Implementing 3D Anatomy Education Technology: A Q&A with Instructors

The Visible Body team attends anatomy education conferences all over the US (and Canada) to share our products with instructors and receive feedback.

At the HAPS 2019 conference this past summer, two instructors, Abbey Breckling and Tomer Kanan, conducted a session in which they shared their experience using Visible Body’s Courseware platform and answered attendees’ questions about implementing 3D anatomy education technology in the classroom and the lab.

You can watch a full video of the presentation and Q&A session below, but we’ll summarize some of the highlights for you as well!


Using Visible Body increased students' academic performance

During the presentation, Tomer talked about how using Visible Body had boosted students’ grades both at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he teaches now, and the community college where he previously taught.

Here’s the UIC data, which was for a two-semester A&P course. It shows students’ exam scores in 2017 (before using VB), homework grades in 2018 (with VB) and exam scores in 2018 (with VB): 


2017 Exam

2018 Homework

2018 Exam

A&P 1




A&P 2




The community college data was for a one-semester A&P course and showed an increase in homework and exam performance after implementing Visible Body in 2017: 


2016 - Before VB












Courseware is a cost-effective option for students and instructors

One of the main categories of questions asked by the instructors in the audience was the price and cost-effectiveness of Courseware. They wanted to know not only how much Courseware cost, but how Courseware’s price compared to other 3D anatomy education resources. They were also interested in the differences between having Visible Body’s apps on a classroom set of devices and having students download it onto their own devices.  

Below are three cost-centered questions posed by instructors, and the responses given by Abbey and Tomer.

How much would the students have to pay to have this (Courseware)?

Tomer compared what his students pay for a three-year Courseware subscription and what they would pay for a lab manual: 

When I started at least to discuss, you know, regarding prices and everything, I looked [at] what we had so far and also talked to my colleagues, because a lot of the time we buy (like, make the students buy) a book and also a lab manual. And what is the average cost of the lab manual? Some of them have been customized, some of them have not, but the price was pretty high. So one of my first things was that whatever I want to choose, and if I want to go with Visible Body, the price has to be lower than that. 

Now, the price that we are getting is really unique. I don’t know if I can share, but if I can share, then students are paying $55 to get access to the Courseware AND download four apps on the mobile device that will stay forever and it’s not subscription based.


From the My Apps screen in Courseware, students and instructors can open apps on the web or download them to a Mobile Device.

How good a price is $55 compared to the other anatomy apps out there?

Abbey explained how students use their Courseware subscription across multiple courses, maximizing the value they get for the price.

With our A&P class, we actually have this A&P suite that we’re trying to facilitate at UIC. So we’re trying to track retention and whatnot in our courses, and so these students are using it in A&P. They’re then taking the dissection course, then afterwards, and they’re now using Visible Body (or they will be starting next year). They’re going to use that in the classroom as well, so they’ll have it on their own personal devices. And then afterwards they take, or simultaneously when they take the dissection course, they’re also taking an applied musculoskeletal anatomy course. So all of our instructors are on board with using this Visible Body platform. Therefore, they’re using it throughout their education at UIC. 

Tomer added onto that, highlighting that students get access to four mobile apps as well as the Courseware platform itself. 

But the whole idea is that if you actually take, let’s say, most of the apps—like I said, we have four apps here—and you would try to find any other company that will offer the same kind of apps and you will add the total cost, if students would buy those apps individually, the cost is a lot more than $100. When we say here that they get all this for $55, believe me when I say I searched a lot before I made the decision, and I compared a lot of prices and I got a lot of quotes, and I did not find that price. 

Is it worth it for students to have the mobile apps on their own devices, rather than just on a set of classroom iPads?

Abbey elaborated on the benefits of students having access to the apps on their individual devices: 

I would say 100%—with our large cohort of students, especially. I don’t know how large your classroom is, but we have 35-45 students in the classroom and there’s only 10 iPads. Not every student gets to play with one. And so we encourage, and the TAs encourage, that they get their phones out, they get their own iPads or tablets or their own laptops out, and they’re searching for the answer like I said. So if they didn’t have their own code and whatnot, the students wouldn’t be able to do that. 

And the goal of this is that it’s a supplemental resource. So we’re not trying to take away models. We’re not trying to take away cadavers. We want our students to be able to take this information home and then capitalize on that. So the goal of it is that they are using it elsewhere. We don’t want them to just use it in the lab. We want them to be able to be comfortable and confident when they leave and then have the ability to then take their own time on it at home.  

The main takeaway here is that Courseware is cheaper than most A&P textbooks and can be used across multiple courses within the time frame of the subscription. In addition, students benefit from being able to download the mobile apps onto their own devices because they can use Visible Body’s materials to study outside the lab. 

