How do I organise my college course modules into one cohesive format?
February 13, 2007 5:29 AM   Subscribe

How do I organise my college course modules into one cohesive format?

Help! I'm drowning in college coursework. How do I organise my course modules into one cohesive format that I can easily update, expand, and use for revision?

There are some highly specific details in this question, but it's essentially a problem of organising related but distinct information into one cross-referenced and definitive source.

I'm currently studying osteopathy, and have a huge amount of anatomical information to learn. The course is split over several modules which are roughly:

1. Structural and functional anatomy (lists of bones, muscles, joints, etc. and how they work together).

2. Dysfunction (problems that arise, currently specifically in the musculo-skeletal system, although cardio-vascular systems and other organs of the body will also be included).

3. Technique (how to detect and treat problems using manual therapy).

The fundamental problem I have is that the course is structured in such a way that I find it very hard to relate these subject areas to each other. The modules are taught separately, and although there has been a clear attempt by the faculty to integrate the subject matter, I simply don't find it cohesive enough. A "perfect" lecture for me would be one whole day studying one anatomical feature. For example, starting with anatomy of the foot, moving onto its dysfunctions, and culminating in diagnostic and treatment techniques. Timetable restrictions prevent this. We may study the anatomy of the foot one morning, but learn technique for treating the back in the afternoon. Our study notes reflect this fractured approach: we may learn about the thigh while we're in college, but be expected to "read ahead" about the bones of the pelvis concurrently.

Revision is similarly tricky. If we want to revise all techniques, that's fine. But if we want to revise "the back", and include all three modules, we have to collate notes from multiple sources. This is time-consuming, and potentially leaves us open to accidentally missing information that is buried deep in one module. I'd like to organise revision (and the notes themselves) arbitrarily, not just by module. For example, it may make sense to revise "the foot", or "muscle attachements", or "nerve supplies".

How do I organise this fractured information into one cohesive, cross-referenced format?

Pointers on where to start looking, rather than definitive solutions, will be gratefully accepted. Googling has revealed plenty of well-organised and detailed information, but I'm not looking for yet more information on the subject matter.

I'm going to start by checking out mind-mapping, so if anyone has experience of learning anatomical or medical information using mind-maps, it would be very useful. The info I need to capture from my course is a combination of detailed text, bullet-point facts, and images. Mind-maps seem good for this; any words of wisdom? I'm not entirely convinced that they will handle the cross-referencing aspect very well: I'd have to settle on a means of organising the course material - probably by anatomical feature - then maybe have standard branches from each subject, maybe one for each module. Somehow that doesn't seem "good enough" to me! I've also just found which looks interesting.

Bonus points: Whatever solution I settle on, I'd ideally like to put it online in some collaborative format, so my fellow students and I can combine forces to create a definitive coursework model. I have access to a Linux web-server with Dreamhost, but of course I only have user-privileges, not admin. PHP apps will probably be fine, maybe Java. Can anyone recommend appropriate software? (I am going to ask the college faculty if they'd outline all modules as mind-maps, maybe even the entire course, but I won't hold my breath).

Apologies for the length of this question :-)
posted by ajp to Grab Bag (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds to me like a wiki is the way to go.
posted by handee at 7:50 AM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: A wiki has indeed been started :-)

The main problem, I guess, is structuring and cross-referencing the data. So, a specific example: muscles, bones, nerves, ligaments and tendons of the foot and ankle.

If I was to organise this hierarchically, I could take any of the elements as a starting point:

+ muscles
+ bones
+ etc


+ foot
+ ankle
+ etc

Or even

For each individual bone:
+ Named attachment points for ligaments and tendons
+ Attached muscles
+ Joints
+ etc

But the reality is that the information is not hierarchical - any node could relate to any other. Hence the requirement for some form of "cross-referencing". Now, we could indeed create a Wiki page for each topic, and cross-link every item to the relevant topic page. But that does seem like a lot of duplicated effort. (And anyway, wikis tend not to be allow any sort of data structuring: a page about muscles of the foot would called "FootMuscles" rather than "foot/muscles", if you see what I mean).

The more I think about it, the more I envisage some sort of cloud of interconnected nodes. A kind of 3-dimensional concept map rather than a mind map. It would be horrendously detailed though. The ability to "zoom" into a node and see details for nodes connected to an arbitrary level of nesting would be great. But maybe I'm being a little prescriptive or idealistic!
posted by ajp at 8:42 AM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: Well I was a tad disappointed by the response to this question ;-) I thought it was a nice, thorny problem about mapping massively self-referential data, just the sort of thing the MF geeks would enjoy (and I count myself in their number). Ah well.

In case anyone finds this, I'm posting my half-assed solution to this problem.

I'm going to use a variety of techniques. Mind-mapping is definitely proving to be useful. I'm currently using FreeMind, free mind-mapping software written in Java. It's good but doesn't allow "leaf nodes" to be connected. Hence there's a lot of duplication of information (e.g. "foot -> bones -> talus" and "foot -> joints -> ankle -> bones -> talus" etc). But this may not be a problem, since repeating the information helps to memorise it. I suspect that mind-mapping will be very useful for modeling more hierarchical information such as blood vessel branches (although structures like anastomoses and plexuses are still tricky).

A more fully-featured mind-mapper might be MindJet, but my college has FreeMind installed on its computers, so from an interoperability perspective, it makes sense to use FreeMind. Also all the students can download it for free, which is a big plus.

I'm also going to look at using CMAP, a free piece of software for creating "concept maps". I haven't looked at this yet.

In conjunction with this, I'm going to try some old-fashioned rote learning of things like muscle attachment points. There are plenty of tables of information out there on the web. I've created a wiki for all the course students to use in order to create our own "sanitised" version of this information.

For those who are specifically learning human anatomy, I've found flash cards by Netter and Gray's Anatomy For Students to be extremely helpful. These are apparently available from Amazon, and, for those of us in the UK, from Foyles on Charring Cross Road in London.
posted by ajp at 2:13 AM on February 19, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm breaking the information down into chunks. Each chunk is a discrete structure in the body, such as "foot", "leg", "thigh", "back". Each mind map starts from there, and has initial branches such as "bones", "joints", etc.

I'm also going to create mind-maps for blood vessels and nerves. More tabular information is going straight into tables: things like muscle details: attachments, actions, innervation, etc.

Not perfect, but it's a start.
posted by ajp at 2:15 AM on February 19, 2007

Response by poster: Adding more in case anyone ever finds all this useful:

I've recently discovered the Foundational Model Explorer, which is used for exploring the information tree in the Digital Anatomist Foundational Model of Anatomy Ontology (FMA).

It seems that the FMA is a good approach for defining a standard ontology of human anatomy, one that I'd love to use as a basis for organising my notes - if I wasn't too busy actually trying to learn them all.
posted by ajp at 6:32 AM on March 7, 2007

Response by poster: Yet more:

Tables of muscle details are now in a account, to which everyone on the course has access (nothing fancy, everyone has the username and password).

Nobody's actually editing them apart from me, but never mind.

Next step is to link to them from the Wiki site, which is slowly becoming a master learning resource. It's a pity it will be most mature and hence most useful only once we've actually learned the material. Still, future students might find it useful.
posted by ajp at 6:18 AM on March 23, 2007

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