Chancellor’s Chair – Human Anatomy Team: Drs. Shawn Beaudette, Martin Dragan, Rebecca MacPherson, and Yasmeen Mezil

Exploring the New Normal: Optimizing Hybrid Learning for the Teaching of Human Anatomy in a Post-COVID World

When the pandemic hit, the human anatomy team in Applied Health Sciences asked themselves, how do you teach human anatomy, which requires experiential and hands on interaction with specimens, completely online? These human anatomy courses are large, with approximately 650 students from at least six degree programs. But, over the past year, the team has introduced or further refined a number of innovations within the suite of Human Anatomy courses that allow for experiential and interactive learning to take place. They include visualizations, video demonstrations, lecture simulations, use of the Anotomage 3D Virtual Dissection Table, synchronous lab meetings, a new interactive lab manual, and the use of 3D modelling software that allows students to virtually manipulate and dissect specimens.

This group of educators also designed and developed the Anatomy Volunteer Group, recruiting 115 undergraduate student peer-leaders since the program’s inception to mentor junior students. The volunteers work with graduate teaching assistants, senior lab demonstrators and the instructors to help their peers with the course content, developing and refining their own understanding in the process. This program, too, has been adapted in the online environment.

Now that the university is beginning to offer face to face classes once again, the team is undertaking research into the ways in which student, peer leader, and educator preferences in learning human anatomy have evolved since the onset of the pandemic.  The researchers posit that little is known about how these three distinct groups perceive the use of alternative digitally based tools.

To find out, the team is creating four distinct studies that complement each other. They propose to a) analyze quantitative and qualitative date from two cohorts of undergraduate peer leaders involved in either the online or face to face version of a course b) study the perspective of past students who completed a human anatomy course in an online format and another course in a face to face format; c) compare the experiences of students in an upcoming hybrid course who enroll in either the online segment with those in the face to face section; and d) investigate the perceptions of the educators who teach in both online and face to face formats. With the data from each of these studies, they hope to design the optimal hybrid experience for the learning of human anatomy at Brock University and elsewhere.

Kirsty Spence, Associate Dean of Applied Health Sciences, stated that the collaborative and inclusive aspect of this teaching and research was noteworthy: “The team is composed of excellent members with high teaching and research prowess as each individual brings unique strengths and a background that complements the entire team.” In fact, the application for the three year Chancellor’s Chair for Teaching Excellence included a collaborative teaching dossier highlighting the shared teaching philosophies of the Human Anatomy Team. In outlining their vision for the courses, they state “our goal is to teach from the heart, not the textbook”.  Their students clearly learn the heart is the best part of human anatomy.