Anyone who has taken an anatomy and physiology course understands how challenging all of the required memorization can be. However, according to Daniela Popescu, M.D., Ph.D., “I always encourage my students to be enthusiastic about learning new things, to understand the rationale behind various complex physiological mechanisms, and to find the beauty in the complexity of the anatomy and physiology of the human body.”
With an M.D. degree from Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy (Bucharest, Romania), and a Ph.D. degree in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt University, Dr. Popescu applies her scientific credentials to both her groundbreaking neuroscience research and her innovative teaching techniques as Assistant Professor in the Biological Sciences department at Kent State University Geauga. True to her dual commitment to a better educational environment and the scientific process, Dr. Popescu has developed an award-winning approach to enhance interactive learning in the classroom.
While teaching undergraduate courses in Anatomy and Physiology I and II, and Human Biology, Dr. Popescu utilizes multiple student-centered teaching approaches to accommodate various learning styles that best suit each student’s ability to comprehend and retain information.
“I try to make logical or meaningful associations, use mnemonics, and real-life examples that have clinical relevance,” she explains. “I also include many pictures in my lecture and laboratory courses, because I really believe that a ‘picture is worth a thousand words.’ Often, I draw pictures and write on the board, encouraging my students to take notes. I also use various learner-centered teaching approaches that enhance the active learning of anatomy and physiology, including Venn diagrams and i>clickers.”
I>clickers are the main component in her effort to enhance student engagement and learning. As part of a $1,000 teaching development grant from the KSU Teaching Council, she has incorporated this technology-driven interactive classroom response system in her lecture courses, investigating if its use actually enhances students’ learning experience and performance by increasing active student participation.
During a lecture, Dr. Popescu poses about five questions. Students are given 30 seconds to consider the options, and then their anonymous answers are polled. Once their responses are gathered by the iClicker system, a histogram showing the response distribution is displayed on the screen. A class discussion then follows, concerning the rationale for choosing a particular answer, and Dr. Popescu provides immediate feedback to her students. As a result, the system gives the instructor accurate snapshots of what students understand versus which topics require additional explanation before moving forward.
Dr. Popescu says that the grant covered a one-time purchase of the iClickers system, providing an easy-to-use, fee-free, reliable system that is reusable for multiple classes each semester and over the years. Even better, it encourages student participation. “With a student response system there is no pressure to raise hands when questions are being asked, due to the confidence in anonymity about answering those questions,” she explains.
For any scientist, the true test of any hypothesis lies in the results. After collecting and analyzing the data, Dr. Popescu observed that “the use of iClickers during the lecture courses enhanced the active learning of anatomy and physiology and improved student performance on exams covering the respiratory, digestive, lymphatic, urinary, and reproductive systems. In addition, student perceptions to iClicker use were highly positive.”
She presented these data as a poster at the 25th Annual Kent State University Teaching Council Celebrating College Teaching Conference in Oct. 2018 and was awarded third place in the poster competition. Now the award-winning iClicke learning system is part of the educational experience at KSU Geauga, which, Popescu says, “nurtures a collaborative and friendly academic environment, and offers a high-quality education to its students.”