Category Archives: Outreach and Education

I am bionic, I have aids in both ears: A Physiology Friday poem

By Simone Syndercombe, age 13, Newminster Middle School

I am as deaf as a post; don’t you see,

That’s why hearing is of interest to me.

Pin back your pinna and I will begin,

To tell you how sounds gets from out to within.

When my mum shouts with intention to berate,

Her speech makes the air from her mouth oscillate.

Hitting the pinna the shape does enhance,

The sound which is high pitched, to further advance.

Down through my ear canal, hitting the drum,

The sound is transferred into mechanical vibra-tion!

The eardrum is attached to a bony chain of three,

The malleus, the incus and the stapes, of me.

They act like a lever, enhancing the sound big,

Transferring the signal from middle to inner ear rig.

Through the oval window, the stapes does conduct,

Sound to the snail-shaped cochlear duct.

In this fluid-filled spiral are sensory cell hairs,

Attached to the basilar membrane, which cares,

Whether amplification or attenuation is desired,

Dampening or boosting before the auditory nerve fired,

Transferring the message to brainstem from ear,

The auditory nerve ensures that we can all hear.

I am bionic; I have aids in both ears,

As I have great difficulty hearing my peers.

Remember the mechanisms this poem’s about.

For I’m not ignoring you, you just need to shout!

Hearing is fascinating, I hope you’ll agree.

And that is why hearing is interesting to me.

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The amazing placenta: why you should do public engagement

By Emma Lofthouse, @Emlofthouse, The University of Southampton

I have taken it upon myself to spread the word about the brilliance of the placenta. It’s a fairly tricky task but someone has to do it.

Like all public engagement, this is a two-way dialogue that enables mutual learning between scientists and the public. It both fosters understanding, while providing an opportunity to discuss opinions, questions and concerns in an interactive way.

I created an interactive game called ‘the a-MAZE-ing placenta’, a game of physical skill that demonstrates the complexities of pregnancy and the many roles of the placenta in growing a healthy baby.

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The object of the game is to tilt the placenta maze to guide the ball (representing nutrients) to the centre of the maze (the umbilical cord) in the fastest time possible while avoiding obstacles. These represent pregnancy conditions and risks: a ‘smoking forest’ traps the ball, toxins and infections block the path of the ball, and pre-eclampsia makes the ball hit dead ends or narrowed pathways.

During the game, we talk to both parents and children about the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease hypothesis, which suggests that the conditions we experience in utero can impact our adult health and relate this to the obstacles in the game.

Through pick-up on Twitter, ‘the a-MAZE-ing placenta’ has since debuted at conference,; open days, country shows, science festivals and schools.

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Public engagement is now strongly encouraged in the research community with many funding bodies requiring public engagement activities as a condition of research grants. Outreach has great benefits for the public but just as many advantages for the scientist. It provides an opportunity to improve your communications skills with all types of audiences and gives you the opportunity to inspire someone.

Many researchers realise the importance of public engagement but are unsure of how to get involved. However, by simply talking to friends and family, you are already sharing your research and encouraging people to consider the relevance of science in their every day lives.

If you are looking to get involved with outreach, have a look at the opportunities that The Physiological Society provide including public engagement grants, Physiology Friday, the public engagement toolkit and ‘I’m a Scientist, Get Me Out of Here!’.

You can also become a STEM ambassador. Their events are designed to educate and more importantly, inspire young people to continue with STEM subjects at school and to help open their eyes to the careers that are available to them.

Top 10 Tips for Science Outreach

1. Keep it simple: Whether you want to share your research and passion for physiology, or promote The Physiological Society, the best thing to do is stick with a simple idea. It could be a free public lecture, a physiology pub quiz or even a stall with Society merchandise and leaflets. We’ve developed free outreach activities for you to use (or adapt to your own research), an you can also get inspiration from our case studies of events.

2. Decide on your audience: Is it undergrads studying physiology as part of their degree, the general public or school students? Our primary target audience is 16-25 year olds; we want to inspire the next generation of physiologists.

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3. Decide on a location: Depending on who you want to reach, this could be at your University, a school or somewhere in a community such as a library or shopping centre.

4. Contact your Society Representative: If you have one at your institution, get in contact with them as they may be able to help you with planning and have access to Society banners, magazines, and fliers to use at the event. If you don’t know who your Society Representative is or if you have one, please get in touch.

5. Recruit lots of helpers: Reach out to friends or colleagues for a helping hand. If you have your own students, try to get them involved and running the event. Anyone can organise an event on Physiology Friday whether it’s undergraduates, PhD students, postdocs or lecturers.

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6. Get funding: Approach The Society for a small grant to run your events. Also, a lot of universities have their own public engagement departments offering small pots of funding.

