How Interactive Technology Helps Students Succeed: A Webinar With Prof. Cindy Harley

Cindy Harley is an Associate Professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. You might remember her from this interview last summer, in which she described how she uses 3D technology to up the fun-factor in the A&P courses she teaches.


Last month she shared a presentation she first gave at a recent educator’s conference, the theme of which was technology in education. Cindy’s presentation was a case study, with data, on student scores in her A&P course when she used a textbook and after she changed to using technology that leveraged visuals and interactions to help students work through concepts. The results were pretty astounding (in a good way!). Using interactive 3D technology has helped Professor Harley’s students learn while making teaching more fun, too!

The full hour-long webinar is available here:

Read on for a summary (and video clips) of the main data points and conclusions Cindy shared during her presentation.


Why students don't open the Anatomy & Physiology textbook

Cindy shares these points to suggest that the printed page is no longer the first go-to reference for learning:

  • “The university students that we have are experiencing learning in a fundamentally different way than in previous generations because they’re experiencing learning in the absence of textbooks, which have kind of been this gold standard.”
  • Most university students have had access to computers and the Internet from a very young age. In Minnesota, Cindy reports that “75% of students use a tablet for school work and the others use computers, so you have about 100% using something digital.” 
  • A lot of school districts are going textbook-free. “K-12 education [is] moving away from textbooks, and an example of this is the GoOpen campaign which started in 2016 through the Department of Education. This campaign aims to have all schools switch to open access materials, and the rationale is that textbooks are often out of date by the time they are published. They are really expensive, so going textbook free is a lot cheaper, and this helps to create equity in lower income districts that can’t afford the new textbooks when they come out.”
  • Using a textbook as a “desk reference” just isn’t done anymore. When students want answers, they usually find it much easier to use Google than to leaf through a cumbersome textbook. (Thinking back, there are so many times I wished I’d had Ctrl+F for my books in college!)
  • Textbooks are expensive. One of the books Professor Harley’s students used cost $174 for a new copy—and in order to have access to all the online resources that come with a textbook, you have to buy it new. 

Faced with expensive, bulky textbooks that were fundamentally unappealing to today’s tech-savvy student population, Cindy wanted to change things up.


How one student used an anatomy app and went from struggling to succeeding

What Cindy describes as her “aha moment” came when she was working with a student who was struggling:

“We started talking and I said ‘Well, you know, why don’t you try this A&P program from Visible Body? I’ve been playing with it—I think it’s really cool. You might like it too.’ And this student within that semester went from getting Ds to getting Bs.

It was so staggering that I sat down with him and said, ‘What are you doing? How are you studying? Did you get a tutor?’ And he said ‘No, this app—it’s really helpful and I always have it with me because I always have my cell phone with me and I can just take it everywhere. Whenever I’ve got downtime at work I can look at this app.’”

Inspired by this student’s success, Cindy decided to see how using Visible Body’s apps would work on a full-class scale.

For the next semester of her A&P class, the students used Visible Body’s Human Anatomy Atlas and Anatomy & Physiology apps. When Courseware was released, her class was one of its initial beta-test groups.

Data shows an improvement in A&P student performance when the course changed from requiring a textbook to requiring Visible Body anatomy apps

So how did Cindy’s decision to replace a traditional textbook with Visible Body apps work out? We’ll let her tell you.

Overall student performance data in A&P course when using a textbook:

  • “When we look at the aggregate data, 10.7% of students get As, 26% get Bs, and 27.7% get Cs. What this means (and what I wanna hone you in on) is what we call the DFW rate. These are students that withdraw, get a D, or an F, and this means they paid for the course but received no credit. In my case, it was 35.3% of the students. This is not that I’m a big jerk or anything like that—the national average is actually 50%. So at 35% I was doing (believe it or not) good. I was horrified.”

Overall student performance data in A&P course when using Visible Body’s Anatomy & Physiology and Human Anatomy Atlas apps:

  • “My withdraw rates dropped by 10%, and my students that received a D or an F dropped precipitously as well. [...] Along with that, I saw a 10% rise in my As, an 8% rise in my Bs, and a 6% decrease in Cs. What this means is those D and F students are moving up to Cs, the Cs are moving up to Bs, and a lot of those Bs are moving into that A range. So now we’re getting a much more even distribution.”

The students themselves report that they like VB products and comment on the apps in their course evaluations.

  • “Fifty percent of the students (unprompted) mentioned that they love Visible Body. When I ask them if they feel that the materials that they’re using are worth the cost—and this is basically me looking at an Open Stax type textbook situation instead of A&P—the students [say] ‘No, we actually are willing to pay for this because we like it.’”
  • “One said, ‘I recommend that future students [use] A&P and Atlas and explore it,’ meaning that they really had to engage with it and click around. A lot of them say they like playing with Visible Body, and ‘play’ is another word I have never heard used for any other course materials.”
  • “My favorite comment of all time is that they called it ‘the Rosetta Stone for A&P.’”
  • “Even now I’ll see students from previous semesters and they’ll say ‘I’m still using it.’”

Cindy has also noticed the benefits interactive apps have over textbooks for non-traditional students.

  • So it’s neat because it’s actually portable and if they’ve got an hour-long bus drive to school, they can use it on their bus ride,  and that’s something—again—with a really heavy textbook they’re not gonna be pulling out during their lunch hour and reading it.”

The “bite-sized chunks” A&P is split into are great for spaced learning.

  • “Spaced learning means you’re taking smaller amounts of material and looking at it multiple times, as opposed to binge studying. We know that spaced learning will be retained more than binge studying, where you study for like three hours straight. It’s actually better to take those three hours and split them up into 30-minute blocks.”

Essentially, what Cindy’s experience shows us is that there are measurable benefits to using interactive 3D technology in the anatomy classroom. In terms of convenience and student engagement, Visible Body’s apps far surpass traditional textbooks, and this increased engagement has driven student success.


Using Visible Body’s apps made creating course materials more fun and made class time more interactive

Cindy’s students weren’t the only ones having more fun. Her class format has departed from the traditional PowerPoint and lecture combo and now she is able to incorporate more discussion and interactive activities. 

Cindy said:

  • “It’s really fun for me to make new materials and I have an absolute blast even making exams.”
  • “I gave up PowerPoint. Instead, what I do is I walk through the Visible Body models and I use the whiteboard. I also sometimes import pictures from Visible Body into Keynote, and I use my iPad to draw on my Keynote slides so that I can give the students a little bit more information. And they love this because they see the utility of Visible Body and how they can use it both in class and on their own as well."
  • “The students will come to class prepared, we get to talk, I don’t use PowerPoint slides which I’m reading, I’m not boring anymore, and the student ratings of me have increased. And it’s cost-effective. I mean, what’s there not to love about something that’s 25% of the cost of a very heavy textbook that you’ll never use again? And I love that they get to keep it around as a reference for future courses.”


The take-home points

So here’s what we’ve learned from Cindy about switching from textbooks to Visible Body’s apps:

  • Visible Body’s apps are cheaper and more portable than textbooks. Students can learn on the go and on a budget. 
  • When using interactive materials, students perform better and are a lot more engaged in class.
  • In addition, apps allow instructors to break away from the traditional PowerPoint and lecture class format. They can readily adapt course materials to students’ needs.

Thank you, Cindy, for sharing your experience with us! 

(P.S. If you haven’t watched the full webcast yet, here’s the link again!)

Check out our webcasts and demonstrations page for more demos and stories from instructors who use Visible Body.

Feeling inspired to use Visible Body’s 3D technology in your own classroom or lab? Contact our education team for a Courseware demo!