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5 Ways to make Homeostatic Control More Approachable to Students

Nabiha Khalid
Teaching with Labster

Introduction to Homeostatic Control

The functions of the body, such as digestion of meals, sleep cycles, drinking,  temperature regulation, and management of blood pressure, are all under the command of the brain. These functions are absolutely necessary for the maintenance of homeostasis in the organism. The term "homeostasis" refers to the process through which the body strives to achieve and then keep a predetermined level of equilibrium. The ability of an organism to maintain a stable and balanced internal environment through the regulation of its many physiological processes is referred to as homeostasis. The vast majority of these activities take place below our conscious awareness level.

Every system that is in dynamic equilibrium will eventually tend to establish a steady state, which is a balance that is resistant to change brought on by external influences. A process known as feedback control is one that takes place whenever there is a disturbance in such a system. The built-in regulatory mechanisms react to the abnormalities in order to achieve a new balance. Examples of homeostatic control include any and all processes that involve the coordination and integration of function. Those activities are mediated by the neurological system or the hormonal system. 

The regulators of biological systems are only very roughly analogous to those of mechanical devices since biological systems are much more complex. The purpose of both systems is to maintain activity within a predetermined range, whether it be to regulate the density of rolled steel or the tension inside the circulatory system. This is true regardless of which type of system is being discussed.

Your body has predefined levels for a range of states, such as sleep,  temperature,  thirst, weight, and hunger. These predetermined levels are called set points. When there is an imbalance in the level, homeostasis will strive to fix it, regardless of which way it is off: too many or too few. For instance, when your body temperature becomes unsafely high, you will begin to perspire, and when it becomes unsafely low, you will begin to shiver.

Comparing it to the temperature in your home is yet another method of thinking about it. Once it is adjusted to a particular level, it will work to maintain the internal condition at that point. Your thermostat will kick on and bring the temperature back up to the level you specify whenever the temperatures in your home drop below that level.

In the same manner, if something in your body is out of balance, a physiological response will kick into action until the conditioned response is again reached. This will continue until the problem is resolved. The fundamental aspects of homeostasis function in the following manner:

Stimulus: A component of the body is thrown off kilter when it is exposed to a stimulus that comes from a disturbance in the surrounding environment.  The change is detected by the receptor, which then notifies the controller of its occurrence.

Control unit: It will then convey the necessary change to put the body back into equilibrium.

Effector: The effector is the recipient of this information and the actor who brings about the required change in the form of a response.

In contrast, a positive feedback loop will attempt to amplify the effect of the stimulus that is being applied, whereas a negative feedback loop will attempt to minimize that effect. Homeostasis is marked by the prevalence of negative feedback loops because, under normal circumstances, the body will strive to attenuate the impact of the stimulus in order to restore equilibrium to the system.

Why can Homeostatic Control be difficult to learn?

1. Abstract Topic

Homeostasis is hard to teach and a challenge to comprehend since it is an example of a complex, abstract system that requires formal logic-level skills in systems theory. System thinking can be looked at in four ways: network (understanding feedback loops), dynamic (being able to think about body works), models (being able to describe the whole system, including all of its parts and how they work together), and procedure of homeostasis.  Also, the physiological systems within the human body where homeostasis can be seen are complicated in how they look and work. Learning the names of the parts is not enough to understand the whole system.

2. State of confusion 

Diagrams and articles in textbooks can make it hard for students to tell the difference between the effector and then a response caused by the effector. This makes it harder for them to build an appropriate conceptual framework. This problem can happen if a response is put within the same "concept box" as the effector when visually shown a homeostatic process. Students may also get confused if they only think of the transformation in the regulated parameter as the effector's response.   By only using the word "response" to describe the transformation in the regulatory variable, the steps between both the activity of the effector and the shift in the regulated parameter will not be made clear. The terminology is the same for most of the process, which makes students confused about what actually happened, and textbook diagrams cannot provide the full picture.

3. Learning of signal transduction

There are so many pathways interlinked with one another that learning each might be overwhelming for students. Understanding the terminology is one of students' most difficult parts of learning about signal transduction. This field of biological sciences is replete with vocabulary and abbreviations that will only confuse those who are just starting out in the field.

Five ways of developing students' interest in Homeostatic Control

1. Keep it basic 

In the many years that I have spent communicating with medical science students, dentistry, pharmaceutics, biomedicine, and healthcare in physiology classes, I have found that it is necessary to customize the lecture components to suit the student crowd. This is the case whether the students are in a classroom setting or in a clinical setting.  It is often more difficult to simplify physiology appropriately for the purpose of interacting it with diploma students than to communicate it to undergraduate students; however, the focus should always be on thinking critically to gain knowledge instead of true information. 

2. Learning terminologies 

Therefore, acquiring knowledge of the terms should be the primary focus. Do not anticipate the names of enzymes to be rational because many of them were named for their initial known function, but it has since been demonstrated that they have a widespread distribution and cell signaling. This is the first word of caution that should be mentioned. 

3. Practical implementations

Students understand the topic more efficiently when their practical implementation is available. Experiments on homeostasis are an important component of a unit that is designed to help students gain a deeper comprehension of fundamental involuntary bodily systems that are not readily identified. Students can observe the impact of the pulmonary circulation and the endocrine system on human life quality through a wide range of experiments that can be conducted in the classroom. Before beginning any kind of experiment, teachers should always go over the scientific method as well as the appropriate safety procedures.

4. Research-oriented teaching

Students in research-oriented classrooms attend lectures and take classes that make direct references to the academic literature. Students receive an introduction to the scientific work that is being done in their field based on recent research issues and the results of that study. Higher education graduates should be familiar with and able to apply various research methods when trying to find solutions to problems that arise in their respective professional fields. Therefore, it is important for students to get an understanding of the appropriateness and use of various research methodologies in their respective fields of study.

5. Learning through virtual labs

At Labster, simulations like Homeostatic Control: How does the human body keep itself in balance? are provided for students to experience biochemical signal transduction. It allows the students to differentiate between "receptor" and "response" like terminologies. The idea blurred by textbooks is refined here when students develop the mental image of the whole negative feedback loop process. Labster is determined to deliver fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that make use of gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems while exposing students to an immersive, realistic, 3D environment.

Through the examples of regulating body temperature, blood pressure, and blood sugar, students will understand the fundamental workflow that underpins the homeostatic process through the simulation made available on Labster. Apply the fundamental concept of homeostasis by locating the sensors, controller, and effectors for each of the three distinct regulation systems of blood pressure, body temperature, and blood sugar that used a human body model that is shown in three dimensions.

The student will have the ability to manipulate various stimuli to place one or more at a time on the experiment, each of which will have an instantaneous and apparent impact on the physiological variables. Students will need to use their observations to identify, in the experimental body, the sensors that are receiving the stimuli, the controller that is processing those stimuli, and the effectors acting to counteract them. The student will also investigate the effect that the stimuli have on important physiological parameters including blood pressure, pulse rate, and body temperature, amongst others.

Homeostatic control GIF

GIF from Labster's Homeostatic Control: How does the human body keep itself in balance? Virtual Lab

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