incredible professor in a field I am so interested in!"
"I just wanted to say thank you for creating one of the 3 (maybe 4) greatest classes I've taken at ASU. I think back to your Neuroanatomy on literally a weekly basis, and it is my go-to example of how a difficult class can be made fun and (almost) easy with the right teacher, presentation materials, and thoughtfully crafted exams. Oh, and I thought the extra-credit quizzes at the beginning of class were genius! It pains me that more professors have not implemented a similar strategy. They feel fair and rewarding from the students' perspective, and naturally promote learning by encouraging spaced repetition. And speaking of, the learning strategies you introduced me to in PSY 426 are still with me to this day, and I continue to use them with great success. I often try to teach them to my peers and younger brothers, with varying success, of course. I just really respect you as a teacher, I think about your class all the time, and I'd love it if you could write me a letter for this program. There're very few professors who, in my experience, genuinely treat teaching as an art and science they can constantly improve on. So whenever I took your class it really stuck with me, because you gave me a model of the sort of teacher I hope to be one day."
"I know you’re busy with finishing grades and whatnot, but I just wanted to say thank you for making a wonderful impact on my senior year, Dr. J. Without you, I surely wouldn’t be where I am today. Throughout my four years of college (between ASU and MCC), I was able to maintain all A’s (few minuses and several pluses) and will graduate with a solid 4.0 cumulative GPA. I can’t wait to walk on Tuesday and say to myself “I did this”. I am also beyond excited to begin my journey into grad school in August. I shadowed an OT on Wednesday and it was absolutely a wonderful experience. Autism in itself is such a unique behavioral disorder, and I really hope to change the lives of many kids down the road - whether it be therapy or research. I wouldn’t have done it with you - your positive mindset and belief in me went a very long way. Thank you for always believing in me."
"I hope this email finds you well! While studying for the MCAT I came across so many things we have learned in your class! I texted Will because we both laughed at the kluver Bucy syndrome when we learned it, and the meme also stuck in our heads so when I came across it I was like I know this! And I just came across korsakoff syndrome which we also talked abt and how thiamine deficiency plays a role in it! Thank you for teaching us and sticking through with us even though we looked dead and passed out in class. By far one of my most memorable and favorite classes!"