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Modern techniques in teaching anatomy

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A global pandemic has disrupted the way we deliver content. How can you use this opportunity to find creative ways to teach anatomy?

Teaching anatomy has undergone substantial changes across both long, and short–term timescales. We have seen a substantial increase in adoption of alternative teaching methods in response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Many programs that were considering revising their curricula were pushed forward by the pandemic and there is no turning back.

Fortunately, current technologies and web-based platforms, like Kenhub, can be leveraged to improve our teaching in these new models. How can this be done intentionally?

  1. Universal Design for Learning
    1. Increase Engagement
    2. Provide Accessible Material
    3. Provide Multiple Ways to Interact
  2. In Summary
  3. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
    1. How do I use your images in my materials?
    2. Can I embed videos in my presentations?
    3. How do I link to Kenhub resources in my LMS?
    4. Who writes and reviews the materials on Kenhub?
    5. Can Kenhub accommodate various forms of color blindness?
    6. Are Kenhub materials offered in different languages?
    7. Does Kenhub use English or Latin terminology?
    8. What resources are free, and what requires a membership?
    9. How often are materials updated?
  4. Sources
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Universal Design for Learning

You may have observed there is a great deal of variability between learners in your courses. The principles of universal design can be used to account for and plan to address this variability. Simply put, universal design can be applied to learning as a framework for reducing barriers to learning. Universal design can be used to enhance our learning environment in the following three categories:

  • Increase engagement
  • Provide more accessible material
  • Provide multiple ways to interact
Key facts about universal design
Increases engagement It is related to the "WHY" of learning and the affective networks of the brain
Providing more accessible material It is related to the "WHAT" of learning and the recognition networks of the brain
Provides multiple ways to interact It is related to the "HOW" of learning and the strategic networks of the brain

Increase Engagement

If our goal is to guide learners in becoming purposeful and motivated, then we must provide multiple means of engagement. In contrast to legacy anatomy course designs, hybrid courses can provide learners with autonomy to move at their own pace through the content. Learners can engage when they are ready to learn, which can vary between individuals. Having access to a learning platform like Kenhub allows learners to access content when they are ready. Learners can move through Kenhub study units (i.e., modules) at their own pace. All the instructor must do is choose which ones to assign.

As a practical example, let’s say you are in charge of anatomy for medical students and want to increase learner engagement with course material in a time efficient way. You have already scheduled a real-time session with the learners to discuss the abdominal wall and you find that the learning objectives of the Kenhub study units align well with your course objectives. You can provide links in your course LMS (learning management system) to all four study units on Kenhub or a smaller selection. Learners can then go through these study units ahead of your real-time session and come prepared to discuss concepts through clinical cases you have prepared. Your learners can also create (and save) a custom quiz based on the topics you want them to learn.

Provide Accessible Material

If our goal is to guide learners in becoming resourceful and knowledgeable, then we must provide multiple means of representation. This means that learners have access to multiple forms of content. These can include lecture videos, readings, articles, podcasts, and interviews. Kenhub can be used as a source of recorded lectures, peer-reviewed articles, and probably most well-known, high-quality atlas images. Technology can also be used to improve accessibility by removing barriers. The videos provided by Kenhub are short in duration, include closed captioning and transcripts, and allow for variable speed of playback.

Here's an example of a high-quality written article that provides key information for each structure and a gallery of high quality atlas images:

In my clinical anatomy course for doctor for physical therapy students, I want them to be able to identify anatomic structures represented in cross-sectional images. This will assist them in being able to interpret clinical imaging of their patients. Kenhub has an extensive collection of high-quality cross-sectional images taken from the Visible Human Project. I have created a structure identification list I give to my students so they know what structures they should be able to identify. They can either view short videos or review the atlas view. Then they can continue building their knowledge through active methods such as Kenhub’s innovative quizzing feature.

An example of a quiz containing structures from the deltoid level asking the learner to identify the supraspinatus muscle. Could you identify this muscle? :)

Provide Multiple Ways to Interact

If our goal is to guide learners in becoming strategic and goal-directed, then we must provide multiple means of action and expression. A hybrid educational model is ideal because learners can participate in asynchronous and synchronous learning in the same course. This has also been referred to as a “flipped classroom” model. Asynchronous learning is considered “pre-work” that allows learners to engage in the content that meets their learning needs. You have probably laid out your course learning objectives and now learners can self regulate what content they need to review to be able to meet those objectives. Kenhub has an extensive repository of content that can assist your learners in achieving their goals.

Kenhub offers content for every region of the body, including basic concepts at the foundation of every anatomy course.

Synchronous learning involves active participation by the learners in application of concepts presented in the pre-work materials. I find this stage truly exciting as an anatomy teacher because it provides learners the opportunity to contribute their experiences and understanding to build knowledge (i.e., constructivism).

Some ideas I’ve used in my teaching include clinical scenarios, polling knowledge checks, small group discussions, and guest speakers (clinicians). I have experience using Kenhub images in my polling questions. Kenhub also has an extensive collection of clinical cases that can be assigned for student reading or used as examples for synchronous sessions.

An example of a clinical scenario used to help learners appreciate how the underlying anatomy is applied to solve patient problems.

There are many creative methods of teaching anatomy that could be considered. Body painting is a quite popular and effective way of teaching concepts related to the skin (e.g., dermatomes) and surface projections of deeper structures (e.g., abdominal viscera). Images from Kenhub could be provided to your learners as a reference when performing the painting. Clay modeling is a great way to leverage psychomotor actions to develop understanding of 3D relations between structures. Learners, again, will need reference images and Kenhub’s extensive collection would work very well. Drawings are a popular and effective way to summarize complex anatomic concepts. Kenhub provides many examples of simplified nerve drawings that could be used to accompany drawings demonstrated by the instructor.

An example of a simplified drawing made by an anatomy instructor (top) that could be compared with an illustration from the Kenhub atlas (bottom) as a way to understand various features of cranial nerve VI, abducens nerve (highlighted in green).

In Summary

Chances are your anatomy course has been impacted by the recent pandemic and you have had to “pivot” in response. Now might be the perfect opportunity to reflect on your course design and to enhance it using the framework of universal design for learning. Kenhub has many resources ready to go to help you reach your goals.

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