Marked Improvement: Science Resource Center breeds success for TJC biology students

Mar 26, 2015 by

Planned growth in the TJC’s nursing and health sciences fields will require more qualified students who have successfully completed prerequisite courses, such as Anatomy and Physiology I and II and Microbiology.

These students will make application to the growing associate-degree nursing program and other new and expanding programs meeting in the new Robert M. Rogers Nursing and Health Sciences Center. But without more teachers and more lab space first, TJC’s biology department was faced with a dilemma: how could the pool of qualified students be increased in advance of the facility’s grand opening?

Alexus O’Neal (far left), a pre-nursing major from San Antonio, Dr. Cliff Boucher, TJC biology professor and department chair, and Dr. Betsy Ott, TJC biology  professor, examine a SynDaver, a synthetic replica of a human leg used as a training resource for students in TJC science labs.

Alexus O’Neal (far left), a pre-nursing major from San Antonio, Dr. Cliff Boucher, TJC biology professor and department chair, and Dr. Betsy Ott, TJC biology
professor, examine a SynDaver, a synthetic replica of a human leg used as a training resource for students in TJC science labs.

A little more than two years ago, as deans, department chairs and professors began discussing ways to increase this pool – while awaiting results of a bond election on which the facility depended – an idea emerged.

“When I became department chair, one of the first things Dr. (Kenneth) Murphy (dean of engineering, mathematics and sciences) brought to me was news that we may be building a new nursing and health sciences center,” said Dr. Cliff Boucher, biology professor and department chair. “I knew that if the academic programs were going to double the number of graduates, at a minimum, I would have to double the number of students completing anatomy and physiology. And my head started spinning. I was wondering, ‘How are we going to do this?’ Really, there are two ways: one is to increase enrollment – and that means more professors and more lab space, which wasn’t an option – and the other is retention. What can we do to ensure our students’ success?”

Dr. Boucher met with biology faculty members and asked them to dedicate a portion of their office hours to shift duty in a new study lab. Faculty members agreed – and suggested they relinquish their seldom-used faculty lounge located in the basement of Genecov Science Building, to establish a Science Resource Center.

“We pulled everything out of there and put in shelves, tables and brought as many models as we could get our hands on. We put in a flat-panel TV so that if the students are looking something up on a website, and there are five or six studying together, they don’t have to crowd around a computer screen.”

Students read the posted schedule of assigned faculty monitors and plan their study group times, usually choosing to meet when a professor from one of their classes is on hand. They scan their ID card upon entry and exit.

Using students’ ID numbers and recorded entry and exit scans, Dr. Boucher tracks use of the SRC, and compares the classroom success of students who use the SRC with those who do not.

“What we have found is that we’re getting between 800 and 950 log-ins a semester. Word is getting out and it is gaining in popularity,” he said “Out of the total, about 300 are consistent users – two to three times a week. We now have roughly four semesters of data, and I can do a side-by-side comparison and see that it is working. Students who use the SRC are more successful. I can also see the trend that those who are logging in multiple times are doing better than those who just use it occasionally.”

biology 2Dr. Boucher said one of the joys of working at TJC is that its biology faculty members are innovative, creative, and always looking for better solutions. “It’s all about student success. What can we do to help more students achieve?”

Dr. Betsy Ott, a full-time biology professor since 1982, said the standard for excellence was in place when she began teaching at TJC, after teaching physiology and doing research at Auburn University while her husband was a graduate student there. She said faculty members have always received support from the college’s instructional technology and information technology offices, such as the provision of software and website resources so that study aids could be placed on a public web page.

“Because I am a member of national organizations, I give presentations regularly,” she said. As past president of the National Association of Biology Teachers and president-elect of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, Dr. Ott uses an online histology of microscopic photos and graphics during the presentations; and she informs her students of the repository so that they may use it as a supplement to classroom and lab instruction.

TJC’s histology is listed as a trusted resource by faculty members of other colleges and universities around the world.

“We have a disclaimer that lets people know the material is free to use for educational purposes but to contact us for any commercial purpose,” she said. “Two or three times per year this happens. Occasionally, someone wants to put an image in their lab manual. Our images
are even published in a French middle school textbook.

“I’m betting I have the only picture of an aortic aneurism of a cat in the world, because we just happened to get a specimen and recognize what it was.”

Anatomy and physiology students say the resources available to them online and in the SRC are aiding in their success.

“Just taking a look at those models in class and then a week later having a test is not enough,” said Christian Holman, a freshman from Rusk. “I need to be able to see those models again before the test.” She can do that in the SRC, make notes and study with other students who are taking A&P I or A&P II.

“Having the professors here, one on one, you know that if you have a question, you get the right answer,” said Edlin Acuna, a sophomore from Marshall. “You’re not just guessing – am I right or am I wrong? So when you go to take that quiz, you’re a lot more sure of what Dr. Ott or Dr. (Lynn) Gray told you.”

“I like how they have the actual schedule posted outside, so that if I want to sit down with my teacher for the actual test I’m going to be taking I can look at that and say, ‘OK, I need to be sure and come then, so I can be here when my teacher is here,’” Holman said. “I have a picture of the posted schedule on my phone.”

Acuna said studying in groups is more effective. “We all work together and help each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

Maria Tabares, a freshman from Tyler, said she prefers studying at the SRC over going to the library, where a coffee shop lends itself to more noise and conversation. “Down here, if it is the regulars, we are all down to business and we’re studying the same thing.

“The instructors basically give up their personal hours to come down here. Most of us would be lost without it,” she added.

“It’s funny, what we’ve found is that, when we’re in our office, students feel like they’re disturbing us,” Dr. Ott said. “You all know that’s what office hours are for, right?” she asks of the A&P students. “I think sometimes students are a little intimidated to see us in our offices. Down here, it’s more relaxed, more focused.”

Dr. Boucher anticipates the SRC will become more popular over time, and he has plans to implement other resources to help students succeed, such as video tutorials and “lecture capture” – an online resource to deliver snippets of a professor’s classroom instruction.

“We’re constantly looking for better ways to present information. We have to have more than one approach,” he said.

Fred M. Peters is TJC director of public affairs and grant development.


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Fall/Winter 2014-2015, Features

About the author

Fred Peters is the Director of Public Affairs at Tyler Junior College. He can be reached at 903-510-2627 or at fpet@tjc.edu