Dr. Sarah McLean
I went Rogue and Looked at Anatomy!
This week, we evaluated visualization software in STEM, with an emphasis on math and science in the K-12 context.
To be fair, I initially found it challenging to link this week’s content to my own practice. I teach physiology and molecular biology-type courses to fourth-year undergraduate students, so I initially struggled to find the link between the visualization software and readings that were provided and my own experience. However, I had a “lightbulb” moment when I realized that I served on an advisory committee of a graduate student who is studying haptics and anatomy knowledge. This student is evaluating the extent to which haptics training (i.e. the perception of objects by touch and proprioception) can help students better learn anatomy. In anatomy, it can be challenging for students to be able to “mentally rotate” different anatomical structures; sometimes, students rely on learning anatomy on one-plane, wherein practice (say, during a dissection or surgery), anatomy is definitely 3D! For students to be able to effectively do “mental rotations” of anatomical structures, it’s been suggested that their spatial ability and haptics should be developed. For example, some researchers have developed different types of “games” to help medical students develop their mental rotation abilities. Thus, my exploration this week followed my own path! I took a look at a few different anatomy visualization software and used this as the basis to develop my lesson.
One of the aims of Dixon’s work (1997) sought to evaluate whether the instructional environment affects students (elementary students) 2D or 3D visualization abilities. Students were taught about reflection and rotation either using a textbook or a virtual software (Geometer’s Sketchpad). The authors first evaluated students’ baseline visualization ability and then the subjects were randomized into the textbook or virtual software condition. Students who received the dynamic treatment (i.e. the virtual software) performed better than those who received the textbook treatment when it came to the card rotation test.
While it is well-established in anatomy education that good spatial ability predicts good anatomy performance, another study that I read by Vorstenbosch and colleagues (2013), wanted to evaluate whether the reciprocal was true; does learning anatomy enhance spatial ability? To evaluate this study, the researchers compared the spatial abilities of medical students (that would have good anatomical skills) to education sciences students; on the baseline measure, the medical students performed better than the education students. Furthermore, medical students who studied anatomy performed even better than the control group (studying research methods for the social sciences). Thus, the authors concluded that while spatial ability can predict anatomy performance, so too can anatomy performance predict spatial ability.
Therefore, I explored Netter's 3D anatomy as I know of colleagues who have used it (and love it!) for teaching anatomy. The cognitive affordances of this software is that it permits lots of user interactivity (you can add or remove different tissues), you can look at the specimens through various planes, you can zoom in and out (to support spatial abilities) and you can also manipulate the specimens in various ways.
As an instructor, I would use Netter's 3D anatomy as a supplement to (or warm-up, you could say) to a cadaveric laboratory session. Based on my knowledge and understanding of haptics and anatomy learning, I think that being able to physically manipulate an object can definitely benefit one's understanding of 3D structures. However, I also know through this week's learning that students can be trained to develop better mental rotation skills.
Overall, I feel that I would act as a guide, showing the students how to use the tool, and then let the students do a free-form exploration of Netter's.
Dixon, J. K. (1997). Computer use and visualization in students' construction of reflection and rotation concepts. School Science and Mathematics, 97(7), 352-358.
Guillot, A., Champely, S., Batier, C., Thiriet, P., & Collet, C. (2007). Relationship between spatial abilities, mental rotation and functional anatomy learning. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 12(4), 491-507.
Vorstenbosch, M. A., Klaassen, T. P., Donders, A. R. T., Kooloos, J. G., Bolhuis, S. M., & Laan, R. F. (2013). Learning anatomy enhances spatial ability. Anatomical sciences education, 6(4), 257-262.