​​Learning the “Length Tension Relationship" through a flipped laboratory s​ession​

This story is written by Sadia Fatima from Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Medical College​, Pakistan​.

In a bid to keep students engaged as well as maintain their interest in the topic on the length of the muscle fibre and more particularly on the 'length-tension relationship', I conducted an interactive laboratory session for undergraduate students. This was an opportunity to do away with the routinely conducted session using isolated animal tissue. 

Students often found it challenging to understand the concept of length-tension relationship with regard to the varied force produced by muscle fibres which is dependent on the bone-ligament attachment. I had come to realise that using one piece of animal tissue to explain this concept was not the optimum approach to developing my students' understanding as well as maintaining their interest in class as they learnt this topic. For diagnostic purposes, I administered the 'one-minute paper' so as to obtain students' feedback with a view for improving the lab session for future classes. I noted that most of the students suggested the use of a simulator and/or human subject as a means for better understanding. This triggered me to seek ways to make the concept more explicit to my students as well as make my teaching more engaging.

I had previously conducted flipped class sessions and had come to appreciate how learning became active, how students became engaged in what they were learning and were, therefore, able to understand the subject matter taught to them. Hence, to teach about the length-tension relationship of the muscle fibre, I chose to try a flipped laboratory model.​

Students applying different scenarios and recording muscle force response during the face-to-face lab session

To do this, I developed a simple experiment that involved the use of different weight dumbbells. The experiment was designed using the Lab Station software (AD instruments) that could measure real-time force and generate plots which would enable the students to understand the whole concept of length-tension. I prepared a video, showcasing the experimental setup, relevant terminologies and brief concept of muscle contraction along with examples from daily life situations like holding a book or lifting a heavy bucket. I shared the video with my students via the department's YouTube channel prior to the lesson in class for them to review out of class and as part of their independent learning.

Prior to the in-class session, I conducted two pilot runs of the experiment with my technologists in order to check if there were any issues with the software or the design of the laboratory set up. During one of these pilot runs, I realized that students need to know how the learned knowledge can be applied in daily life such as while lifting a chair or grocery bag or why doing physical therapy helps patients with muscle disorders. In addition, I developed relevant applied anatomy questions and used the Mentimetre and Kahoot as testing tools. I also built student feedback into the tools later.

On the day of the actual in-class session, I observed a positive impact of all these changes on my learners. Not only were they able to understand the concept but their performance in response to questions on the topic also improved in the subsequent examinations. 

In conclusion, post laboratory session based on “Q&A sign off activity", where students had to perform a scenario [such as perform a wall sit or stand on tip toe] and explain the length-tension relationship curve; revealed that the changes not only substantiated student learning but helped me to identify and clarify students' misconceptions on the spot, thus increasing my students' interaction and engagement. I was able to identify the mightiest aspect of my lesson, which was the student interaction and feedback; and the muddiest moment was the slow internet speed we experienced during the online quiz. This latter experience taught me to always have a contingency plan, such as keeping at least 3-5 hard copies of the quiz ready should the internet fail or be extremely slow.

Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Sabah Farhat, Mussarat Ashraf, Masnoon Akhter, Fizza Nazim, Mahwish Fatima who all conducted the laboratory session with me.