Teresa Foley

Integrative Physiology

Course context: Immunology (IPHY 4600), upper-division course for Integrative Physiology majors, 200 students, meets 3 days/week for 50-minutes with separate weekly recitation session.


Target of improvement/evidence

  • To help students study more efficiently and effectively using the course learning goals.
  • To better understand how students study and why they choose particular study techniques over others.
  • To introduce new study techniques to students.
  • To encourage students to reflect on own their study habits and try a new technique.



  • Pre-survey: I will administer a pre-survey on CU Learn assessing what technique(s) students use to study and why they choose particular study techniques. In addition, I will assess the students’ preconceptions about learning goals and how they anticipate the goals could be used to help them study for exams. See attached copy of potential survey questions.
  • Motivating students: In order to help students understand the importance of using learning goals while studying, I will show students an example of an exam question based on a learning goal. Knowing that I base my exam questions on the learning goals, my hope is that students would use the document more when preparing for exams.
  • Minute papers/brainstorming session: Before the end of each unit (there are 4 units), I will ask students to reflect for one-minute on a topic that was unclear to them or on a particular learning goal. After that minute, students will get into small groups (2-3 students) and brainstorm ideas on what study techniques they could use to clarify that concept/learning goals. The group would then use a new study technique and reflect on whether that technique helped them further understand the concept. Towards the later units, I will make the minute papers more challenging by asking the students to answer exam-like questions, where they will need to apply the material we just covered into a new scenario.
  • Introducing new study techniques: In the weekly recitation session, I will introduce new techniques students can use while studying. These techniques will be incorporated into the various activities for that day. For example, students will use strip sequences when learning the complement cascade of innate immunity. Or, students will use concept maps when trying to synthesize how B cells and T cells work together to defend against viruses. Rather than introducing a new technique every week, I will pick 3 or 4 techniques that will be repeated in recitation at least twice throughout the semester. After the introduction of a new technique, students will be asked to reflect on whether they felt that technique helped them study more efficiently and effectively.
  • Post-survey: At the end of the semester, I will administer a post-survey assessing whether students felt more confident in how they studied as compared to previous semesters. In addition, I will ask students if they plan on adopt some of the new techniques they learned into their own study habits, and whether the learning goals helped them guide their studying for other courses. This survey will be administered on CU Learn.


Anticipating Adjustments


Based on student feedback, I anticipate that different study techniques will work better for some students than for others. Also, I anticipate that some study techniques will work better for some concepts for others. For example, the use of strip sequences may be more beneficial to students than a concept map, in understanding the sequence of events during B cell development. Based on these issues I will need to be flexible in my approach.




I plan on implementing the changes very early on in the semester. Beginning with the pre-survey, I want students to reflect on how to study prior to a critical event (i.e., the first exam or quiz). This reflection will be reinforced during the weekly recitations and before the end of each major unit. At the end of the semester, I will administer a post-survey assessing whether students changed their study habits based on what we did in class.




  • Pre-survey: I administered a pre-survey (n=76) on Survey Monkey assessing what technique(s) students used to study and why they choose that particular study technique(s). After the first exam, I presented the results of the survey to the students to see how their study habits compared to those of their cohorts.

At the beginning of the semester, the majority of student respondents:

  • Take short, frequent breaks when studying.
  • Study in various locations.
  • Prefer to study on their own vs. studying in groups.
  • Find the lecture notes, recitation activities, and learning goals most helpful when studying for exams.
  • Find the textbook, clicker questions, and flash cards least helpful when studying for exams.






  • Notecards: At the end of each unit, the students filled in a notecard with 1-2 questions they had about the lecture material. The purpose of the notecards was to have students reflect on what they did or did not know before their exam and hopefully use this information to drive their studying.


Unfortunately, I did not find the notecards very helpful. With a class size of 200+ students, I found it difficult to read and respond to all the notecards. Furthermore, the students did not take the notecards seriously and would only write one to two word responses rather than specific questions. In the future, I would like to ask more guided, structured questions on the notecards.


