Date of Award

January 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Woei Hung


Accurate medical and health sciences problem solving relies upon a solid foundation of basic sciences content knowledge, primarily physiology. Yet, due to its nature as a dynamic system of interconnected, networked, concepts, physiology is often difficult for students to master. The three studies in this dissertation explore the use of a cognitive tool, systems modeling, to facilitate the development of an accurate mental model of physiology content knowledge in undergraduate and graduate physiology students. In the first study, undergraduate physiology student participation within online asynchronous peer group systems modeling activities was associated with progressive improvement on multiple choice question answer accuracy in the modeling condition versus the written discussion post condition. In the second study, graduate physician assistant students ranked systems modeling to be the top strategy for learning physiology content in the basic sciences year of study and the second to top strategy for retaining that content into the clinical year. In the third study, graduate physician assistant students demonstrated increased use of integrated core concept terms, after systems modeling activity participation, when describing the pathophysiology threshold concept of inflammation in writing. Together, these three studies provide evidence that the systems modeling strategy is an effective cognitive tool that contributes to improved student learning and retention of physiology content through visualization and subsequent refinement of the learner’s mental model of the problem space.