Transdisciplinary teaching in physiology to improve creative thinking

Arrigoni, Francesca (2021) Transdisciplinary teaching in physiology to improve creative thinking. In: BERA (British Educational Research Association) Annual Conference; 13 - 16 Sep 2021, Held online. (Unpublished)


Introduction Science courses face many complex problems to assure quality teaching and the promotion of new ideas and knowledge. The application of critical thinking (Barnett, 1997) in higher education (Wason et al.,2016) is crucial for the successful functioning of the contemporary university. Creative thinking evolves from and allies itself with critical thinking, and where critical thinking identifies, evaluates and critiques the challenge, creativity can imagine, innovate and improve a solution. Universities have adopted useful problem-solving strategies that enable the development of innovative, creative, and effective solutions for both academics and the students. ( Walcot et al., 2020, McLaughlin et al., 2020). An upsurge of transdisciplinary courses that include art and science have also arisen to bridge the gap to creative thinking. STEAM courses which look at art and design through a scientific lens, combine transdisciplinary teaching to adopt those critical thinking skills so natural to science in an effort to increase creativity. Although uncommon in science courses alone, examples of creativity for creativities sake, in which both innovation and imagination of the subject has been accomplished, have been successful when implemented. (ref hackathons) The introduction of art on Agar plates (Adkins et al., 2018), demonstrated an increased motivation in students when compared to those who did not adopt an artistic approach to plating microbes, and the subsequent Agar art awards has demonstrated a degree of creativity and understanding of microbiology to a level beyond that taught in a classroom. The aim of this study was to nurture creativity and motivation within a physiology course during a period of online teaching. Transdisciplinary teaching of science and art was explored by closely examining cardiac physiology through an artistic lens. A fine art approach was chosen not only because learning through close observation is one of the cornerstones of scientific learning but also because the three major tools that the mind uses to acquire, store, and communicate knowledge: motor skills, perceptual representation, and language come together when creating an image (Jerome Kagan). Objectives 15 students were initially recruited from a cardiovascular module within a Pharmacy course at Kingston University. Students were required to draw and label anatomically accurate physiological cardiac structures targeting skills of; accuracy, draughtsmanship and knowledge of anatomy and physiology, over a course of 6 weeks. The content was tailored to supplement a laboratory cardiac dissection practical. Online tutorials containing; recordings of the classes and how to draw, sheets to accompany the tutorials and time lapse videos of drawing the heart and its internal structures (including trabeculae, papillary muscles, valves, and gross anterior anatomy) accompanied an online lesson discussing the physiology of the structures. Questionnaires asked the students to reflect on all aspects of the course including their sense of well-being and the time taken to complete each task. Module tests results and an essay assessing cardiac function were compared between the selected students with the larger cohort (n=144) Results 4 students did not engage. Based on questionnaires, the remaining students responded positively to the study taking up to 4 hours per class of independent study. Average essay scores in this cohort were 70+/-3.8%; (Mean +/-sem) compared to the larger cohort 62%+/-3.5%; (Mean +/-sem), with no significance between them. “Spending time on something and having a visual revision tool means you're more likely to remember it” “I really enjoyed giving it a go and it helped me get the structure and shape with the art. I wouldn't say I'm very good at art but I had good fun.” Conclusion In newer science courses where interventions are employed to increase critical and creative thinking such as; active learning instruction with peer- peer interactions, the emphasis tends to be constrained to analysis, synthesis, and critical reasoning (DeHaan 2018) . By investing time and effort into accurate draughtsmanship the exercise in this study enabled an emotional connection to an inanimate topic (cardiac physiology). Reflection was provided by the student labelling the drawing appropriately, being directed to its shape, lines and context in online classes. When compared to external information imposed didactically, work constructed independently in this way over time has the potential to carry a greater impact and meaning for an individual (Bobeck et al., 2016, Hall et al., 1997). Motivation associated with creativity is usually accompanied by a sense of agency, resilience and community in the classroom (Alexander 2020), in addition to being created by having fun (Lucardie 2014). Although this is a self-selecting group of students, based on initial findings, this small pilot project has demonstrated that investigating science from a perspective personal to the student can have a positive impact on learning scores and motivation.

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