Biggest Challenges Facing Anatomy Teachers in 2018

Over the past year we asked hundreds of anatomy instructors this question: “What are the biggest challenges facing you and your students?” Last week, I spent a couple of days reading through 285 responses from instructors teaching college courses. I took note of trends, made some broad categories that represented them, and then tallied up responses. My goal was to share top trends, and here they are in a “Top 5” list. There are actually six trends here... because 5 and 6 were tied, so I included both!

Adjusting to fewer lab resources and less time in lab (or none!)

Lab time allows students to get hands-on experience with specimens, whether it be a plastic model, cadaver, or animal, while using a textbook as a companion. It helps them learn anatomy that is hard to see in a book, like the location of the esophagus in relationship to the spine and the trachea.

We heard from a lot of instructors that lab budgets are under scrutiny, cadaver and animal specimens are harder to come by, and the addition of online students to their courses had them looking for ways to create an online lab. There were also instructors who noted that any simulations, experiments, or discovery activities had to be done in class or as homework because their Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course did not include a lab.

Finding quality resources that map to the course objectives and are offered at a reasonable cost

“In terms of course materials,” shared one instructor, “it’s cost versus robustness and accuracy.” There were a number of instructors who shared that it was a challenge to find accurate anatomy models that they could customize to meet the course objectives, and feel confident that students were paying for resources that would truly engage them and further their learning. A few instructors added a fourth item to this checklist: ease of use and implementation. They noted that some technology seemed exciting, but also seemed to have a big learning curve.

Visible Body's Anatomy & Physiology app using interactive 3D models, animations, and illustrations to provide students a step-by-step introduction to each body system. Free lab activities are available on our resources pages.

Helping students who start the course missing background knowledge

I don’t need to summarize this one because one instructor did a great job of it: “There are some basic concepts that the students need to understand to be able to gain entry into the world of anatomy and physiology and once they get over the threshold they are then hooked on the elegance and beauty of the human body.” Instructors noted that students used to get to college already having achieved this “science literacy,” but that they were seeing more and more students who didn’t have it. One instructor noted that resources “students can use at their own pace” was his current solutions to the “wide variety of backgrounds and abilities” in his classes.

Helping students master the large volume of content to learn in an anatomy course

There is so much to learn in an Introduction to Anatomy & Physiology course. Anatomy instructors seem to agree that the course is a marathon of learning.

“[There is an] overwhelming amount of material to be learned.”

“The distraction of information overload,” is a challenge in a course with “too much content.”

The content is not only “extensive” but it is “difficult” too!

“Memorization and understanding” have to go hand-in-hand so that the goals of the course, “the 'what and why's' of anatomy,” are learned.

“[Students are] overwhelmed by load of material.”

“So many systems! So much terminology!”

Drumroll for our favorite quote, because it included a solution... (Full disclosure: That solution happens to be our Visible Body Courseware!)

“I am facing time constraints. Students are facing a great amount of material to learn in a short amount of time. It is difficult to convey structures in three dimensions without the use of animations or models. I always enjoyed your Visible Body app, but now it is even more exciting that you have a learning platform for classes.”

Finding technology that fits the changing dynamics of how the course is taught

One instructor told us that there was a big debate at her school between advocates of “only using 'hands-on' activities (anatomical models and wet dissection)” and instructors interested in “virtual anatomy activities (McGraw-Hill's APR and Visible Body).” But we also heard that many schools are doing both.

What’s driving the need for more technology in courses that teach anatomy? The “ability to access good materials outside of lab class time,” shared one instructor who is trying to extend the type of intense learning students experience in the lab. Other instructors mentioned a similar need for more interaction and/or interaction that could be delivered through the school-provided LMS. The change instructors mentioned the most was the way distance learning, online classes, and “flipping” the class sent them looking for technology that could engage students. The instructor who summed it up noted that the traditional "lecture, home, lab" formula was changing. “Adapting ‘traditional’ lecture with more interactive, student-centered, competency-based instruction,” is what had brought him to the Visible Body website.

Top-mentioned challenge? Getting students more engaged in learning the course content!

File that under "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Over 65% of instructors mentioned the challenge of keeping students engaged and motivated as they climb the mountain of content to be mastered in an anatomy course, which is often two semesters long. How do instructors accomplish that? There was a lot of mention of good study habits, retaining students in the course, reviewing time management skills, making learning interesting for students, and providing different types of learning experiences for the varied types of learners in the class. It all reminded us of another instructor survey we completed last year, about advice from teachers to students about how to excel in an anatomy course. We wrapped that up into a great sheet you can post or print for your students!

 Download & share! 


Want to learn more about Visible Body products for your classes? Anatomy instructors use Visible Body’s Courseware to create interactive and visual assignments and quizzes. Use it in your anatomy lab, anatomy course, for homework assignments, or as a textbook replacement. Visit the product page to learn more about Courseware and request a free instructor trial!