Dr Carolyn King's teaching philosophy is strongly influenced by the challenges faced by students in accelerated degrees and the responsibility that she feels as a teacher in the field of health science. She believes in designing and delivering material that reflects the learning styles and educational backgrounds of the student cohort, with the aim of encouraging interest and fostering understanding.
Dr King has been a lecturer and tutor at the UTAS School of Medicine for almost 6 years. For the first 2 years she was a casual tutor for the MBBS degree, as well as lecturing into the 3rd year Neuroscience program. She was then employed in her current position as a Bioscience (anatomy and physiology) lecturer for the inaugural UTAS accelerated Bachelor of Nursing degree. Since 2010, this unit has expanded to include paramedic students as part of the UTAS accelerated Bachelor of Paramedic Practice degree.
Dr King is fascinated by human anatomy and physiology, particularly the structure and function of the brain, and has a keen interest in translating evolving neuroscience research into educational practice. She feels that students in accelerated degrees are most in need of strategies to deal with the vast volumes of information they receive within a compressed timeframe. She is also very conscious of the additional challenges faced by this cohort, with a large number of mature-aged students and students from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Students learn in a variety of ways, thus anatomy workshops were designed to encourage students to discover the most effective resources for developing their own knowledge and understanding, including anatomical models, charts, computer software, cadaver dissections, organ dissections, life-sized drawings, and even plasticine modelling.
Students are also given a number of preparation lectures on how the brain works, encouraging them to develop their own techniques for relating to and remembering information. Dr King developed some extra analogies which have proved popular, including relating the immune system to characters from The Simpsons, and a story with actions that students perform during the lecture to remember the pituitary hormones.
In 2011, Dr King collaborated with a group of 3rd-year computer science students to develop an educational software program to assist 1st-year students to learn anatomy and basic physiology. The software uses a game-type format to encourage engagement and interaction, while retaining essential anatomy and physiology content for valued learning. The software also has a number of other advantages, including its capacity to be uniquely aligned to the anatomy and physiology curriculum, capacity for direct input of questions to ensure information remains current and relevant, provision of instant feedback (a major determinant of student motivation) and statistical tracking of performance to enable teaching to be tailored to areas of difficulty.
Dr King is somewhat surprised to discover that she derived the greatest satisfaction from her interactions with both undergraduate and postgraduate students.
You may ask why someone researching the Tasmanian devil is also teaching into the School of Medicine. The answer is that this wasn’t always the case. Assoc Prof Greg Woods's research interest centres around our amazing immune system and how cancers escape detection. Although our immune system has an incredible ability to detect and protect against the tiniest organisms such as viruses and bacteria, it can also detect cells in our body that, if not destroyed, will develop into cancer. Sometimes the immune system slips up and doesn't detect a cancer cell that then grows into a cancer mass. Although it is not always the fault of the immune system, the cancer cell can develop clever strategies to 'hide' from the immune system.
Part of Assoc Prof Woods's research has been to study skin cancer and how sunlight can modify the developing skin immune system to allow skin cancers to develop. Not only does sunlight cause mutations that can contribute to cancer, it can also suppress the skin's immune system so that this cancer cell can avoid detection.
Now back to the Tasmanian devil. Sadly this carnivorous marsupial species, with jaws that can crunch through the hardest of bones, is under threat of extinction due to a transmissible cancer. It is spread when a diseased devil bites a healthy devil and transmits a few cancer cells in the bite. These transmitted cancer cells escape the immune system of the recipient devil. How can this happen? It should be promptly rejected, but it isn't. That is now the basis of Assoc Prof Woods's research, and is consistent with the theme of how cancer escapes the immune system. His research group now knows that the devil has a fully competent immune system and that there is something special about the cancer cell. His group is part of a bigger picture and as a team were honoured in 2011 with the Eureka Prize in Environmental Research.
Teaching immunology is a pleasurable challenge and Assoc Prof Woods's approach is to make it as much fun as possible. Sometimes this leads to classroom chaos but the basic concepts sneak through. The immune system is involved in almost every single disease and is one of the important pathophysiological subjects that underpins disease and provides many research avenues.
Authorised by the Head of School, Medicine
13 March, 2012