Innovative Initiatives: Making Strides in the Classroom and Lab to Improve Anatomy Learning

Here's a question instructors often ask: What can be done to improve how students learn anatomy?

Students want more than handouts and PowerPoint presentations; to meet their expectations, instructors and schools are constantly coming up with new ideas. Some schools are spending money on immersive technologies that let the students explore the human body using augmented reality or virtual reality. Other schools are changing their lecture rooms, transforming them into more collaborative environments. We looked for some of the latest innovations in the education world and collected five examples of how they're impacting the way students learn about the human body.

The University of Buffalo committed to medical students spending more time learning anatomy by moving classrooms closer to researchers, clinicians, and the technology they use.

At the new UB Rise Center, instructors and medical students work with gross anatomy in a multidisciplinary approach—using digital and computational models to "learn... new procedures and techniques through simulations with virtual or 3-D printed models.” 

John Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor and the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Chair of the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciencesis on the front lines of digital pathology and computational modeling. The aim is to use the data these techniques generate to push the fields of integrated diagnostics and personalized predictive medicine. His colleague, Steven Schwaitzberg, professor and chair of surgery, ran an innovation center at the Tufts University School of Medicine/New England Medical Center, apply Tomaszewski's team's data to the innovation of new procedures, surgical techniques and instruments to improve those procedures.

Bringham Young University addressed increasing student enrollments for the anatomy lab course by making lab time flexible.

Students can select the time they go to lab and how long they spend in lab. BYU-Idaho found that more students were taking anatomy and physiology, and so labs had to be adjusted in order to accommodate the influx. The idea was that the more time students had in lab, the better they would succeed; they simply needed access that would work with their schedules.

The result was flexible lab time. Since increasing lab access to accommodate the increase of undergraduate anatomy and physiology students, BYU-Idaho found that students are getting better grades. 

“We found that on average, students that spent six hours a week in and out of the lab did very well,” Joseph Anderson, a biology professor at BYU-Idaho, said. “Some didn’t need that much time and some needed a little more, but make sure you get in there consistently and early.”

Mont Notre-Dame High School added 15 virtual reality stations for students studying the human body

zspace-1Collège Mont Notre-Dame has a new zSpace lab. Image  c. The Siver Times.

What do you do with a $150,000 donation? You purchase 15 zSpace machines, of course!

Each zSpace machine is a station at which three students can wear special glasses and collaborate in a 3D anatomy learning experience using Visible Body’s Human Anatomy Atlas. The result is more active and engaged students. 

McHenry County College is spending a whopping $17 million on the new Liebman Science Center with distinct spaces for different modes of learning.


Image c. mchenry.edu

Conceptualized in Fall 2016, the Liebman Science Center will finish construction and be open to students at McHenry County College in Fall of 2018. The new building includes a first floor with a variety of rooms, each for a different type of learning environment. There will be biology labs and prep spaces, anatomy & physiology labs, a cadaver lab, lecture hall, a student resource room, and a series of small student collaboration spaces.

Check out the Science Center floor plan

The University of Arizona redesigned 10 classrooms into a more collaborative learning space that can accommodate 30 to 264 students.

The school was one of eight initial project sites that participated in an initiative led by the Association of American Universities seeking to innovate large undergraduate STEM gateway courses and increase the number of students who successfully master the course curriculum. Instructors at the school are now in rooms that encourage new teaching styles, such as flipped classrooms and active learning techniques. Beyond the eight that participated, there are now 62 AAU institutions that now have a designated STEM site on campus. 

These changes are focused on increasing student engagement by providing various ways to learn the course content. For anatomy and physiology students, those changes include more engagement on the part of students and an increase in the use of technology has shown results in recent studies.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of AAU, wrote in the report that the initiative is a “significant test of the degree to which a group of prominent research universities can work collectively with their national organization to improve the quality of teaching in undergraduate STEM courses, especially large introductory and gateway courses, thereby enhancing the learning experiences of many thousands of their undergraduate students.”

And how is it doing so far? According to Coleman, the results “indicate a resoundingly affirmative answer to this test.”


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