MasteringA&P educator study documents results after implementation at El Paso Community College

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MasteringA&P educator study documents results after implementation at El Paso Community College

Key Findings

  • Students who attempted more MasteringA&P assignments and had higher average scores for the MasteringA&P assignments tended to have higher lab practical averages.
  • The instructor observed an increase in student conceptual understanding after adding MasteringA&P, based on the type of questions students asked, performance in lab, and the quality of the final lab project.
  • The instructor recommends monitoring student feedback to find the right balance in the amount and type of homework assigned.

School name
El Paso Community College, El Paso, TX

Course name
Anatomy and Physiology II

Course format
Face-to-face and hybrid

Course materials
MasteringA&P, and Human Anatomy & Physiology, by Marieb

Fall 2015–Spring 2016

Submitted by
Glenda Hill, Instructor


  • Location: Two-year college with five campuses in El Paso County, Texas
  • Enrollment: 8,311 full-time and 18,581 part-time (Spring 2015)
  • Ethnic demographics: 84% identify as Hispanic
  • Average age: 23

About the Course

Glenda Hill has been teaching for 16 years at El Paso Community College. She currently teaches both face-to-face and hybrid courses for the Anatomy and Physiology (A&P) I and II courses.

Anatomy and Physiology is a two-semester, four-credit lecture and lab course taken primarily by pre-nursing students, along with a few other health occupation programs, such as Physical Therapy Assistant, Occupational Therapy Assistant, Radiology, and Sonography.  The course emphasizes correlated structure and function of the human cardiovascular, lymphatic, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, and immune systems. It provides laboratory exercises that demonstrate and support lecture topics. Students may take A&P I and II concurrently, but it is highly recommended that students successfully complete A&P I first.  Students must have completed General Biology or have placed out of it before enrolling in A&P I.

For A&P II, the objectives for the lecture and lab are essentially the same. The lecture stresses the theoretical aspects of human anatomy and physiology while the laboratory focuses on applications with a significant hands-on component. Upon satisfactory completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology of the following systems:
    • Circulatory
    • Lymphatic and Immunity
    • Respiratory
    • Digestive
    • Urinary
    • Reproductive
  • Discuss and describe cell metabolism.
  • Describe the genetic principles which govern the inheritance of human traits.
  • Meet the physiology and pathology objectives in “EPCC Core Anatomy and Physiology Modules.”
  • Discuss the basic concepts in the regulation of fluids, electrolytes, and acid-base balance.

Challenges and Goals

In teaching the course, Hill has found that students lack good study skills. They don’t understand the amount of work they need to do outside of class to be successful, and she finds many students do not do work if it is not required. In addition, if students don’t do well on a lab practical, indicating they did not understand the concepts, she has observed that they generally will not go back and learn it on their own, even though the concepts will be needed in future courses and on the job. Hill understands, though, that the majority of her students have many obligations outside of class, which includes caring for children and working full-time.

To help students succeed, Hill has tried to find a balance with the amount of assigned homework, while still ensuring that she provides resources that students with time constraints can access when it is convenient for them. In addition, Hill likes to create her own lab materials for the course, but finds it very time-consuming to do from scratch. She has limited time and resources to develop content on her own, so she is always looking for quality resources that she can use for her course. In Fall 2015, Hill adopted MasteringA&P to address these challenges.


Students take both lecture and lab concurrently with the same instructor. The course components for lecture and lab are as follows:

Lecture: The lecture part of the course is comprised of five unit exams and one non-comprehensive final exam. Lecture exams consist of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and essay-type questions. Tests for face-to-face sections are administered during lab time. Students in hybrid sections take their lecture exams at the college testing center. Hill does not drop any exam grades. Make-up exams are available for all lecture exams with the exclusion of the final, and are comprised of approximately 100 multiple-choice questions. All students are required to take the final exam. Hill gives extra credit opportunities for every lecture exam. These extra credit opportunities are clinical questions which mirror the concepts taught for that particular unit. No homework is given for the lecture portion of the course, but students are expected to have done the reading from the textbook.

Laboratory:  Hill administers four lab practicals that she developed using MasteringA&P’s Practice Anatomy Lab (PAL), a virtual anatomy study and practice tool that gives students access to lab specimens including human cadaver, anatomical models, histology, cat, and fetal pig. Testing for face-to-face sections is during lab time. Hybrid sections take their lab exams during class time as time permits or at the college testing center.

MasteringA&P homework is assigned for the lab portion of the course. The goal for assigning homework is for students to practice so they can participate in lab and to shore up any concept deficits Hill observes during lab time. It includes ten lab assignments that count as one exam grade. During Fall 2015, the MasteringA&P assignments included both pre- and post- lecture assignments. Hill’s students tend to have many responsibilities outside of academics, and often commented to Hill that  Mastering assignments were too long and contained some repetitive questions. As a result of this student feedback, Hill made a change the following semester and decided to assign only post-lecture homework.

As Hill looks ahead to Fall 2016, she says that she may add back some assignments. She believes that when initiating a program like MasteringA&P, there is a learning curve, and she is monitoring feedback every semester to determine the optimal amount of required homework to help students develop effective study habits and enhance learning outside of class, while appreciating the constraints on their time.


