Teaching lab gives students a lesson in body movement

The kinesiology lab, located in Mariucci Arena, is the only one of its kind in academia.
Patrick McGarrah tests his anaerobic power in a 30-second stationary bike sprint Friday at the Human Performance Teaching Laboratory.
November 22, 2011

Bendable model joints, virtual cadaver dissections and intense physical stress tests are a standard part of class for students in the Human Performance Teaching Laboratory.

The University of Minnesota lab in Mariucci Arena started small in 2006, but has grown into the country’s only dedicated teaching lab for kinesiology.

The lab’s $350,000 in teaching equipment is divided between the only four courses taught there. Using the lab, students cover topics like exercise, biomechanics, anatomy and human physiology –– all essentials for understanding kinesiology, the study of human movement.

“We try to stay as current as we can,” said Donald Dengel, a University professor and the lab’s manager.

The lab is used strictly for teaching because research labs typically limit the availability of equipment to students, aren’t designed to hold large classes and are less hands-on, he said.

Dedicating the HPTL to teaching gives students concrete examples of how their technology fees are spent when they see the lab’s
devices, Dengel said. That way, students have a guarantee the money is directly benefiting their studies.

Rather than forcing students to learn from textbooks and passive lectures, HPTL is unique in that it allows students to study interactively, said George Biltz, an instructor who uses the lab to teach two classes.

Multilayered plastic human hearts, moving models of joints and life-sized skeletons let students learn first-hand how injuries can occur. Students also handle bone fragments, analyze muscles and study the body during actions like throwing and running.

Some University athletes take one of the four courses to learn about ways to avoid injury on the field, Biltz said.

Special devices let students measure grip strength, joint angles, the electrical activity in muscles, how they walk and their center of mass, said Josh Aman, a biomechanics instructor.

“The importance of the lab is that students need functional knowledge,” Biltz said.

Exams often involve some students cheering their peers on as they exercise vigorously on bikes hooked to electronic meters, among other physical tests. The physical exertion can cause some students to vomit.

“Usually they make it to the bucket or the bathroom,” Dengel said, adding that vomit hasn’t hit the lab’s floor in recent memory.

Keith Lambert, a kinesiology student, said his favorite part of his KIN 4385 class was using the lab since his previous anatomy courses weren’t interactive enough. He had just finished an anaerobic exercise exam.

“I get to learn about the real physicality of exercise,” he said, adding he hopes it will better prepare him to become a gym teacher.

A bank of computers loaded with anatomy software allows students to peel back interactive layers of human tissue using images of real cadavers.

“Learning anatomy from a book may be accurate, but it’s not the same as actually delving into deeper layers,” Biltz said.

Four times each semester, classes use the cadaver lab in Jackson Hall to examine anatomy up close — the computer simulations help them prepare for it, Biltz said.

“Our students get this much more concentrated than regular anatomy courses,” he said, because the classes focus on “visual learning and visual thinking.”

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