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Works in Progress: Development of Integrated Computer Simulations and Laboratory Exercises for Teaching Human Physiology

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Biomedical Engineering Poster Session

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1399.1 - 23.1399.5

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Paper Authors


Bradley P. Sutton University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Dr. Sutton joined the Bioengineering Department at the University of Illinois in 2006 and is currently an associate professor. He received his B.S. in General Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned master's degrees in Biomedical and Electrical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2003. He has affiliations with the Beckman Institute, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences, and the Neuroscience Program. His research interests are in developing magnetic resonance imaging acquisition and image reconstruction techniques, along with developing systems modeling approaches to understand brain function and motor control. He has over 60 peer reviewed journal publications, over 100 conference papers, and three patents in the area of image acquisition with MRI.

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Jennifer R Amos University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Manuel Alejandro Ramirez Garcia University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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Jennifer Lynne DUPE Bailey

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Development of Integrated Computer Simulations and Laboratory Exercises for Teaching Human Physiology: Works in ProgressStudents are typically taught human physiology by a combination of qualitative and quantitativedescriptions of basic functions. However, the resulting understanding of physiological functionresides in a system-specific framework that may hinder further explorations into other novelsystems outside the curriculum. Educational research supports that students, particularly youngadults, learn complex topics better through using simulations with instructional guidance(Rieber, 2004, Shaffer 2005). Studies have also shown that simulations are best used when thestudent has had a chance to interact with the simulation but before they master the content(Ainsworth, 1999). In addition, female students (nearly 50% of our course enrollment) mayparticularly benefit from simulations as learning tools (Kinzie 2008). Therefore, we havedeveloped a set of computer simulations and associated laboratory exercises that capture basicbehavior of several organ systems, focusing on conservation principles and simple differentialequations. A modeling environment (Simulink, Matlab, Mathworks) is used, allowing students tofollow the flow of quantities (blood, ions, crossbridge displacement) through a circuit, whichincludes differential and integral elements along with units conversion elements. The simulationsare coupled with laboratory exercises that enable the student to: validate model behavior onthemselves, determine how to measure parameters that are part of the simulation, and to test thevalidity of the model under some perturbation of their own physiology (such as exercise). Thestudents can also fit themselves to the model to determine quantities that would not otherwise beavailable non-invasively, such as arterial compliance or peripheral vascular resistance. Byallowing multiple representations of the concept through lecture of model formation, simulation,and laboratory experiments, the student achieves multiple external representations which supportthe learning process and problem solving skills – leading to a deeper understanding of thecontent (Ainsworth, 1999).Several example simulation and laboratory experiment pairings will be presented. In addition, asummary of the evaluation results will be discussed for the offering of the course in the Spring2013 semester on 55 Juniors in Bioengineering. We aim to measure the effectiveness of theSimulink simulations as a teaching tool using student feedback. Evaluations will include surveyson: 1) What material in the courses students found most useful (such as book, web, lecture,laboratory, and simulation resources); 2) What part of the course was most enjoyable; andobservations on: 1) How many novel models were developed in the final student-determinedclass project compared to those projects that used readily available models from the literature –measure the impact of the exploratory nature of the simulations; 2) How many models usedSimulink – measure for increased confidence in using a modeling tool 3) How many finalprojects for the laboratory and lecture course overlapped in content (i.e. simulated and measuredsame behavior on the same physiological system) – measure for deeper understanding of a topicto be able to adapt the system to a model based and measurement based project guideline.Finally, details on accessing the freely available simulation models and curriculum materials willbe provided.ReferencesRieber, L., Tzeng, S.-C., & Tribble, K. (2004). Discovery learning, representation, andexplanation within a computer-based simulation: finding the right mix. Learning and Instruction,14 , 307-323.Shaffer, D. W., Squire, K. R., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Video games and the future oflearning. Phi Delta Kappan, 87 (2), 105-111.Shaaron Ainsworth, The functions of multiple representations, Computers & Education(2009), Volume 33, Issues 2–3, 131-152.Kinzie, M., & Joseph, D. (2008). Gender differences in game activity preferences of middleschool children: Implications for educational game design. Educational Technology Researchand Development, 56 (5/6), 643-663.Lajoie, S. P., Lavigne, N. C., Guerrera, C., & Munsie, S. D.(2001). Constructing Knowledge in the Context of BioWorld. Instructional Science, 29 (2), 155-186.  

Sutton, B. P., & Amos, J. R., & Ramirez Garcia, M. A., & DUPE Bailey, J. L. (2013, June), Works in Progress: Development of Integrated Computer Simulations and Laboratory Exercises for Teaching Human Physiology Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia.

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