Absent but still engaged: Connecting with diverse student cohorts using self-paced, online physiology modules



student connection, physiology, online teaching, self-paced



On-campus clinics to support mastery of challenging physiology threshold concepts among a cohort of Murdoch University students were introduced to BMS206 (Biomedical Physiology) in 2009, and recognised for their impact on student learning and engagement in an Office of Learning and Teaching Citation. Despite ongoing popularity, clinic attendance declined to less than 5% from 2014-2018, with personal commitments cited as barriers to participation.


To adapt to changing student needs, on-campus clinics were reconceived in asynchronous, self-paced, digital form.


Nine question-and-answer style clinics were created to direct students on digital learning journeys through physiology threshold concepts, providing alternate, scaffolded, individualised “paths” through material, depending on students’ responses.


Clinic participation increased from 5 to 75% with implementation of optional, non-assessed online clinics. Student perception and unit performance data indicate that clinic use promotes deeper learning. Diverse students (undergraduate and postgraduate, with wide ranging Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATARs) cite clinics’ in-built flexibility, effective use of repetition to promote mastery and confidence and interactive, engaging presentation as particular benefits. Students describe a sense of connection with staff in self-paced clinics, thanks to the careful incorporation of the staff voice, helping online clinics to transform students’ confidence and motivation when faced with challenging material. 

Author Biographies

Sarah Etherington

Senior Lecturer in Physiology Medical, Molecular and Forensic Sciences

Tamara Hourani, Murdoch University

Medical, Molecular and Forensic Sciences

Shu Hui Koh, Murdoch University

Medical, Molecular and Forensic Sciences

Marnie Nolton, Murdoch University

Learning, Teaching and Technology