The Human Biology Tutor
The Human Biology Tutor supports students as they evaluate patients and generate hypotheses about the patent's medical condition. Patients ’ complaints form an initial set of data from which students begin the diagnostic process; virtual patients are interviewed about symptoms. Data are made visible by student action (e.g., asking for chest x-rays, prescribing a certain drug, or using a measurement tool). Some data are interpreted for students (“x-ray normal ”); other data provide raw material, which students interpret and then draw conclusions. Students move opportunistically from one inquiry phase to another as they sort, filter, and categorize data according to predefined categories or ones they invent. Medical cases include patients with hyperthyroidism, lactose intolerance, food poisoning, diarrhea, mold allergy, and iron deficiency anemia.
Structured prompts, reminders and help motivate students during each inquiry phase. Data recorded in the Notebook reveals flaws in student hypotheses. Students revise their hypotheses, change their belief and generate new hypotheses. In the figure a student postulated three hypotheses, suggesting that the patient had mononucleosis, diabetes or was pregnant. Students drag data from the Inquiry Notebook into the Argument Editor to support or refute each claim. Students use tools to collect data and reason about evidence and arguments. Some tools are domain independent or available in every domain. Cognitive tools organized pieces of evidence (e.g., the Notebook recorded data) and metacognitive tools reasoned about student learning (e.g., the Argument Editor advised students when more evidence was needed). Other tools are domain specific and guide students to collect data, enter simulations or access repositories to extract information needed to support or refute arguments. Tools organize complex and ill-structured knowledge. They help students search the web for diagnostic material, definitions and interpretations of laboratory results, preparing students to operate in real-world scenarios and to consult material outside of the system (e.g., Internet).