The “Learning Progressions: Principle-based reasoning in Undergraduate Physiology” (LeaP UP) project is an NSF-funded research collaboration (DUE 1660643) with the goal of creating a learning progression framework and assessments, which describe how students advance in their understanding of physiology over a typical 2 or 4 year curricula.

This project aims to create the first learning progression on how students develop principle-based reasoning using the central ideas of Flux and Mass Balance in undergraduate physiology. These two core concepts, Flux (movement of substances) and Mass Balance (Conservation of Mass), are based on the principles of physics and are central to explaining the basic mechanisms underlying most organismal systems. A learning progression for these concepts can provide a key organizing framework for future redesign of undergraduate curriculum in physiology.


This project also will create a suite of constructed response (CR) assessments in various disciplinary contexts (e.g. cardiovascular and respiratory systems) to reveal where students are along the learning progression.  We will capitalize on advances in natural language processing and text analysis to create develop and refine computer models to accurately predict how experts would score students’ responses to these CR assessments. These automated scoring methods will rapidly score assessments from a large number of students nation-wide, across a range of institutions, and help map current trends in understanding. These assessments can also be used by instructors to determine where their students are along the spectrum of understanding of these key topics.

If you are interested in more information about the project, project updates or how you might get involved, please contact the project Principal Investigators:  Jennifer Doherty ( at University of Washington and Kevin Haudek ( at Michigan State University.


The Partnership for Undergraduate Life Science Education (PULSE) helps life sciences departments align with national education reform initiatives so they can develop inclusive, student-centered, evidence-based teaching and learning in order to cultivate the development of scientists who reflect the diversity of American society. Please visit the PULSE website for rubrics, resources, and more information:


Homeostasis is a core concept in physiology (Michael & McFarland 2011). We have developed and validated a 20-question Homeostasis Concept Inventory (HCI) for undergraduate physiology students (McFarland et al. 2017). Our multiple-choice questionsfocus on important component ideas in the homeostasis conceptual framework (HCF) and use common misconceptions as distractors. The HCI was developed through an iterative process: constructing a conceptual framework for homeostasis, identifying student misconceptions concerning this core concept, writing questions to address framework components, uncovering student misconceptions, conducting student think-aloud interviews, obtaining faculty (expert) feedback via surveys and conference workshops, large scale testing in undergraduate courses, and editing questions at several stages in this process. We have shown that the HCI questions and not biases and have a wide range of difficulty and can be used as an assessment of a broad spectrum of undergraduate physiology students. The HCI can be used in formative assessment and in pre- and post-tests to assess how well students understand homeostasis. The HCI questions are also designed to detect some common misconceptions to guide student learning and instruction.

If you would like to use this HCI and help us gather more pre- and post-instruction data, please contact Jenny McFarland at


Phys-MAPS is a validated assessment exam for Physiology undergraduate students.  Phys-MAPS is part of the Bio-MAPS project, a multi institution NSF-funded collaboration.  The Phys-MAPS team is Katharine Semsar and Jennifer Kinght at the University of Colorado.  The goal of the Phys-MAPS project is to develop a suite of programattive assessments to gauge students’ conceptual understanding at multiple points in an undergraduate major.  The assessment is designed to be representative of vision & change core concepts, freely accessible, 20-60 min to complete, and in multiple true-false format.  For more information, contact Kate Semsar


Using a different assessment tool to evaluate your physiology students? Let us know! We would be happy to include it.