  • Post-survey: At the end of the semester, I administered a post-survey on Survey Monkey (n=142) to assess how the students studied and if the students changed their study habits throughout the semester. 

Question #1: Did your study habits change for this particular course? Why or why not?


Based on the results from the survey, I discovered that some students:

  • Used the learning goals to guide his/her studying
  • Moved away from notecards and trying to learn every detail
  • Moved towards trying to understand the big picture
  • Studied in groups
  • Began studying for exams after every lecture rather than the night before an exam
  • Did not change his/her study habits because they “weren’t broken.”

Sample student responses:


Learning goals

Yes they did because I used the learning goals alot more than I did in any other IPHY class to help me re-organize my notes and they helped to put the concepts more together.


Yes, for the first test I only looked at the learning goals but did not fill them out. After filling them out and paying more attention to them my exam grades improved.


Yes, Usually I skip the learning goals for other courses, but for this class I utilized them as much as possible.


I had never had a class with learning goals before.  They were extremely helpful and made sure to go over them multiple times for each exam.


Yes, Dr. Foley writes her exams using the learning goals. I found it very helpful to study the learning goals well. Also, I did the recitation worksheets before attending recitation so I was able to review and collaborate with my fellow students.


Moved away from memorization

Absolutely, I still have not found a productive study regime to get the grades that I want on these exams. Having DeSouza for Phys 1 (all memorization) was a major disadvantage entering this course.


I didn't use notecards as much as I usually do


For the first test, I made a bunch of notecards because that is how I had done well in upper division IPHY courses in the past. Dr. Foley suggested to not use them so after the first test I quit using notecards and utilized the learning goals and concept maps more. For the final, I will re incorporate notecards into my studying. I did the best on the first test and I think it was thanks to the notecards.


Yes, I started out using notecards and then went away from them because I realized memorization wasn't the most important part in doing well for the exams.


Moved towards big picture

Yes, this course required more studying than my typical courses. This included studying the systems and defects, as well as, clinical possibilities.


Yes, exams were very conceptual so my old study habits did not cut it.


yes, i really had to focus on the big picture and not get caught up in the little details, really important to actually understand what is going on as opposed to just memorizing


Study groups

I started studying with study groups.


Yes. I never used to study with other classmates.


I studied more in groups. It was helpful to walk through processes together.


I studies with different people and filled out the learning goals in different setting to help me remember concepts.


My study habits changed throughout the semester as I spend more time with the teacher and was able to determine what was important material and what was not.


yes, this is my first upper division IPHY class and for the first exam I tried to study for this class like I have for all of my other classes by just reading through my notes and I did not do well on the exam.  So I talked to some people who did well and changed my habits.


Yes, I started studying with another student and I started thinking more critically about the material. For example, what happens when something in the system is absent, etc.


Starting early

Yes.  I started to study ahead of time more to not have to cram the few days before the exam.  Definitely crucial to understanding the material better.


Yes my study habits changed for this course because I study after every class rather than waiting until the exam to study.


Yes, my study habits before this course were horrible.  I used to study the night before exams and pull all-nighters.  Now, I fully look through all my notes and go over learning goals.


Did not change in study habits

No, my study habits have worked well in the past and were successful for this course.


Not too much. I typically prefer studying from the book, outlining the chapter, etc. I found that this wasn't the most effective method for this course as the book often went into greater detail than lecture. I tried to focus my studying more on the learning goals after recognizing this.


No, this is how I study for all IPHY courses.


Not really. As a senior, I'm at the point where I typically know what I need to do to do well in a course. My study habits are generally sufficient for all my courses.


They did not because I have studied like this for all high school, junior college and college. Hard to break habits when they had resulted in high marks in the past


Did not change because of my exam scores. If it ain't broken don't fix it. I study alone so others don't bother me. Most questions that people ask never actually showed up on exams.


Question #2: How do you usually study for an Immunology exam? In a few sentences, describe a typical study session giving specific examples of techniques you used.


