Student performance on conserved lower- (LOCS, n = 5) and higher-order (HOCS, n = 7) exam questions in the pre-reform and post-reform semesters. Scores are given as means ± SD. *Significant difference from the pre-reform semester.
Performance of higher- and lower-performing students on the conserved exam questions in the pre-reform and post-reform semesters for the first exam (n = 6 questions) vs. the second and third exams (n = 6 questions). Scores are given as means ± SD. *Significant difference (P < 0.05) from the pre-reform semester.
Comparison of the percentage of exam questions in each of the Bloom’s categories (RR, remember; CM, comprehend; AP, apply; AN, analyze; S/C, synthesize/create; EV, evaluate). Post-reform exams had significantly more questions at the higher Bloom’s levels.
Cumulative college GPA is given as means ± SD; n, no. of subjects. GPA data were not available for a few students (Pre, n = 4; Post, n = 2). Sex was not known for 4 students in the post-reform semester.
↵* While there was a difference in the ratio of male and female students, between male and female students there was neither a difference in cumulative GPA (t-test, Pre: P = 0.14; Post: P = 0.31), nor exam performance (t-test, Pre: P = 0.71; Post: P = 0.74).
Course reforms were incrementally added over 4 yr
3 × 50 min/wk
(average time spent/wk)
(average no. of questions/lecture)
Homework help room
Explicit learning goals
Provided (6 course goals; 50 topic goals)
In Fall 2004 (F04; pre-reform), the course was taught in a traditional lecture format. Homework assignments were introduced in Fall 2005 (F05), clicker questions in Fall 2006 (F06), and a homework help room and explicit learning goals in Fall 2008 (F08) (post-reform).
Examples of course goals and specific learning objectives in the neurophysiology course
Course Goals – Content Orientated
1) Predict and explain how the flow of ions across the nerve cell membrane can produce and influence the signals used in the nervous system to communicate information (both within and between neurons).
2) Predict and explain how information in the nervous system is converted from one type of signal/information to another, and how the properties of neurons can influence this process.
3) Predict and explain how the properties of individual neurons, and the types and patterns of connections between neurons, can influence activity in the nervous system, can influence behaviors (as demonstrated through basic types of movement), and can be adjusted, adapted, or altered to suit the changing needs of an organism.
Course Goals – Skill Orientated
1) Be able to hypothesize and state the connections between concepts in nervous system function, instead of simply memorizing facts, as a way for you as a student to better understand nervous system function.
2) Be able to interpret and evaluate scientific data collected with techniques commonly used in neurophysiology to better understand concepts of nervous system function.
3) Improve problem solving skills to help in understanding concepts and predicting aspects of nervous system function.
Examples of Specific Learning Objectives
1) Predict the neural signal you would expect to see in the four functional regions of the three types of neurons for a novel scenario.
2) Calculate the net driving force or the equilibrium potential for an ion, or the resting membrane potential of a cell.
3) Given a change in a parameter that influences net driving force, equilibrium potential, or resting membrane potential, predict how this would influence net driving force, equilibrium potential, resting membrane potential, or current across the membrane.
↵* Average of each question’s Bloom’s category (54).
↵† Average of each question’s Bloom’s category weighted to reflect its point value on the exam (54).
↵‡ Weighting each question by its relative contribution to a student’s total possible score (19).
Distribution of question types on the practice assignments and post-reform exams
Bloom’s Category, %
n, No. of subjects. Bloom’s categories: RR, remember; CM, comprehend; AP, apply; AN, analyze; SC, synthesize/create; EV, evaluate.
Examples of alignment between learning goals, practice (clicker, homework) questions, and exam questions
Practice (Clicker, Homework) Question
Given a change in a parameter that influences net driving force, equilibrium potential, or resting membrane potential, predict how this influences net driving force, equilibrium potential, resting membrane potential, or current across the membrane.
If the external concentration of sodium is doubled, will the resting membrane potential change?
If the sodium permeability is transiently doubled, will the resting membrane potential change?
A drug is applied to a neuron that temporarily blocks a substantial portion (~65%) of the resting K+ ion channels in the neuron's membrane preventing any ions from moving through these channels.
What effect, if any would this drug have on the equilibrium potential of K+ in this neuron?
What effect, if any, would this drug have on the resting membrane potential of the neuron?
Predict the type of ion channel in a given functional region of a neuron for a novel scenario.
What type of gated ion channel would you most likely expect to find at the input region of the motor neuron (arrow) in the figure above?
Considering the 4 types of gating stimuli, which type of gated ion channel would you expect to be characteristic of the input region of this sensory afferent?
Calculate time and length constants, input resistance and input capacitance from graphical data (for ex., I–V data) or numerical values
Calculate the input resistance for this neuron, based on these I–V data. Calculate the conductance(s) for this ion channel (based on the I–V data shown).
Calculate the conductance(s) for this ion channel (based on the I–V data shown).
Differentiate between electrical, chemical, and net driving forces, and, given a set of data, predict the direction or relative magnitude of the current flow (net or ionic) due to these forces and its effect on the membrane potential.
If the membrane potential is −60 mV and the equilibrium potential for chloride is −80 mV in a typical cell, what are the directions of the electrical, chemical, and net driving forces acting on chloride?
What are the directions of the chemical, electrical, and net driving forces acting on K+ in a typical neuron when the membrane potential is 55 mV?
Cover: From material detailed in the following article: Bell FE, Wilson LB, Hoppmann RA. Using ultrasound to teach medical students cardiac physiology. Adv Physiol Educ 39: 392–396, 2015; doi:10.1152/advan.00123.2015.