Overall Grade: 75% lecture; 25% lab

● 70%       Unit exams (five)
● 30%       Final exam

● 67%       Practicals (four)
● 17%       Final project
● 8%          MasteringA&P homework
● 8%          Digestive project

Results and Data

MasteringA&P was implemented in Fall 2015, but the implementation was changed for Spring 2016. Hill taught four sections of A&P II in Fall 2015 with a total enrollment of 126, and three sections in Spring 2016 with a total enrollment of 140. Table 1 shows that performance for students from each semester was comparable. More students in the Fall sections skipped the Introduction to Mastering assignment than students in the Spring, and the average Mastering score was five percentage points higher in the Spring. However, the average number of regular Mastering assignments skipped, plus course assessment averages were essentially equal.

The focus of this analysis was on student performance on the lab practicals, since MasteringA&P (MA&P) was a component of the lab and separate homework was not assigned for the lecture portion. However, the concepts being worked on in lab are related to the lecture material, so homework done in MasteringA&P for lab can help with overall understanding of course concepts.

To better understand MA&P homework participation and performance compared to performance on the lab practicals, students were first grouped based on the number of MA&P assignments skipped. A second analysis was done based on the average MA&P homework scores. Figure 1 groups students based on the mean number of MasteringA&P assignments skipped (not including the Introduction to Mastering assignment). For Fall 2015, the mean number of assignments skipped was 2.4 out of 10 (24%), and for Spring 2016, the mean number skipped was 2.3 (23%).

  • For Fall 2015, students who attempted all or skipped fewer than three assignments had significantly higher lab practical averages than students who skipped three or more MA&P assignments (p<.0001).
  • For Spring 2016, students who attempted all or skipped fewer than three assignments had higher lab practical averages, but it was not statistically significant (p=0.13).

To evaluate student performance further, scores for MasteringA&P were taken into consideration. The mean score for MasteringA&P homework for Fall 2015 was 83 percent, and for Spring, 88 percent. Students who averaged above the mean MasteringA&P homework scores each semester had a significantly higher lab practical average than students with an average MA&P score at or below the mean (see figure 2) with p<.0001.

Other variables such as study skills and motivation can impact these results, but based on the findings from the students in this study, those who did more MA&P homework and scored higher on the MA&P assignments tended to have higher average lab practical scores.

A&P II course results by semester

Fall 2015 Spring 2016
Skipped Intro 37% 9%
MA&P Assignments Skipped 2.4 2.3
MA&P Average Score 83% 88%
Lab Practical Average 86% 85%
Final Grade Average 76% 76%

Table 1. A&P II course results by semester. Fall 2015 (n=126), Spring 2016 (n=140)

Lab practical average based on MasteringA&P homework attempted


Figure 1. Fall 2015, Attempted All/Skipped <3, (n=69); Skipped ≥3, (n=57); Spring 2016, Attempted All/Skipped <3, (n=66); Skipped ≥3, (n=73), Error bars=Stan Error, *p<.0001

Lab practical average based on MasteringA&P mean score


Figure 2. Fall 2015, MA&P Homework ≤ Mean (n=29); MA&P Homework > Mean (n=98); Spring 2016, MA&P Homework  Mean≤ (n=39); MA&P Homework > Mean (n=102), Error Bars=Standard Error, p<.0001

The Student Experience

Hill has solicited student feedback since implementing Mastering, both to understand if the quantity of Mastering homework was appropriate and to determine if she sees a change in student performance during lab activities. Hill has observed a notable increase in her students’ understanding of basic concepts. While she acknowledges that this is subjective, she finds that the questions students asked during lecture were more thoughtful and concise. She also has observed a marked improvement in their final lab project. She feels the projects have been well thought-out in scope and presentation, and because students’ conceptual understanding of lab concepts seems to have improved, they were able to do better work on the comprehensive project.


Because Hill finds that students often don’t spend time studying or doing work outside of class unless it’s required, she has implemented required MasteringA&P homework to help students develop their study skills and better prepare for lab activities. After implementing MasteringA&P, Hill found that she was able to increase the rigor of lab activities to include more critical thinking and conceptual learning. She was surprised to find that student performance increased, not only in the lab, but for the lecture portion as well. Data indicate that students in this study who attempted more of the MasteringA&P homework, and scored higher on it, had higher lab practical averages. Hill says that her students have jobs and kids and are very busy, so they need to find an efficient way to study and have resources available when it works with their schedule. With MasteringA&P, she has found students can do the work online when they have time, and she can more easily monitor their performance. Because students seemed to better understand concepts, she was able to add more topics, along with increasing the rigor of the concepts being covered. According to Hill,  “Mastering has helped immensely in giving my students the practice and reinforcement of anatomy.”

The school is working on developing a fully online A&P class. Because Hill taught the first hybrid course using MasteringA&P, the department found they can take the lessons she learned as they design the online course. Hill understands the importance of tracking student performance and results via online homework, and she believes that her experience with Mastering will enable the school to get an online section up and running more easily.


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