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<p>By Jonah Persinger, Stacey Dunham, &amp; Polly Husmann Introduction In anatomy education, traditional laboratory methods such as the use of atlases, prosected cadavers, and models have been the gold standard. However, with recent increases in technology, there has been increased emphasis on the incorporation of technology into anatomy curricula. With the implementation of technology, some [&hellip;]</p>

Evaluating Virtual Dissector Technology in Anatomy

Screen capture of Virtual Human Dissector

This image was taken directly from the large touchscreen terminal in the A215 lab and provides one example of how the software is used in lab.

By Jonah Persinger, Stacey Dunham, & Polly Husmann


In anatomy education, traditional laboratory methods such as the use of atlases, prosected cadavers, and models have been the gold standard. However, with recent increases in technology, there has been increased emphasis on the incorporation of technology into anatomy curricula. With the implementation of technology, some universities have abandoned dissection altogether, opting for using medical imaging, 3D modeling, and living anatomy image projection.Other institutions argue that dissection is a vital part of medical education, as it teaches professionalism, displays anatomical variation, and is important in developing clinical competency.3 This difference of opinion, raises the questions: “Can technology be implemented into traditional anatomy laboratory education and, if so, is there a benefit?”  Recent research in medical education suggests that technology can be incorporated with traditional dissection4 and that computer-aided instruction and 3D augmented curricula have demonstrated benefits in knowledge gains and concept retention.1,5 However, much of this research has been done at the medical and graduate education levels. In this study, we assess whether implementation of 3D Virtual Dissector Software on a large touchscreen terminal (as seen in the image above) was beneficial in the undergraduate anatomy setting at Indiana University – Bloomington.



This study used a crossover design in our large (400+) undergraduate anatomy course (A215: Basic Human Anatomy). At the beginning of the course, students were divided into two groups: Group A and Group B. Prior to being introduced to a topic, all students were given a pre-quiz to assess baseline knowledge. After the topic was presented, all students were able to study the material with the remaining time in lab using traditional methods (e.g., models, prosections, virtual microscope). However, each week the groups would alternate which group had access to the VH Dissector software on the large touchscreen terminal to supplement their understanding. Post quizzes were then used to assess knowledge gains each week. At the end of the course, quiz data was deidentified, and the mean difference between pre-quiz and post-quiz scores was calculated for the intervention and control groups. Independent samples t-tests were used to compare the data.

At the end of the course students also completed surveys to collect their feedback regarding the VH dissector software on the large touchscreen terminal. The surveys included nine Likert scale questions, two ranking questions, and seven open-ended questions. Frequencies were calculated for each question. Spearman’s Rho was used to examine correlations between answers on the Likert scale questions from the survey.




Table 1. Comparisons of improvement between intervention and control groups

There was a significant difference between the intervention and control groups during the Spring 2019 semester and during the full 2018-2019 academic year. Students using the VH dissector on the large touchscreen terminal improved their scores more than those in the control group.



Figure 1. Students Perceived Benefits of Virtual Human Dissector (VHD)

Many benefits were identified among students who both did and did not recommend the technology for future use. The most frequently identified benefit among those that would recommend the technology for future use was the ability to rotate structures in 3D.



Table 2. Number of VHD uses students felt necessary to become comfortable with the software

The vast majority of students took five uses or less to become comfortable using the VHD software on the large touchscreen terminal.


Conclusions and Future Directions

This study was focused on the efficacy of virtual dissector technology implementation in the undergraduate anatomy setting. The VH Dissector did show significant improvement in student scores over traditional pedagogical methods, indicating that there is a benefit to supplementing traditional lab methods with 3D virtual dissector technology for our students. The most common benefit identified by students in the course was being able to rotate structures in three dimensions. Other common benefits were providing context for what students see on models and being a change of pace in the anatomy lab. For educators, understanding these benefits and correlations can shape the way this technology can best be implemented to maximize its benefit to students.



We would like to thank the undergraduate students in Basic Human Anatomy (A215) for participating in this study, as well as the undergraduate teaching assistants who administered the surveys. Thanks is also given to Jeffrey Fahl, MD, FAAP for providing the template for the VHD modules and to Jonathan Bendinger for creating the VHD modules. We would also like to thank Touch of Life Technologies (TOLTech) for all of their support in this project.



  1. Wilson AB, Brown KM, Misch J, Miller CH, Klein BA, Taylor MA, et al. Breaking with Tradition: A Scoping Meta-Analysis Analyzing the Effects of Student-Centered Learning and Computer-Aided Instruction on Student Performance in Anatomy. Anatomical Sciences Education. 2018;12(1):61–73.
  2. Mclachlan JC. New path for teaching anatomy: Living anatomy and medical imaging vs. dissection. The Anatomical Record. 2004Nov22;281B(1):4–5.
  3. Pawlina W, Lachman N. Dissection in learning and teaching gross anatomy: Rebuttal to McLachlan. The Anatomical Record. 2004;281B(1):9–11.
  4. Benninger B, Matsler N, Delamarter T. Classic versus millennial medical lab anatomy. Clinical Anatomy. 2014;27(7):988–93.
  5. Peterson DC, Mlynarczyk GS. Analysis of traditional versus three-dimensional augmented curriculum on anatomical learning outcome measures. Anatomical Sciences Education. 2016;9(6):529–36.


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Polly Husmann

Polly Husmann is an Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Cell Biology at the Indiana University School of Medicine – Bloomington campus where she teaches anatomy to medical, graduate, and undergraduate students. She received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Notre Dame in 2005, her M.S. in Anatomy Education from Indiana University in 2009, and her Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology from Indiana University in 2011. Her education research includes both quantitative and qualitative methods mainly focused on factors outside the classroom that affect students’ academic performance. These research interests include study habits, course logistics, student wellness, and metacognition. She is a member of the American Association of Anatomists, where she has served on the Advisory Council for Young Anatomists and the Professional Development Committee, and she is also a member of the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society.
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.