Courseware-Cartoon-GifUsing Courseware to learn in the lab and study at home. Animation by Rafael Ribeiro.


Visible Body's apps are easy to learn and use

Usability and learnability was another topic that interested the instructors in the audience. The main thing they wanted to know on this subject was how easy it was for students to learn how to use Visible Body’s apps. 

Abbey elaborated on how both TAs and students figure out how to use the Visible Body apps quickly. 

Very small, what I have seen. For our A&P course, our teaching assistants are in the lab, so Tom and I are not in the labs directly, so having the TAs learn the software was super quick. I mean, we didn’t even have to do a basic tutorial with them—they just kind of played with it and got it. I know that some students, it’s like the first lab they go to. The lab is an hour and forty minutes, so at the beginning of that first lab, we tell the students ‘Ok, here’s how to manipulate it.’ But Tom also does a great intro video as to ‘Here’s how you can manipulate this app. Here’s how you can use it in a course.’ And we post that as one of the beginning lectures in our software. For my dissection students, it was their first time using it for the semester, so I would say [within] the first two labs, they got it.

The basics of moving and interacting with 3D models in Human Anatomy Atlas, from the Visible Body Support Site's Getting Started guide.

Tomer followed up on Abbey’s answer by explaining more about the tutorial videos he made. He also touched on how most of today’s university students are already familiar with how to operate mobile apps. 

I also want to add regarding those videos [...] one thing I found really beneficial was if you create [...] an instructional video, never try to explain everything in that video. So, for example, [in one video] we’re going to learn just how to access and how to choose a model. Another video: how do you rotate? How do you zoom? 

And I think especially in this generation now, even on their personal devices, they know how to click on an icon, they know how to zoom on a picture, they know how to slide. So they have the motor skills. The only thing is now we want them to use those motor skills that they’ve got on education. 

Ultimately, Abbey and Tomer’s responses indicated that students take to Visible Body’s apps with ease, early in the semester. Because of this, teaching students how to use the apps isn’t a significant barrier to their learning of the actual material. 


Visible Body's apps can be used on a broad range of devices

Instructors wanted to know about the kinds of technology they would (or wouldn’t) need in their classrooms to implement Courseware and the apps it includes. Here are a few of those tech-related questions. 

Where do the virtual reality headsets come in?

Tomer responded by clarifying that you don’t need VR equipment to use Visible Body’s apps—just a computer, phone, or tablet: 

So if you think about it, a virtual reality headset right now would require another device. How about—and I think this is kind of really good thinking—students already have a device, so instead of putting it on their face, they can actually use their device, and the only thing you have to do is just find the surface, and now they can see on the surface, let’s say, of this table, the model. So they don’t have to put anything on [...] their eyes. So as they hold the device in their hand, they just click on [the] Augmented Reality button, and [wherever]  they are, they will see the models right over there.

Here’s what the AR feature in Human Anatomy Atlas looks like.

Are touch screens required?

One of the VB reps in attendance at the session answered this one: 

It does not need [a] touch screen. It works with a mouse. It works with a trackpad. If you have a touch screen, for most touch screens it does work well. And then the mobile download, that goes on either Android or Apple. You can put it on a phone, an iPad, and that lasts forever. That doesn’t go away.

How do you handle increasing hardware requirements as the software increases in capability? 

Tomer replied by explaining that Visible Body takes into account that schools and students may not always be working with the newest devices: 

First of all, you can run it on a web browser, and that is usually also getting updated with the browser and doesn’t take [up] as much space on your device. And at the same time, they also, they know based on the same kind of concern that I had, is that they know that they have to do something in order to make the information, along with everything that they add, much more condensed, that they could run much smoother. 

Now, is it true that at some point, [...] the software that was used cannot be used anymore? I don’t think it’s just unique for Visible Body, because [with] any other product sometimes [they’ll tell] you, you know, “It’s too old. You cannot get the new operating system because it will not support it.” But I really think if Visible Body has an answer that they would be more qualified, I think.

Abbey added on to that answer by discussing how the IT department at UIC handles updates to apps on school devices:

So, UIC just adapted a new learning management system with our iPads, and so everything can be done remotely. Once I hook all of these iPads into this cart and I plug it into the wall, turn it on, our IT team can hook up to these iPads remotely wherever the case may be. And I don’t know if other institutions have this as well, but if any enhancements or updates need to be done, he pushes it to all of them at the same time and then everything is happening in seconds. So if updates need to be done to specific apps the IT department does that for us. [...] I don’t know if that answered your question or not, but I know that there’s these new learning management systems that can be done remotely so it’s easier to do those enhancements. 


More tips & tricks for teaching with Visible Body

Abbey and Tomer also received questions about keeping iPads clean in a dissection lab and using Visible Body’s apps to create instructional videos for their students. The instructors also wanted to know how much variety there was in the 3D models in the apps.

