Improving Physiology Education through a Community of Practice

Project No.
PI Name
Marsha Matyas
American Physiological Society

Abstract 1

Improving Physiology Education through a Community of Practice

Presentation Type
Marsha Lakes Matyas, American Physiological Society Barbara E. Goodman, University of South Dakota School of Medicine Jenny McFarland, Edmonds Community College


Physiology is of one of the most common undergraduate course topics worldwide. Unfortunately, it is too often taught as facts to memorize rather than principles that apply across many living systems, as recommended by the Vision and Change reports.


This RCN Incubator project is building a Physiology Education Community of Practice (PECOP) that encourages and support best teaching practices, evidence-based teaching and preparation of new educators to work with diverse students through training, resource sharing, and mentoring in live and online settings. It builds skills within the PECOP for scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) and best practices supported by evidence.


PECOP is engaging educators from diverse institutions by providing: 1) PECOP Fellowships for community college faculty to engage them in educator networks online and at meetings and to build their understanding of effective teaching practices; 2) PECOP Thought Leadership opportunities for experienced faculty at all institution types to serve as mentors, SOTL team leaders, bloggers, and workshop organizers; 3) Online professional development for faculty to build digital resource sharing and development, blogging, networking, and sharing skills; 4) Support for faculty workshops on evidence-based teaching led by teams of PECOP Fellows and Thought Leaders; and 5) National conferences to build and support collaborations on SOTL and evidence-based teaching projects.


Although PECOP was launched for educators less than 18 months ago, a number of key community-building events have occurred:
* May 2014: 15 new Physiology Education Community of Practice (PECOP) fellows primarily from two-year or minority-serving institutions were selected from 42 applicants. Twelve Thought Leaders were selected.
* June 2014: First national conference on physiology education was held.
* Feb 2015: After 8 months, most conference participants had become active users of the PECOP community digital library ( and had read the PECOP blog. Nearly half had collaborated with a colleague on curricular development or an educational research project. More than a third had developed an education abstract for a meeting and/or had participated in LifeSciTRC discussion boards, blogs, and/or reviewing and rating resources.
* September 2015: APS Teaching Section surveyed to establish SOTL teams on specific research topics.
* October 2015: PECOP Fellows and Thought Leaders conduct workshops on student-centered teaching at Human Anatomy & Physiology Society regional meetings for 2 and 4 year college faculty.
* November 2015: 25 PECOP blog entries completed by 10 Fellows, 10 Thought Leaders, and 4 new PECOP members.
* December 2015: SOTL Research Team discussion boards being established in LifeSciTRC.

Broader Impacts

PECOP will ultimately increase the number of physiology educators using student-centered and evidence-based methods which can increase their teaching effectiveness.

Unexpected Challenges

In building online communities of practice, we found that experienced educators were hesitant to share their comments and feedback in online environments and that they didn't feel they had expertise to write blog entries. We found that structuring these activities into professional development fellowships increased educators' comfort and confidence in sharing their ratings, reviews, comments, and thoughts. Once they got past the initial hurdle, they became active community contributors.



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