(The FASEB Journal. 2008;22:767.9)
Using General Models in Physiology can Enhance Student Understanding
Mary Pat Wenderoth and Kate Henson
Biology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Students often compartmentalize their knowledge and fail to recognize the principles that are common between topics. General models (GM) are teaching models that provide a way of making common physiological patterns explicit to students (Modell, Adv. Physiol. Educ. 23:101–107, 2000.) We predicted that by introducing and incorporating the concepts of GM into an introductory physiology course, students could use the GMs to form robust mental models that would help them explain, predict and successfully solve physiological problems. Four of the seven GMs: Flux, Mass Balance, Mass Action and Control Systems were presented. Exams in the course are short answer and students were directed to identify the GM in the margin when relevant. We recorded if students used the correct GM and the points scored less GM pts. Students who correctly identified GMs earned significantly more points on exam questions. Prior to beginning the Respiratory System, students had a pre-test on the mechanics of ventilation. No prompts to use GM were given, yet 90% of students used the correct GM to explain the mechanism. We also analyzed student’s perception of the usefulness of GM and found that students who correctly used GM also had the most sophisticated understanding of the usefulness of GM for their explanatory and predictive powers. Using GM in your course has the potential to significantly enhance student understanding in physiology.