Similar to:- Poster abstract for Int. Union of Physiological Sciences, Christchurch NZ, Aug 2001


Gardner-Medwin, AR, Dept of Physiology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK

 With a decline of staff ratios tending to reduce practical and tutorial teaching in biomedical curricula, we must find ways of replacing and maintaining - or even enhancing - important qualities of these labour-intensive activities in other ways. I have focused on ways in which computer-based study can help to train (a) the habit of introspection about the basis and the reliability of one’s knowledge, through enforced confidence judgements, and (b) visual intuition about physical and mathematical relationships, through interactive graphical presentations.

A computer based delivery system (LAPT: London Agreed Protocol for Teaching) has been developed and used for several years on two London campuses with the special objective of encouraging students to think, whenever they answer a question, about the degree of confidence they can place in their answer (1). This helps them appreciate that a lucky right answer is not genuine knowledge, and it encourages them to check ideas by relating these to other facts and areas of knowledge. With low confidence (level 1) correct answers are given only a single mark, with no negative marking, while with higher confidence (levels 2 or 3) correct answers gain 2 or 3 marks, but carry the risk of increasingly severe negative marking (-2 or -6) if the answer is wrong. This rational use of negative marking (2) is popular with students, since they seem instinctively to appreciate the fundamental relationship between confidence and knowledge, and the importance of not making mistakes with high confidence. It alerts them to the particular value of paying attention in these circumstances to feedback and explanations, which are always presented immediately following the confidence judgement. The LAPT system is available for download from its web site (3).

Students often seem deficient in visual modes of thinking, especially about physical concepts in physiology like fluxes, currents, pressure and flow, and about statistical and graphical concepts like histograms, variance, regressions and rates of change. As scientists, we have usually built up mental pictures that aid our thinking on these topics, through long familiarity with different types of graphs and data. A symptom of students’ deficiency in this respect is that they have seldom yet learned to sketch diagrams to help in discussion of a problem. It is nowadays quite simple to write graphical programs that enable students to interact directly with fast simulations of the relevant physical or mathematical systems, for example enabling them immediately to see smooth changes in graphs or physical behaviour, when they change parameters. Such active learning helps to build up the mental pictures that can be the foundation of clear thinking, and occasionally it dramatically makes concepts seem self-evident, where students otherwise have difficulty - for example in the relations between currents, fluxes, membrane area and resistance. The exercises are written with LABVIEW (National Instruments) and are available for download via the LAPT system (3).

  1. Gardner-Medwin AR. Confidence assessment in the teaching of basic science. Association for Learning Technology Journal. 3:80-85, 1995
  2. Gardner-Medwin AR. Rational and irrational marking schemes. J. Physiol 515P: 48P, 1999