Quinnipiac University College of Arts and Sciences

Anatomy of Creative Writing

In Faculty, Students on March 6, 2014 at 12:56 pm


By Dawn Colomb-Lippa, Instructor of Biology

In the world of anatomy there is an expected organized exactness. Is it possible that, in the precise and historically never-changing world of anatomy, one can be creative?

It is time for the BI211 writing assignment in the organ system module. Students from many other sections of lab will be completing case studies for their projects. These are scientifically based cases based on organ system diseases followed by questions which require research and appropriately written responses. It makes sense. It is a long standing and proven way to have students think about anatomy in their writing. It’s fitting for the course. It bores me to tears.

Perhaps it is my fleeting attention span and my need for entertainment, but I can’t do these case studies. So I take some liberties with my assignment. I understand fully that the goal of the assignment is for the student to do a bit of appropriate research in order to express, in writing, an accurate knowledge of anatomy and physiology. In this case, the writing should reflect the student’s understanding of organs, so we are talking kidneys, liver, duodenum and the like. Things that do not often evoke a streak of creativity, unless you are in advertising. Or cartoons. So here is what I decided.

My students will be expected to conduct an interview with an organ of their choosing. The interview must thoroughly cover at least five out of 20 very common interview questions. These questions range from “what was your most challenging job?” to “tell me how you would describe your work style”. They should be addressed in a manner which clearly suggests to the reader (me) that the student has researched his or her subject completely and they should be used to fully describe the particular anatomical relationships and physiological processes of the interviewees, that is to say, the organs. And they need to be entertaining to the reader (again, me).

What I have received as a result of this assignment have been, without a doubt, the most creative, interesting writing pieces that I have seen from Health Science majors in my many years of teaching. If my colleagues have heard me laughing through the semi-open door of my office, it is because of these papers. To be frank, I think most of these students would be more comfortable with case studies. They are discipline oriented. They like formulated writing in the way that medical notes are formulated writing. Being creative in a basic science course is risky, and the students know it. Asking the stomach what their ideal work environment is and having it answer “very acidic, with a pH of 1-2 so that my digestive enzymes can work optimally” feels strange to these students. By their account, it also feels liberating and rewarding. So much “by the book” work is expected of science students. To give them the liberty to have fun while learning is important and (I would argue) necessary in order to achieve a balance between preparing for a career and preparing to be a creative thinker. With any luck, this will inspire our future healthcare providers to be inventive for the duration of their careers. It’s a start anyway.

  1. I like this assignment as I have suggested similar assignments to professors of anatomy. For example, what if you had students explain what would need to change in the human body in order for us to be able to scratch our backs easily? What would be the impact on the rest of the body, on architecture, on clothing or car designs?

    Another would be to have a set of organ cards and have students each pick a card. Then you could have a press conference with each student representing the organ he or she picked. You could even have students arrange themselves in the order in which the organs interact in a given process.

    My ultimate dream is to have truly collaborative education systems that have students from multiple disciplines working together on projects that require expertise from various areas.

    Thanks for sharing this, Dawn.

  2. Thank you Dawn, for reminding us that Creative Thinking (for instructors in developing assignments/pedagogical approaches [as well as in their own research/scholarship] AND for students in learning and developing knowledge) is an important aspect of academic/scholarly work across the disciplines!

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