7. Reach out to organisations that can help you: If you are going to be working with school students then a great way to organise this is by becoming a STEM ambassador with STEM learning. They will do your DBS check for free and can help you to link up with schools in your area.

8. Entice people with freebies: You could hand out Society merchandise like our new sleep masks or leaflets with further info about your research. You could even have some kind of craft or food activity so that participants take their creation home.

9. Make it clear who you are and what you are about: A simple step is joining The Physiological Society and getting your very own I ❤ physiology T-shirt from us!

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10. Spread the word: Make sure you advertise your event as widely as possible. This of course depends on where it is being held. If it’s in the community you could try to promote it in newspapers or online. You could also make use of your university social media channels and get in touch with The Society.

Creating Champions: Road to the Olympics

By Kim Murray, Great Britain skeleton athlete, @KimMurray88

After years as a physiologist in elite sports, I thought I was pretty familiar with the life of an athlete. Then I became one myself: suddenly there was a team of support staff there to help me; numbers were being crunched and I wasn’t the one making the spreadsheet, but a data point on it. In the four years since I switched sides from exercise physiologist to full-time athlete in skeleton, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the mental and physical challenges that drive an ever better performance.

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I now train full-time in Bath, alongside around twenty other British skeleton athletes. We have a team of coaches, sport science staff and medical support staff working alongside us to produce champions. On a day to day basis I work with a coach, strength and conditioning coach and physiotherapist. However, there is much more going on behind the scenes in terms of planning and data management as well as having access to nutrition, performance lifestyle and psychological support.

The life of an athlete is not quite what I expected. Day to day can be a grind; you must find something more within yourself when you’re tired to complete a session or pick up a new technique. You’re also constantly surrounded by super humans so although to the outside you seem physically unbelievable there is always a lot of internal competition and I can be very hard on myself. What has exceeded my expectations however, is what I have been able to achieve and experience, and the friends I have made in the short time I have been part of the team. You travel for half the year; visiting the most beautiful parts of the winter world, throwing yourself off the top of tracks, hitting 120 plus km/h (74 mph) and calling it work. Some days I just simply cannot believe this is my life.

 

The physiologist in the athlete

Having worked with athletes, I try to conduct myself in a way that I appreciated when working: filling in wellness and training data, minimising moaning, sleeping well, being honest about injury or illness. I remember what ‘athlete behaviours’ I should be striving to demonstrate and more to the point I know why they are important. I’ve spent enough time trying to get buy in from athletes and coaches to know how much more can be achieved when they comply. However, the emotion and enormity of what you’re trying to achieve can get to you; in my case, that is tightly linked with putting my physiology career on pause and the risk I took to follow the skeleton path. It can be a very testing environment and sometimes you just feel like your life is being determined by others or you’re not where you want to be in terms of making progress. In hindsight, these feelings are usually due to fatigue. When tired, you become less rational and the athlete behaviours can slip.

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Strength testing in the physiology lab

As the athlete, you’re not always involved in decision making and a lot goes on at a programme level that you don’t see. Our job is to put in the work, hit our goals and to grow as athletes and people. It is important to trust in the vision and direction of the performance director, coaches and support team. However, I sometimes find this difficult because I have a need to know why I do things. Having been part of athlete support teams, I am used to knowing the behind the scenes, so it was quite a big change to not always be a part of those conversations. If I am striving for a certain time on the push track or score on a physio test I ask why. Fortunately, as a more senior athlete I do now get to see more of what goes behind the training plans and goals. The team know my background so I quite often get to see a little more of the spreadsheet, as they know I am interested and will understand. This allows my inner spreadsheet geek to live on!

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Sprinting through a series of light gates is a way of measuring running speed

I don’t get to practise or apply exercise physiology in the way I used to. Yes, we use force plates and light gates, fill in wellness and training data, take part in special projects and so on, but when you’re the subject you’re not exposed to the same level of insight. What I am becoming though, is an expert of my body. How much sleep I need, what food I should eat, how I best warm up, what coaching cues help my performance, when I need more rest, what my peak power is, what a healthy body composition looks like for me. I am also further developing soft skills such as assertiveness, effective communication, team work and resilience. So, whilst I miss working as an exercise physiologist every day, I hope that this break will firstly, fulfil the desire to play the athlete and secondly grant me new skills and understanding from the athlete point of view that will be useful when I do return to work one day. In the meantime, I am giving skeleton my all and focusing on a huge goal: the 2022 Olympics in Beijing!

Open education: a creative approach to learning and teaching

By Vivien Rolfe, Associate Head of Department, UWE Bristol, UK, @vivienrolfe

A longer version of this article originally appeared in our magazine, Physiology News.

