posted on Feb. 7: The art of innovation: Taking it one course at a time


It's called Human Biological Sciences – basically a course on human physiology.

It is an example, says McMaster provost Harvey Weingarten, of people working together to be innovative and succeeding.

Weingarten explained the history behind the health sciences course during a question-and-answer session Friday (Feb. 2) in response to his State of the Academy address two weeks ago.

The experiment with Human Biological Sciences (HS1B07) started when faculty began planning courses for the new Bachelor of Health Sciences Program and the Bachelor of Arts in Health Studies. During planning sessions they determined there were nine introductory courses focussed on human physiology being offered around campus.

Spearheaded by JoAnne Fox-Threlkeld, a professor in the School of Nursing and biomedical sciences, the faculty pooled their expertise and launched a pilot project to develop teaching materials for one course that could be used as a template for the future. Faculty plan and monitor the course as a team.

It took $90,000 and six months of intensive planning sessions to mold the course into the form it is now given, Weingarten said.
“It was the most comprehensive curriculum design work I've ever been involved in,” he said.

The course material was mounted on LearnLink in advance of class. Concerns that students wouldn't have computers to access the material ended promptly when an instructor discovered only one of 120 students didn't have access to a personal computer. The course is two lectures per week with the third lecture now devoted to a clinical specialist giving a talk each week.

There are “very positive” reviews from students and faculty, Weingarten said.
“The students are eating it up. They love it,” he said. Success is also seen in student grades, with a larger percentage coming in at the A and B levels compared to previous years.

“With active learning, this is what happens, you have the grade distribution to the higher end,” he said.

Weingarten hailed the project as a success story (and an example of the kinds of initiatives that will help the institution manage change), but noted there are challenges for the University, this team and other faculty who want to pursue this type of collaboration.

The challenges include providing additional technology, such as sound capability, to permit online learning, giving faculty more infrastucture support so they can develop and maintain materials, and offering additional support to assist and mentor students, he noted. For example, he said, instructors shouldn't be scanning in images they need for the course; they should be developing course materials.

Weingarten also fielded questions on topics such as adequate classroom space, transit and parking needs, medical school tuition, communication and tenure-track positions.

He said if the University sticks to its plan, the space inventory will be adequate to meet the needs of more students on campus when the “double cohort” class arrives in 2003, although night and weekend classes haven't been ruled out. At the moment, the University has access to space at Westdale high school two nights a week but”at this point there appears to be no need for that,” Weingarten said.
He noted when construction ends next year on the T-16 building, two 100-seat classrooms and a 300-seat auditorium will be part of the classroom inventory.

Weingarten said the issue of transit and parking is being studied by University administration.
“People in the transportation group are working on the flow to and from campus and are trying to find ways to get people here other than the traditional vehicles. There is a group looking at reallocation of space on campus and parking on campus.”