Teaching a cadaver lab with 3D anatomy models and animations, with Professor Tomer Kanan

Tomer Kanan is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois Chicago where he teaches a cadaver lab course that uses Visible Body’s Courseware. Last month, we hosted a webcast between Professor Kanan and a group of professors and administrators. The attendees were either planning an online anatomy lab experience for their own classes or were interested in supplementing time in the cadaver lab with 3D technology. We’ve summarized and excerpted parts of that webcast below into a 20-minute read.

Introduction from Professor Kanan

I have been using Visible Body for quite a while. At UIC we incorporate it into the curriculum. The goal is that students are able to use Visible Body’s virtual anatomy from home, and it gives them the ability to learn how they want. Students buy the Visible Body Courseware platform and they use it to access homework assignments that prepare them for the cadaver lab. We also use the platform to quiz students once a section of the lab is complete.

What did instructors notice about using 3D anatomy models in the cadaver lab?

When students can manipulate the anatomy models the way they want, they are more excited to learn the content.  

With a book you have an image and that's pretty much it. There's only one way to look at it. With Visible Body, we give students certain structures to identify and it is more of a challenge. It's not just an image [and] it's clear that that structure is somewhere in front of them. Students actually need to dig in, manipulate the 3D model, [and] dissect to find a structure. We've noticed that students not only understand better by finding the answer, but what’s helping learning is the process—the way they got to the answer.

"Our students have total control over how they consume the information. With Visible Body students manipulate the 3D models in a way that makes sense to them." 
Tomer Kanan, Assistant Clinical Professor

Students use 3D models to learn the location of a structure and practice clinical correlations

Professor Kanan shows two examples in this one-minute video segment from the webcast.
  • The first example shows a a dissection quiz from the Courseware quiz bank. Students have to use the dissection tools on the 3D model to remove the [x] muscle and correctly select the [x ] as the answer.

  • The second examples shows how an instructor can create a custom question using Visible Body’s 3D models, adding a clinical correlation prompt, and asking students to select the correct answer.

This is the only 3D anatomy platform that we know of that enables instructors to create these types of dissection questions. Dissection questions challenge students by first asking that they understand the clinical correlation, and then that they dissect the 3D model to identify the structure and submit their answer.

Why does Professor Kanan think this virtual dissection works so well to teach? “We give these assignments and they are part of the students’ grades," he says. "[Students] will have to dissect virtually in order to get to that structure, open it, identify, and find the structure that they want. This is something that is completely different from the traditional way [of teaching]. ”

Students learn more in the cadaver lab when they can refer to Visible Body's content

"The cadaver lab at UIC includes iPads at each station," explains Professor Kanan.  "Students reference the Visible Body models on screen as they move through the lab dissection."


While Professor Kanan talks about these features, we've inserted a demo in the video here. If you are teaching a cadaver lab, this video clip shows how you can prepare students for the lab, by using Visible Body to review the steps of the dissection. There is a section in Human Anatomy Atlas called Gross Anatomy Lab. It shows the female or male gross anatomy model on a dissection table. All the reference and interaction tools are available. The instructor can select one of the preset views to walk students through a dissection in preparation for lab time. 

“It’s really phenomenal,” says Professor Kanan.  “In [the] traditional way... the professor used to demonstrate what they’re going to do... or there were some videos that were given [to students] regarding the heart that [they are] going to dissect, and then, the students, of course, worked on their own… Now, Visible Body is installed on our iPads.”

With the Visible Body models on the iPads in the cadaver lab and on students’ cell phones, students can plan their dissection by practicing on a virtual model. If during the actual dissection they need a reference, they can use Visible Body to help solve the problem. Professor Kanan explains the benefits of this: “If they lose a bit of the rotation or their bearing, they can always go back to Visible Body, orient themselves, and go back to the cadaver. This is something that they never had before.”

Feedback from students about using cadavers in a lab versus virtual anatomy models in the lab or at home

In this video clip, Professor Kanan answers a question posed by one of the webcast attendees: “From your experience, do you find that the students are utilizing the dissection in Visible Body and getting more out of it than what they are doing with the cadavers or is it just a different experience? What is the comparison and feedback you are getting from students about the cadaver dissection compared to the virtual dissection?"


“Putting your hands on a cadaver gets students excited, for sure!” But Professor Kanan notes that time in the cadaver lab is limited and very structured. What happens when lab students are not on campus? Professor Kanan explains that because students have web access to Visible Body and can install the apps on their phones or tablets, it is like students can take “the cadaver or the models home... That’s a great solution, because the same thing that they saw in class, they’re able to see at home.” 

When students purchase access to the Visible Body Courseware platform UIC has adopted for the cadaver lab, they get a subscription to the course Professor Kanan hosts. But they also get to download iOS or Android versions of Visible Body’s best-selling apps. That means they get the 3D models, animations, and illustrations on their cell phones or tablets. Access to the web course expires, but the apps students install on their devices are theirs to keep.

That students get to keep the Visible Body apps on their phones and tablets, and that they pay for them once and keep them forever, is something “[they] are really, really excited about,’ notes Professor Kanan. “The first thing we get from our students is the 'wow,' but then they [also] find it... a lot more interesting... they are discovering structures and pretty much going through the journey... instead of just going through static images.”

Students understand physiology better when they use 3D visuals

In this video clip, Professor Kanan answers a question posed by one of the webcast attendees: “Since transitioning to Visible Body have you noticed any improvement in student scores? Are they understanding more now that you use 3D anatomy? Have you seen that using Visible Body has helped students?”

We've added examples of content from Visible Body here to showcase how students can move from a gross anatomy model of a kidney, to a micro anatomy model that shows a nephron, and into an animation that explains absorption and secretion. 

“[Compared to] before, when I didn’t use Visible Body, especially with the physiology, I would say there [has been] a 20 to 30% increase in the grades, and that was really tough to achieve.”

The big improvement was using 3D models to understand better how structures look. That led to students better understanding how structures work. 

Facilitating cadaver lab exams or moving them online

One of the last questions in the webcast was about using 3D models as a tool to provide expedited cadaver lab quizzing or online quizzing. (To learn about the quizzing and gradebook features Visible Body offers, visit the Courseware product page.)

"The UIC cadaver lab does part of the lab exam on cadavers. This part is traditional: students identify structures on the cadaver. Another part of the cadaver lab exam is done through the Visible Body Courseware platform. It’s cut down on the number of station-by-station cadaver lab exam questions and made administering the exams easier... There’s a whole pool of questions, so students are not getting the same questions. And in the exam they can actually manipulate the model as they do the exam. A lot of these online exam questions have replaced cadaver station questions."

We'd like to thank Professor Kanan for participating in the webcast and answering everyone's questions. Visit the Visible Body website to learn more about our site licenses and Courseware product.