4 Questions to Consider Before Implementing Anatomy Software

by Robert Tallitsch, PhD | November 4, 2020

Lecturing with 3D Anatomy

The teaching of anatomy is changing faster today than it has in any of my 43 years as a college anatomy professor. Not only do anatomy instructors have to articulate learning objectives more clearly, but we also have to assess whether or not our students are actually learning what we want them to learn in lecture and lab. Further, the students of today learn differently than the students of five, ten or twenty years ago. The traditional lecture is not as conducive to the long-term retention of material or teaching students how to use anatomical information in order to solve complex, three-dimensional anatomical and/or clinical problems. As instructors, we have to concern ourselves not only with what we teach, but how do we teach it? Do we incorporate problem-based learning; do we flip our classrooms; how can one teach human anatomy completely online?

If those questions aren’t enough to make any anatomy teacher pause, add this to the mix: more and more students today are using external resources to supplement and, hopefully, accelerate their learning. 79% of medical students reported using online learning tools to supplement the resources provided by their instructor. What should we, as anatomy instructors, do to help our students get the access they need to innovative anatomical resources? How do we help provide our students with resources that are anatomically correct and have been demonstrated to help them learn more effectively and efficiently? There are a lot of virtual 3D anatomy solutions on the market today that claim to enhance learning. How does one differentiate between excellent, good, and the not-so-good 3D anatomy solutions?

Here are four questions you need to consider as you decide what 3D anatomy solution could, and should, supplement your human anatomy instruction:
  1. Does the software incorporate real human anatomy or is it a modeled representation of anatomical information?
  2. Will the software keep your students engaged in and outside of the classroom?
  3. Can the software fit your needs, regardless of the type of institution where you teach?
  4. Does the software include anatomical variation, pathology, and developmental stages?

Now, let's discuss why I have put an emphasis on these four questions.

Does the software incorporate real human anatomy or is it a modeled representation of anatomical information?

The first, and arguably the most important question speaks to anatomy instructors at any academic level. Not all virtual anatomy visualizations are created with the same level of detail and may greatly influence your students' perception of human anatomy. Modeled anatomy applications utilize visualizations developed from computers and/or the anatomical knowledge of the artist, and don't present the human body in its natural state. As you know, anatomy is rarely as neat and tidy as it is portrayed in modeled anatomical applications. Real anatomy is riddled with natural variations based on body type and gender, patient age, health status, and many other factors. Real anatomy software allows your students to visualize and dissect the human body as if it were sitting in front of them on the dissection table or in the operating room, giving them an accurate representation of what the human body looks like. 

Will the software keep your students engaged in and outside of the classroom?

This question has become indispensable in recent semesters. As the transition to online learning became a norm, many of the 3D anatomy solutions, such as virtual dissection tables, were left sitting in the classroom leaving students without the resources required to continue their study and dissection practices. In many cases, alternative resources had to be purchased in order to keep students engaged and learning in the online environment. However, prior to the forced transition to online learning, keeping students engaged inside and outside of the classroom has been a struggle for anatomy educators. While still valuable in anatomy education, textbooks and videos don't provide students with the hands-on dissection experience required to truly understand the three-dimensional spatial relationships between structures. However, 3D anatomy software that can be downloaded by students directly has shown to provide students the experiences required to master anatomy.

Can the software fit your needs, regardless of the type of institution where you teach?

In my experience as an anatomy educator, I have witnessed far too many failed integration processes with instructional strategies and resources that promise to increase student comprehension and engagement. Often, the issue isn't the resource or strategy itself, but rather the failure to adapt to the changing student body and academic world. While the content covered in anatomy education remains constant, the way instructors present information and the way students interpret information is ever changing. Anatomy education requires a resource that is capable of adapting to changes in the instruction of anatomical material, while doing so in an efficient manner. After 43 years of teaching anatomy, I know the complications that follow a slight change in your instructional approach and strongly urge you to find a 3D anatomy solution that is flexible enough to adapt to those inevitable changes.

Does the software include anatomical variation, pathology, and developmental stages?

I can’t remember how many times during an academic term where a student would call me over to the dissection table and ask, “Is this normal Bob?” or how amazed students would be when,upon partially flexing their wrist, they found out that they didn’t have a palmaris longus muscle. Most first-time anatomy students, and even students that are taking an advanced-level anatomy course involving dissection, are amazed upon encountering one or more anatomical variations in the cadaver they are dissecting. Showcasing anatomical variations, along with a variety of other teaching pedagogies, helps students understand that the anatomy we read about in textbooks and the anatomy we teach in the classroom or lab is the “average” or “typical” anatomy of everyone sitting in the classroom or of those bending over the dissection tables. But therein lies a problem, very few anatomy textbooks spend much, if any time, dealing with anatomical variations. In addition, anatomical models and most anatomical software packages today include no or very few anatomical variations that may be seen within the human body. 3D anatomy software that includes anatomical variations, pathology, and developmental stages, better prepares students for post academic success in the field. 

As 3D anatomy resources become less of a luxury and more of a requirement in today's academic world, I urge you all to strongly weigh the long-term pros and cons of the solutions you invest in. Although the virtual anatomy applications may look very similar from the outside looking in, the range of use and effectiveness in anatomy education varies greatly. Keep these four questions in mind as you determine what 3D anatomy resources could and should supplement your students' learning experiences. 

To speak with a 3D Anatomy Solution Specialist, schedule a demo with the BodyViz Team today.


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