Sourcebook Update: intestinal smooth muscle contractility and autonomic control

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This laboratory practical requires first year students to anticipate the effects of drugs active at cholinergic and adrenergic receptors on gut motility in order to design experiments during an authentic inquiry exercise. Rather than specifying a strict sequence of drug additions that aim to provide ideal demonstrations of pharmacological and physiological antagonism, I have instead designed switches into the drugs provided and set students, working in small teams, the task of identifying the switched drugs – an inquiry activity. To extend the teamwork aspect, laboratory reports were submitted by the student teams rather than individual students. Staff observed that discussions within the teams was stimulated by the inquiry-led nature of the practical. The quality of the laboratory reports submitted by teams were substantially improved over the individual reports submitted in previous years (students previously worked in teams but simply followed a list of prescribed experiments and wrote individual reports). Although, in conversation, teams of students had an improved understanding of the regulation of gut motility by the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system and could readily distinguish between pharmacological and functional antagonism, no attempt was made to evaluate learning because the revision was triggered the observed effect of a technical error and was not otherwise planned. It is likely that laboratory practicals, in general, would benefit from inclusion of inquiry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)311-320
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in Physiology Education
Issue number2
Early online date20 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


  • Mammalian gastrointestinal physiology
  • Autonomic receptor pharmacology
  • Laboratory practical
  • Authentic inquiry
  • Problem-solving


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