Cliff Altitude

(The FASEB Journal. 2011;25:672.2)

Case based learning of high altitude acclimatization promotes integrative understanding of physiology

William H Cliff. 
Biology, Niagara University, Lewiston, NY

Exploration of acclimatization to extreme environments offers students the opportunity to learn how coordinated physiological adjustments are made by different body systems. A case study about high altitude acclimatization was developed around an account of the 1963 American ascent of Mount Everest. Students were introduced to the case at the beginning of the course and repeatedly reexamined it as they tackled a series of questions about high altitude physiology presented in conjunction with the different body systems studied. At the end of the course, students worked in teams to answer more detailed questions about the case designed to uncover the coordinated physiological responses to high altitude. Integrated understanding was promoted by team construction of comprehensive concept maps of the physiology of high altitude acclimatization. Examination of answers to questions about high altitude physiology indicated that students had gained comprehension of system specific mechanisms for high altitude acclimatization. Review of the team generated concept maps showed that students could portray the interconnected responses of cardiovascular, respiratory and urinary systems to high altitude. These results suggest that recurrent use and summative analysis of a case study about high altitude acclimatization can help students integrate their understanding of the physiology of different body systems.

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