How do you keep your iPads safe and usable in the lab?

Abbey explained that she uses heavy-duty Ziploc bags to protect iPads during dissection labs:

I ran into this issue first semester because we just used the iPad case and they were getting gooey and gunky, to be honest. So I adapted this thing where I started buying these things called Ziploc baggies and we placed the iPads inside of them. I don’t know if it’s like the saran wrap. I don’t get a glare on the screen, so you might want to try to use that tactic, but that’s essentially what we do. I use heavy-duty freezer Ziploc bags. Every time a student gets out an iPad, they have to do a check-out process with us, so they’re giving us their ID of some sort so we’re keeping track of the iPads that way, but then again we’re sticking them in these Ziploc bags, so they’re [...] new every time a student gets one of those iPads out. 

How do you make instructional videos using Visible Body? 

Tomer explained that at UIC, they use software called Panopto to help them make videos using Visible Body: 

I will tell you exactly. So we actually recently have— like, our school—have signed a new deal with a service, a streaming service. It’s called Panopto if you’ve ever heard of it. And what you can do with Panopto is you can stream up to three screens. So one, let’s say, is my camera, and at the same time I have my iPad next to me, and maybe in the third screen, if I want, a PowerPoint. And the students can choose which screen they want to be the main [one] when they watch it. 

Abbey also went through her video-making process:

So what happened is that I would go into the lab, use my phone (to be completely honest), have these cadaver recordings, and then have to go back and listen to myself, when I’m saying these things out loud, and then record them on the Visible Body—on an iPad. And then afterwards [I would] use Panopto and put them together at the same time. So there’s no voice sound when I’m doing the Visible Body. All of the voice commands are coming from when I was in the actual dissection lab and showing these things. 

When an instructor asked Abbey how long it took her to make the videos, she responded by saying that each video took her about four hours: 

I would say the longest part to it is going to the lab and forming the dissection videos. I would maybe be in the lab for four hours, do one dissection video, then come back on my computer, edit it, put everything together. Because you know we all make mistakes, we’re all human beings, I might say a word wrong, point to something wrong, whatever the case may be. And after that, that was the longest part, was actually going into the lab and doing it. But then again, going back onto Visible Body and just recording that on the iPad, that does not take very long. So I would say all together maybe, like four hours? 

Do the apps have male and female models? 

Tomer explained that the full male and female 3D models in Visible Body’s apps were among the deciding factors in his choice to use VB:

I must admit, so, a couple of weeks ago when I decided, first of all, I want to go with Visible Body, but there are other companies there. And the decision, also at that time, why decide to go with Visible Body, [...] and the reason why is because other companies, and some of them even [here] today, they have only the male model. They don’t have the female. And we [are] kind of asking “When does it come?”

“You know, it’s coming, it’s on the way…” 

But I never wanted to run into an issue for a student to ask me “How come you show only male, and there’s no female?” And there’s also other situations when other companies, they have a female model, but only the pelvic region. I’m like “So this is female [anatomy] to you? Just this area?” So that’s the reason why we wanted to go with the whole, complete product that we can start using. 

So yes, in this you can change between male and female. You can also choose between different sections, different areas. You can of course flip the cadaver, absolutely. 


A Gross Anatomy Lab view in Human Anatomy Atlas. You can toggle between male and female models with the settings button at the top right of the screen. You can also switch between a prone and supine view of the cadaver via the info box.


Taking Courseware for a test drive

Interested in a demo? Here’s what one of our VB reps had to say about that: 

We’re happy to set you up with access to a full Visible Body Courseware course where we give you full access to everything. We want you to take this for a deep test drive. It’s not, like, two weeks and you’ve got to make a decision. We want you to put it through its paces and see how it’s going to work for you. It’s fully flexible, but [...] you need to think about how you’re going to make it work for you.

Once again, you can check out the Q&A highlights in this video, and if you’d like to know more about Courseware, we’d recommend taking a look at the Courseware overview page, the Courseware FAQ page, or getting in contact with our Education Team

For more demos and stories from instructors who use Visible Body, visit the webcasts and demonstrations page.

About the Speakers

Tomer Kanan, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at UIC. He is the Course Director of Anatomy and Physiology and has taught Anatomy and Physiology for over 10 years. His focus is on enhancing anatomy and physiology education for students by incorporating technology within the class.

Abbey Breckling is a full-time Clinical Instructor and the Director of the Anatomy & Physiology Laboratories for the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at UIC. Abbey has earned both a BS and MS from the University of Illinois at Chicago, as she specializes in cadaveric dissection work with a research focus in anatomy curriculum. Her passion lies within anatomy education, as she is actively interested in new pedagogical techniques to enhance anatomical curriculum.

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