Open education, a means of widening access to education and materials, is not a new idea. Universities and teaching institutions have been inviting the public through their doors for centuries, and in more recent times ‘open’ universities have further championed the widening of access to formal education.

Open education was a dominant philosophy and practice in the 1970s. Unstructured curricula fostered creativity and supported diversity in learning, and knowledge was shared beyond the institution. The present reiteration of open education has similar underpinning ideals: providing an education system that shares, and is more inclusive and equitable.

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Open education – from content to practice

The relationship between shared open educational resources (OERs) and emerging open education practices is a hot topic of debate. Great work within schools, colleges and universities has clearly emerged through either the generation of openly licensed content (a good starting point), or the development of open practice and pedagogy.

A widely accepted framework for practice development is David Wiley’s ‘5 R’s’ (Wiley, 2014).  They stand for Retain (you control what happens to the resources you share) through to Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. This, in my experience, is a useful concept for teachers who aspire to develop their open practice

Open practice can extend the utility of our academic work within our institution, and even beyond the walls of our universities to a wider community of learners. In the UK, some notable examples include the University of Lincoln ‘Student as Producer’ project where students engaged as co-creators of open content, and the open photography course #Phonar at the University of Coventry which invited public collaboration and led to students working with professional communities as part of their learning.

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Much of the UK activity stemmed from the 2009 – 2012 HEFCE-funded Open Educational Resource programme. Over 85 projects spanned most subject disciplines, and were seminal in building the community of open practitioners that thrives today by bringing them together in an annual conference organised by the Association of Learning Technology (#OERXX). I have reported the reach and impact of the OERs produced by these projects, and of using web marketing techniques to share content online (Rolfe, 2016).

Open practice for life science practicals

My recent work has explored open pedagogies in an attempt to address challenges facing laboratory practical teaching. Practicals are timetabled laboratory events, and it is well documented that teaching staff and technical teams struggle to address the gaps between school and university in terms of laboratory experience, for an ever-increasing number of students (Coward and Gray, 2014). Student criticisms include no buzz, repetitive nature and lack of social engagement (Wilson, Adams and Arkle, 2008).

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So in my experience, what are some of the benefits and challenges of open educational practises in practicals?

Open education projects at De Montfort University included OERs on laboratory skills. Still accessible today via the project website and YouTube, these relatively low quality materials by today’s standards, were popular with students and boosted their confidence before entering the laboratory for the first time: “[Virtual Analytical Laboratory] has been very useful in easing my nerves before lab sessions” (Biomedical Science student, Rolfe, 2009). These resources were then embedded within the timetable with students working through workbooks prior to entering the lab. Soon, students were creating video of their own laboratory work and sharing these either informally with each other through social media, or as part of the project website. The laboratory technical teams also created resources in areas they thought students particularly struggled with. One of the benefits cited by staff was they needed to spend less time repeating basic instructions as students had an overview of the fundamental skills.

Other applications of open education included students accessing resources by QR codes at different workstations to introduce them to different techniques, which helped to cater for large student numbers in the lab in a more effective way. Students were also engaged in producing multiple-choice assessment questions, later shared as OERs accompanying resources on the project website.

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Longer term, open education led to changes to the learning culture itself, with students taking control and implementing their own ideas, such as photographing histology images using iPhones for sharing as OER on the Google service Picasa, and later a Facebook discussion group. Some of the lasting impact of this work is the cross-university interest it generated – for example technology and arts students becoming interested in science projects, and the OER being available globally to support informal and formal learning, providing new insights and perspectives for students (Rolfe, 2016).

As more evidence is gathered as to the benefits and uses of OER and open practices, a new theoretical basis for open practical pedagogies may emerge. What is important is that we continue to openly share our case studies of teaching practice to build a fuller picture. That way, larger communities of teachers can grow and benefit:

“It has changed my practice in terms of whenever I’m doing anything I think how could this be an OER or how could it supplement what I’m doing”. (Microbiology lecturer).


Read the full-length version of this article in our magazine, Physiology News.

References

Coward, K., and Gray, J. V., 2014. Audit of Practical Work Undertaken Accessed 12 May 2017].

Rolfe, V., 2009. Development of a Virtual Analytical Laboratory (VAL) multimedia resource to support student transition to laboratory science at university. HEA Bioscience Case Study. pp. 1-5.

Rolfe, V., 2016.  Web Strategies for the Curation and Discovery of Open Educational Resources. Open Praxis, 8(4). [Accessed 12 May 2017].

Wiley, D., 2014. The Access Compromise and the 5th R. [online] [Accessed 12 May 2017].

Wilson, J., Adams, D. J. and Arkle, S., 2008. 1st Year Practicals–their role in developing future Bioscientists. Leeds, the Higher education Academy Centre for Bioscience. [online] [Accessed 12 May 2017].