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I want student to actually use their thinking skills

January 2013

Professor uses sabbatical to modernize curriculum

Often, a faculty sabbatical looks something like this: The faculty member identifies a peer or two at another school, and he or she travels to that school to undertake a research project.

Greg Fitch, Ph.D., professor of biology at Avila University, had other ideas for the sabbatical he took during the fall 2012 semester.

“On this sabbatical, I had some teaching ideas I wanted to try that required scores of hours of preparation work,” Fitch said recently from his office in O’Rielly Hall. “What it essentially boiled down to was re-making the anatomy and physiology course.”

What it basically boiled down to was modernizing the class to take full advantage of today’s technology. For the laboratory portion of the class, Fitch did away with textbooks and is taking his students online, obtaining a computer program which allows students to perform virtual dissections of cadavers. For months and hours upon hours, he essentially customized the program to fit the specific needs of his students. He also customized the quizzes which come with the virtual dissections.

Fitch also collaborated with two colleagues and made changes to the lecture portion of the course to inject more information about how scientists in health care-related fields make decisions about clinically-related topics.

“I want to talk a lot about thinking skills,” he said. “And, I want to do more than just ask students to try these skills, I want them to actually learn how to do them.”

Fitch undertaking a different kind of sabbatical is kind of par for the course for a professor who hasn’t exactly had a typical career at a university. He’s now in his 16th year teaching at Avila. But over his entire tenure, he’s made his home in Manhattan, Kan., two hours away. Over the entire 16 years, he said he’s made the drive back and forth no more than two or three times a week. He’s stayed over at the homes of friends and relatives and at hotels. Several years ago, he even stayed in guest rooms on campus.

He tells a story of how, 16 years ago, he verbally accepted a job at another institution, but Larry Sullivan, Ph.D., dean of Avila’s School of Science and Health, called him the next day and persuaded him to come to Avila instead.

“I’m really glad I’m here instead of there,” Fitch said. “Avila is an enjoyable place to work.”

Fitch said this was the second sabbatical he’s taken since coming to Avila. About eight years ago, he spent a semester in the entomology department at Kansas State University studying pests of certain plants.

This latest, “different” kind of sabbatical couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, he said.

“The timing of this was perfect because, when Room 215 (the anatomy and physiology lab in O’Rielly) was renovated, we put a bunch of terrific technology in there, including laptop computers,” he said. “The changes I’ve made to the course wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if 215 hadn’t become what it is today.

“I think the students are really going to enjoy it.” AU

Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434