Introduction to the Human Physiology Laboratory & Learning Models

Introduction to Biol 256L

Karri Haen Whitmer

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”  W. Edwards Deming

The Biology 256 Fundamentals of Human Physiology Laboratory course complements the Biology 256 lecture course and was designed to provide students with hands-on access to modern techniques in human physiological analyses using a mixed course-based research pedagogical approach. This mixed approach focuses on practicing the foundational skills required for performing research before taking on real human physiology research questions.

Auchincloss et al. (2017) have defined the research experiences that qualify as course-based undergraduate research (CURE). In these experiences, students participate in collaborative work where they use real world scientific practices, which focus on discovery, and allow students to contribute to broadly relevant and important work in a field of study. This paradigm of learning in the science laboratory is different from inquiry-based methods largely because the work in inquiry learning methods may have a pre-determined outcome. Overall, there are many similarities between inquiry and CURE methods. In this human physiology course, the work students participate in is both inquiry-based and CURE. Students practice skills with a selection of pre-written experiments. Students also participate in shorter ongoing physiology studies which are maintained by the project PI (instructor). Finally, students create their own research projects, which may be completely novel for some groups, or more inquiry-based, for others. This type of course is highly flexible and offers a broad array of experiences to undergraduate students who are early in the undergraduate education pipeline.

During the first half of the BIOL 256, Fundamentals of Human Physiology course, students learn how to perform literature searches; generate research questions and hypotheses; design experiments; collect, analyze, visualize and interpret data; and present scientific findings to others. Students gain scientific process skills by conducting a variety of experiments and/or clinical investigations each week. Many of the practice experiments featured in this manual were developed by iWorx for use with LabScribe software.

At midterm the course shifts from acquiring skills to applying skills. The Course Undergraduate Research Experiences (CURE) model is employed when students begin to write a series of short research proposals. These proposals must be original research ideas created by the students, which do not have obvious conclusions in the research literature. The graduate teaching assistant helps the students to select one proposal for oral presentation to the class. The proposal is peer-reviewed in preparation for conducting the original experiment. During the last weeks of class, vetted experiments are conducted, course-wide or section-wide data is collected and analyzed, and findings from the student research projects are presented to the class.

The Biol 256L curriculum offers a high-impact human physiology experience that fosters the critical thinking skills required to be a successful citizen in a modern world filled with misinformation. This goal is achieved by:

  • Creating a learning environment that relies on collaborative work and emphasizes communication among staff and peers.
  • Asking students to use foundational skills to discriminate information in research communications and the media.
  • Providing opportunity for course-based undergraduate research (CURE) or participation in research projects that do not have well-established results in the scientific literature.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. Develop the skills necessary to examine and interpret issues related to human physiology from an evidence-based perspective.
  2. Synthesize ideas to make connections between the knowledge of anatomy, physiology and real-world problems involving human health and medicine.

Learning Goals:       

  1. Learn how to use common tools and procedures of a physiology laboratory, including how to use data collection hardware and analysis software (iWorx IXTA and LabScribe).
  2. Understand how to make accurate measurements of physiological phenomena, including determining sources of error.
  3. Use knowledge of physiology concepts from lecture and the scientific method to propose, hypothesize about, and design experiments to test physiological phenomena.
  4. Use statistics to analyze data.
  5. Apply knowledge of graphs and charts to visually represent data.
  6. Write and make presentations about experimental conclusions using appropriate physiological terminology.

Course Modules:

Course modules are selected from the following text chapters and are delivered online in Canvas. Each Canvas module contains a pre-lab quiz and lab report.

  • Introduction to experimental methods in human physiology research. Homework assignment: obtaining credible information from literature searches.
  • Introduction to iWorx & LabScribe. Homework assignment: statistical analysis of human body temperature.
  • Properties of blood. Homework assignment: data analysis & visualization.
  • Molecules of Life: the central dogma and RNA vaccines.
  • Body temperature homeostasis and the cold pressor test.
  • Clinical techniques: performing the neurological assessment.
  • Factors affecting reflex times of the Achilles and patellar stretch reflexes.
  • Human nerve conduction: the nerve conduction velocity test and variables affecting conduction.
  • Auditory and visual pathways and reaction times. Homework: group research proposal 1.
  • Electromyography (EMG) of voluntary muscle movement.  Homework: group research proposal 2.
  • Remote muscular control and prosthetics.
  • Reading the electrocardiogram (ECG) and correlation with heart sounds. Homework: group research proposal 3.
  • Breathing and gravity: factors affecting lung volumes.
  • Modern uses of electrooculography (EOG) and eye tracking technologies. Homework: develop oral proposal presentation.

During the last month of the course, students present final research proposals for peer review, conduct original physiology experiments, and present the final experimental results.



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Introduction to the Human Physiology Laboratory & Learning Models Copyright © 2021 by Karri Haen Whitmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.