The gut microbiome and its physiological impacts on human and animal health is an area of research emphasis. Microbes themselves are invisible and may therefore be abstract and challenging to understand. It is therefore important to infuse this topic into undergraduate curricula, including Anatomy and Physiology courses, ideally through an active learning approach. To accomplish this, we developed a novel tactile teaching tool with guided-inquiry (TTT-GI) activity where students explored how the gut microbiome ferments carbohydrates to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). This activity was implemented in two sections of a large-enrollment Human Anatomy and Physiology course at a research intensive (R1) university in the Spring of 2022 that was taught using a hyflex format. Students who attended class in person used commonly available building toys to assemble representative carbohydrates of varying structural complexity, whereas students who attended class virtually made these carbohydrate structures using a digital learning tool. Students then predicted how microbes within the gut would ferment different carbohydrates into SCFAs, as well as the physiological implications of the SCFAs. We assessed this activity to address three research questions, with 182 students comprising our sample. First, we evaluated if the activity learning objectives were achieved through implementation of a pre-and post-assessment schema. Our results revealed that all three learning objectives of this activity were attained. Next, we evaluated if the format in which this TTT-GI activity was implemented impacted student learning. While we found minimal and nonsignificant differences in student learning between those who attended in-person and those who attended remotely, we did find significant differences between the two course sections, which differed in length and spacing of the activity. Finally, we evaluated if this TTT-GI approach was impactful for diverse students. We observed modest and nonsignificant positive learning gains for some populations of students traditionally underrepresented in STEM (first-generation students and students with one or more disabilities). That said, we found that the greatest learning gains associated with this TTT-GI activity were observed in students who had taken previous upper-level biology coursework.
Keywords: active learning; guided-inquiry learning; gut microbiome; inclusive learning; remote learning; short chain fatty acids; tactile teaching tools; undergraduate learning.
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