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Incorporating case studies into a physiology course to encourage integrative thinking.
 
Maureen Knabb, Department of Biology, West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, PA, 19380
 
Learning physiology is challenging because students need to assimilate an understanding of organ systems as well as content from other disciplines in order to apply their learning to solve problems.  To encourage integration and application of physiological concepts, students constructed and answered questions from 6 instructor-designed and 2 student-designed case studies.  The instructor-designed cases represented recent newspaper reports (3) or invented stories (3) and were presented either in-class (3) or online via a Blackboard discussion board (3).  Initially, the instructor helped the students identify 3 relevant questions that were designed to achieve integrative thinking but less instructor input was necessary over time. Assessment was based on written group responses to questions, multiple choice exam questions, and student perceptions of their learning. There was no significant difference between performances on lecture content versus case-based multiple choice exam questions. An end-of-semester survey indicated that all students enjoyed using case studies and an online format was slightly preferred (53%). Some students favored the news-based cases (33%) and the majority (80%) preferred constructing their own questions. Most students (83%) enjoyed developing their own cases and agreed that case studies extended their understanding of course content and encouraged inter-system as well as interdisciplinary thinking. These results indicate that case studies can be incorporated successfully to develop integrative thinking in physiology.