Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Anatomy and Cell Biology


Dr. Kem Rogers


Systemic Human Anatomy is a full credit, upper year undergraduate course with a prosection laboratory demonstration at Western University Canada. To meet enrolment demands beyond the physical space of the laboratory facility, a fully online section was developed to run concurrently with the traditional face-to-face (F2F) course in 2012-13. Lectures for F2F students were broadcast in live and archived format to online students using Blackboard Collaborate virtual classroom. Online laboratories were delivered in the virtual classroom by teaching assistants (TAs) with three dimensional (3D) anatomical models (Netter’s 3D Interactive Anatomy).

Student performance outcomes and student and instructor perceptions of the experience were studied over a two year period to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the new format. Data comparing the online and F2F student grades suggest that previous academic achievement, and not delivery format, predicts performance in anatomy. Students valued pace control, schedule and location flexibility of learning from archived materials. In the online laboratory, they had difficulty using the 3D models and preferred the unique and hands-on experiences of cadaveric specimens. The F2F environment was conducive to learning in both lecture and lab because students felt more engaged by instructors in person and were less distracted by their surroundings.

The course was modified in its second year with the addition of virtual breakout laboratory rooms, which allowed students to learn in smaller groups and interact with 3 TAs per lesson. The new laboratory format encouraged the majority of online students to use the 3D models. Virtual breakout rooms engaged online students in learning and the students were satisfied with their interactions with TAs and peers, though online laboratories did not adequately replace the F2F learning environment for all students. The biggest concern of the instructors was their inability to see coverbal student behaviour and use it to assess class engagement and their teaching effectiveness.

The design and evaluation of the course will guide anatomy educators in accommodating large student populations when faced with limited laboratory facilities and/or cadaveric specimens. The instructional methods will also be of interest to science, engineering, and mathematics educators who teach 3D concepts.