Zoë Soon

Media and Links


Who or what sparked your initial interest in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?

When I was first hired in 2011, I was given the task of designing and instructing several new courses for the program, 3 of which were lecture-lab courses. I was able to buy quite a bit of lab equipment, but of course there are always limitations and budget constraints, which inspired me to add in and create the best and most economical lab activities I could for all of these courses to supplement. I searched the literature and improvised, making a lot of craft and dollar store purchases to design lab kits for each week’s activities including: drawing a life-size Barbie laminate for a “Can you draw and fit all the vital organs into Barbie?” exercise (spoiler alert: it is very hard, given Barbie’s physiologically impossible torso and abdomen sizes).

Other favourites include: having students use “Frankenstein Play-Doh brain and heart molds” for practicing sagittal, transverse and oblique cuts; and using miniature human skeletons and clay to build and name skeletal muscles as well as documenting muscle and joint movements and actions; enacting mitosis and meiosis using wool, beads and pipe cleaners; wafting cloves, vanilla & other spices for testing smell sensitivity, distance, and directional acuity tests as well as stimulating the phenomenon of central neural adaption.  Did you know that some humans can smell vanilla and some can’t? And the list goes on…more favourites include: Post-it® team races for life-size skeleton building (How many ribs do you need?) and joint identification (Where are your hinge and ball and socket joints?); ink stamp pads for FBI fingerprint analysis; fabric swatches, toothpicks, tuning forks and latex gloves for investigating whether humans have wet/dry/pressure/vibration/fine-touch finger receptors (Hint, you have some but not all!); mini water balloons for creating bursa and fat pads in knee joints as well as pericardial and pleural cavities around the heart and lungs; a large sieve, spoons, beads, funnel, bucket, with fabric pulled along a lab bench in an Assembly Belt challenge to depict actions of the kidney nephrons in filtering blood; student “cell-fies” using cell phones and microscopes to investigate tissue and cell types, etc..

Early on, I began writing these into custom-lab manuals published by Wiley for the students and Lab TAs, adding new activities and improving others each year. Encouraged by my director, Dr. Paul van Donkelaar, I started to document, evaluate and then disseminate lab and lecture activity-based SoTL results every year through SoTL and Higher Education Conferences and publications. Students in the courses became interested in this research and were wanting to help out and learn more about research design, statistical analysis, and literature review. So, I volunteered to start taking on capstone undergraduate research students. Every year, I designed and supervised more SoTL projects. To date, my SoTL research has involved mentoring 21 fourth-year undergraduate research students and 2 Workstudy students in the completion and dissemination of 21 SoTL projects.

To date, my primary SoTL research projects have centered around developing engaging learning tools that assist students in their learning of complex topics.  Typically, this involves performing statistical analysis to assess the impacts of these resources on both the student learning environment as well as student learning gains. To date, this data has been used to improve resources for over 10,000 students.

What SoTL project are you currently engaged in and excited about?

I am constantly inspired by the changing needs of my students to come up with fun, new and engaging learning tools and ways of teaching challenging concepts. Right now, there are two major SoTL projects I’m heavily involved in. One SoTL project involves the testing of the new set of Anatomy, Physiology and Pathophysiology Open Education Resources (OER) that I have been creating in collaboration with UBCV and BCIT. Although this set of OER is a work-in-process, with pages being generated every week, we have already started implementing the finished pieces into our classrooms. So far, that has included 1000s of interactive student practice Q&As as well as tutorial video clips, e-text pages, case studies, patient narratives, a language inclusivity guide, diversity in STEM spotlights and unique 3-D imagery to foster student curiosity, learning and mastery of content.

In the second SoTL project, I’m collaborating with Brunel University medical school (London, UK) in jazzing up Team-based Learning with the use of virtual patient simulators. This term, my class and I used this tool to explore respiratory disease pathologies and typical treatments. We are currently collecting data and are planning to create simulations of neurologic pathologies for next year.

What questions in SoTL are you excited to answer in the future?

I am cognizant that student skill sets continue to evolve as the digital age has been upon us for some time and the iPad generation has arrived. Additionally, we have been through a pandemic, and the world continues to be challenged by many events (both near and far). Hybrid, blended and flipped courses are becoming more commonplace for accessibility reasons and also due to space and time constraints. It is to be expected that needs and wants of students have changed substantially. I try to help my students by creating resources that are interesting, engaging, current, relevant, inclusive, flexible, accessible, user-friendly, repeatable, stress-free and ELL-friendly. Also, providing student autonomy, places for self-reflection, metacognition, and prompt feedback is of paramount importance. In building these new tools, it always feels imperative to evaluate and gather student feedback in an objective and scientific manner in order to continue to improve resources so that they are successful and continue to reflect current pedagogy.

Why should others get involved in SoTL?

I think others will really enjoy it! Plus, I’m betting that all instructors are also constantly self-reflecting on how to best teach different topics, and are assessing what lessons and tools have worked well in the past, and how can other course materials be improved to make things more engaging as well as to bolster learning in the future. SoTL is the perfect venue to do this. Through SoTL communities and literature, you can quickly surround yourself with helpful materials from like-minded people that can spark ideas and forge friendships and collaborations.

What is something everyone should try in Kelowna?

So much to do! Enjoy Kelowna’s shops and restaurants and outdoor activities and then come to where I live in Vernon and the surrounding areas for even more skiing, snowboarding, hiking, biking, zip lines, paddle boarding, not to mention the kangaroo park in Lake Country, Davison Orchards, Planet Bee honey farm, the O’Keefe ranch, the Science Centre, farmers’ and arts and crafts markets, plus the historical mural and ghost town walks.

If you had to talk for an hour straight about a non-academic topic, what would it be?

LOL, anyone that knows me knows that I’m incredibly quiet.

What is your favourite song or band?

I learned how to play the piano as a kid and used to fall asleep at night listening to my parents playing a mix of jazz, blues and contemporary music, including the Rolling Stones. So, I love many genres, including classical. I have a special place in my heart for Canadian female songwriters.

What is your favourite animal as a pet?

I love all animals and plants, which is no doubt how I ended up in the Biology department! I have had many pets since childhood, all favourites. Currently we have two very agile Balinese cats (5-yr-old sisters) that love to climb, play chase, and parkour off the walls, as well as snuggle up in the warmest coziest spots they can find, preferably in sunbeams and blankets.

What is your favourite sports or sports team?

Skiing, tennis, soccer, biking, hiking, field hockey, and paddle boarding.  It’s always good times, playing sports outdoors in nature with others, while sharing stories and jokes (my students would tell you the nerdy science jokes make me laugh the loudest).


If you’re interested in hearing more about Dr. Soon’s project, or wanting to collaborate on other projects, connect with her at zoeanne.soon@ubc.ca.