Summary of typical study techniques used by students:

  • Rewrite notes
  • Made drawings/flow charts/concept maps
  • Reread notes (passive process)
  • Reorganized notes using learning goals
  • Spaced study sessions
  • Re-listened to recorded lectures
  • Memorized lecture slides

Rewrite notes

I would go over the lecture slides and then recopy them and my notes again.


Rewrite notes, review, review, review.  Also rewrite recitation notes


Take my own notes from the lecture notes re-writing everything and adding notes from the book that I didn't completely understand. Adding the case studies and all the clicker and thought questions. Then started studying the notes I took until I had it all memorized.


Ideally, I would retype my lecture notes as a way to remember the material at the end of the week. Go through case studies & make sure I understand the illness/defect including the clicker questions associated with each study. Go through recitation worksheets & quizzes.


For this class I looked over the material after every class. Then when exam time came around, I rewrote the notes, used my book to clarify concepts I didn't understand, looked over all of the recitation material/case studies/worksheets.


I rewrite and retype my notes a few times and try to conceptualize the material rather than just memorize information.


I rewrite all of the notes into a notebook, then rewrite the case studies.  Then I go through my notes numerous times, and finally, I go over the recitation worksheets in detail.  Lastly, I do the learning goals to test my knowledge.


Make drawings/flow charts/concept maps

Go back through the notes and made drawings/flow charts of the major concepts. I also would try to explain/teach the processes to a friend. I would also ask Justin a lot of questions during recitation.


Individually and small groups. Changed the setting from quiet to noisy. I would go over the lecture goals, and then re-draw concepts and use flashcards for small information that I was not retaining.


Reread notes (passive process)


My friend and I have study groups during the week as we learn the material. Then I re-read the PowerPoints, look at the recitation material, and review the case studies.


read, reread, and rereread the lectures


Go over lecture power points for 7-8 hours.

Reorganized notes using learning goals

Answer or provide all the necessary information for every learning goal. Read the book if necessary, but primarily study the learning goal documents after I have included the information needed.


Re-organized notes in learning goals format & studied from that.


I first went through and wrote down the key themes and information from the lecture slides.  After each chapter I would take a break and then return to go ever the learning goals for the chapter.  I would repeat this for each chapter, usually one chapter a day.


Spaced study sessions

I would typically study for about 45 minutes then take a break. After 2-3 hours of individual study, I would take a day off, and then use the next day (typically the day before the exam) to study with other students and discuss the material at length. I study by myself at first so  I am familiar enough with the material so that conversation with others is actually useful.


Start a couple days early if possible. Read the notes once, then write out all of the learning goals while going through the material again (with worksheets and recitations), then go over everything at least once more.


i study at least 1-2 hrs a day a week before the exam. the days before i test my self by filling out recitation worksheets and filling out tables of information that i need to know.


Study throughout the weeks, cram for 2 days


Re-listened to recorded lectures

I would re-listen to each lecture and take additional notes. I would then complete the learning goals and make concept maps.


listen to the lecture recordings and take notes, write flow charts or organize main topics into concise topics.  Study with freinds and think of fun ways to memorize things.  Read over lecture notes and all recitation quizes and activities


I record lectures, listen back to them, go over recitation worksheets, go over learning goals, try to connect each idea to the whole


Listen to the lectures multiple time-I had them recorded.  Used flash cards, talked through everything with my friend.


Memorized lecture slides

I memorize all the notes on every slide of the lecture notes. I go over the learning goals.


I memorized the lecture slides. I reviewed the recitation materials and quizzes. I googled concepts that I didn't understand. I watched all of the videos.


In summary, the study habits of students in IPHY 4600 is very diverse and unique for each student. In order to properly "teach" students how to study, faculty must:

  • Start early. Students need to learn effective techniques early in his/her college careers so that they can apply these skills to future courses.
  • Reinforce good study habits though your assessments. Telling your students not to memorize is ineffective if your assessments encourage rote memorization. By asking more challenging assessment questions, students will be forced to reexamine (and potentially change) their study techniques to meet your expectations.
  • Make student aware of more effective vs. least effective study strategies. Most students learn their study habits through their peers. By introducing your students to the different styles/techniques of studying, this may encourage students to study "outside the bubble."



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