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Confessions of an 'Old School' Professor

Integrating 3D Anatomy Software into Lecture

September 10, 2018

Written by: Dr. Bob Tallitsch

We’ve all been there; some of us more than once; I sure have. Someone would talk to me about a “great new way” to teach my human anatomy and/or neuroanatomy classes or talk to me about using a “great new piece of anatomical software” in my anatomy classroom or lab. It sounded excellent, at first. But then reality hit…if I used that “great new way” to teach or incorporated that “great new piece of anatomical software” the course had to be either significantly revised or totally redone, and I realized just how much work that would involve. Then inertia set in…and I decided “I’ll try that next year.” But, for a long time, “next year” never came and I never did make those course revisions.

I understand it. I get it. I was there more than once. But one day, while attending a professional meeting and listening to more than one speaker talk about computer-assisted instruction (CAI) and the amazing changes seen in students’ ability to retain course content and solve clinical problems, a statement from one of the best teaching mentors I ever had came to mind. My mentor’s rather pointed statement was this: “Bob…what is best for your students isn’t going to be what is most comfortable for you, so get over it.” So, with that statement in mind I started to rethink what I should do with my human anatomy and neuroanatomy courses. My goals: Utilize some form of computer-assisted instruction in order to help my students more easily (1) learn course material, and (2) solve clinical problems given to them in class and on examinations.

All of us want the best for our students. We challenge our students more and more each year.  We want our students to succeed. We want them to know the material and understand it. But today’s students are different when compared to students that were in our classes fifteen, ten or even five years ago. Students today are faced with (1) dealing with information overload because so much information is continually at their fingertips; (2) not enough time to study due to the greater need to work in order to afford college; and (3) trying to determine how course content aligns with their future vocational goals. In addition, students today read and comprehend material (both written and illustrated) differently today than they did previously. Because of this, the way we taught our classes yesterday isn’t meeting the needs of our students today.

The SOTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) literature points out that simply covering anatomy learning objectives by didactic lectures followed by time in the laboratory is not producing a long-lasting retention and understanding of anatomical material. Students may retain information short-term, and they may succeed with lower-order thinking skills (according to Bloom) following a series of didactic lectures on a variety of human anatomy subjects. But to have students retain that information long term and be able to utilize it in order to solve complex clinical problems requires more. The SOTL literature points to several teaching pedagogies that enable students to better retain and understand anatomical information, whether or not human dissection is available to the students. Almost all of the pedagogies that enhance student learning and understanding involve some form of 3D human anatomy computer-assisted instruction, such as BodyViz’s 3D virtual dissection platform. Use of 3D anatomy software during or at the end of every classroom session, and during preparation for laboratory sessions has been shown to increases student interest as well as short-term and long-term retention of information. These students also show a marked improvement in students’ ability to utilize information learned in order to solve complex problems.

The team over at BodyViz understands the hesitation when it comes to implementing technology such as this. Luckily, for us as professors, they’ve packaged their solutions to integrate directly into your existing anatomy curriculum without having to reformat your class or teaching styles. The interactive eLearning modules are prepackaged with everything you need including files, quizzes, annotations, and instructions for all 12 systems. These eLearning modules can be implemented into your learning management system, providing your students access to the resources wherever and whenever they need it. So…as you consider whether or not to include some form of 3D anatomy software into your human anatomy course, remember what my mentor told to me many years ago: what is best for your students isn’t going to be what is most comfortable for you…

Helpful Links:

Video: One-Minute BodyViz Introduction

Case Study: Students at Providence Christian College Perform Virtual Dissections using Real Human Anatomy

Article: Enhancing Student Experiences with Virtual Dissection Labs

Article: Engaging Students with Innovative Technology


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