The Physiology of Teaching: Chris Perumalla’s Decade of Simplifying Complex Topics

Dr. Chris PerumallaFor almost a decade, the Faculty of Medicine physiologist Dr. Chris Perumalla, has been using his passion as an educator and his desire to innovate to bring new teaching technology projects to life, both in the classroom, and out.

Acknowledged widely for his work with UofT students, Chris Perumalla was a recipient of a 2013 President’s Teaching Award. But perhaps his greatest joy has been his online physiology course that has created a chance for students from all over the world to have access to the same learning opportunities as the students at UofT. His web-based physiology course gives distance students the “complete package” and the same experiences online as UofT students are learning on campus.

They can “watch lectures, stream the PowerPoint slides that have the capability to stop and start, with the capability to search by typing in a particular word within the particular lecture, and using the features of Blackboard (learning management system),” is how Dr. Perumalla explained the model he created for his web based course.

He has been the recipient of several Instructional Technology Innovation Funds grants over the past decade, starting in 2004, when he received a grant to create physiology simulations, which ultimately gave rise to his full online course.

The ITIF fund helped the project to become what it is, but Dr. Perumalla believes that the online course would have happened regardless of the additional funding, The fund did contribute significantly to its success, he says, because they were able to have students test it out while they were in the process of producing it.

According to Dr. Perumalla, who is also the Director of UofT’s Division of Teaching Labs, to date two thousand non-UofT students from at least 10 different countries have taken the course. And in recent years, the online physiology course has served as a model for other programs to set up similar online courses.

All of these courses, “provide students who are not part of UofT the opportunity to take a course created at UofT that will give them the level of knowledge that you would receive at UofT,” says Dr. Perumalla.

Of course, all of his teaching innovations also benefit UofT students as well.

Dr. Perumalla’s first ITIF grant was the very successful physiology simulation project used with students at UofT. He described the original challenge as “wanting the simulations to be as true to reality as possible, (for example) looking at explaining the concept of communication between cells in the nerves and muscles, and looking to have something that had an interactive interface but easy to use, and physiologically correct”.

The simulations help students understand with a more hands on approach to learning and has been extremely successful for the last 8 years. His main objective was “taking an abstract concept and creating a simulation to give hands on experience. The students are not only able to observe, but also change the parameters to see how it would function in real life.”

As Dr. Perumalla says “I am an educator. I love teaching students, taking complex topics and simplifying it in a way that students understand it, and once they have a basic understanding, I want to provide tools for how their basic understanding can be stretched from a basic level to a complex level”.