Anatomy department pilots new lab technology to improve learning

May 13, 2014 —

Anatomy Chair Donald Matz and his colleagues incorporate high-tech in the high-touch teaching of anatomy.

Anatomy Chair Donald Matz and his colleagues incorporate high-tech in the high-touch teaching of anatomy.

Just after 10 a.m. on an unseasonably warm October morning, 52 physical therapy students enter the chill of the anatomy lab. In groups of five and six, they huddle around the stainless steel dissection tables and prep for the day’s lesson. A wall of flat screen TVs lights up with “Laboratory 38: Celiac Trunk” as students activate the lab manual on the iPad located at each station.

In this class, cadavers aren’t the only ones being dissected. The students are guinea pigs in a pilot project testing new technology in the anatomy lab.

“This is where we want to go as a department. The goal of the pilot is to figure out if it’s going to work and get the kinks out,” says Donald Matz, Ph.D., anatomy department chair.

The one-semester D.P.T. anatomy course was the perfect test case because of its small class size. The department set up 10 pilot stations with nearly $30,000 of new equipment and purchased a high-definition (HD) camera to upgrade the “live eye” broadcast of dissections. Funding came from the estate of Frank Kneussl, Ph.D., professor emeritus in anatomy, and the highly successful online medical terminology course, which charges participants for a certificate of completion

Each station is equipped with a 42-inch LG HDTV and an iPad loaded with the lab manual, which Matz converted to iBooks. With the flick of a switch, students can toggle between their text and the live eye, which is broadcast over the Internet in 1080p HD.

In this class, cadavers aren’t the only ones being dissected. The students are guinea pigs in a pilot testing new technology that makes their anatomy lab even more hands-on.

“The D.O. lab is working in standard definition right now and there’s a huge difference in picture quality,” Matz says. “All the images are high-quality. It lets students see every detail, just like in real life.”

Branden Roberts, D.P.T.’16, agrees. “The HD screens allow us to see all of the structures in great detail,” he says. “When Dr. Matz would take us through our review labs, we could easily see the small nerves and vessels that he was trying to point out. Without HD, it would have been difficult to see these things and would not have been as beneficial.”

It took several weeks to get all the bugs worked out, but the pilot has been a success. Matz already intends to upgrade 30 stations in the main anatomy lab and has the ability to expand to 42 if needed. He also plans to continue improving the lab manual to fully utilize all the features of iBooks.

“We wanted a platform that was easy to use and allowed us to use animations, 3D images and video clips. You can do that in iBooks,” he says. “We’re heavy into iBooks now and the goal is to use it more. I would love to institute videos in the manual next.”

Giving students every tool to succeed is important in a lab setting. The instructor and teaching assistants are unable to answer every question from every group in a two-hour learning period. The technology upgrade gives students like Matthew Tuggle, D.P.T.’16, and Brittany Harms, D.P.T.’16, an additional resource to clear up any confusion.

“The convenience of having anatomical pictures at our fingertips is the biggest advantage,” says Tuggle. “The iPads are filled with a slew of Netter pictures and are helpful in orienting my group during lab. The screens are large enough for our entire group to see and serve as a roadmap for our dissection.”

“It is also nice to have images right in front of you,” adds Harms. “It allows us all to read the procedure and look at large images, yet still be dissecting at the same time. This helps us teach one another and not necessarily have to ask the professors about every little structure that we may be unsure of.”

The anatomy lab has always been a place to get hands-on experience. In addition to the poking, clamping and scraping inside a cadaver that defined traditional learning, students can now explore by pinching, swiping and clicking their way through the human body.


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