(The FASEB Journal. 2002; 16(5):A756)
The Inability to Use General Models is One Possible Source of Student Conceptual Difficulties.
Joel Michael,1 Mary Pat Wenderoth,2 and Harold Modell3
1Molecular Biophysics and Physiology, Rush University, Chicago, IL, 2Zoology Dept., Univ. of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, 3NRCLSE, Seattle, WA
Students have conceptual and/or reasoning difficulties (misconceptions) about important physiological phenomena [Michael et al., Am. J. Physiol. 277 (Adv. Physiol. Educ. 22): S127-135, 1999]. A variety of possible sources for these problems have been discussed. We have evidence suggesting that some conceptual difficulties arise from students’ inability to understand and apply general models of physical systems to physiological phenomena. Three questions testing the students’ ability to apply mass/heat flow, elastic structures, and mass balance models [Modell, Advances in Physiol. Educ. 23: 101-107, 2000] were written. For each general model question we wrote a matching question about a cardiovascular phenomenon that requires the application of that same model. These six questions were administered to approximately 800 undergraduate students at three different institutions. The results suggest that students unable to answer correctly a general model question were less likely to correctly answer the corresponding cardiovascular question. The inability to correctly answer certain physiology questions may be diagnostic for a difficulty understanding or applying one or more general models. Student learning of physiology should benefit from some attention to general models. (Funded by NSF grant #REC-9909411.)