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The primary goal of the Human Anatomy instructional lab is to identify critical landmarks in various systems of the body. One of the most common course evaluation suggestions for improving the lab is to introduce dissection. Unfortunately, cadavers are not a realistic option for Occidental. Therefore, two years ago, I designed course assignments requiring the use of “Real Anatomy” virtual dissection software.

HeartPro III Screen Shot Although generally well received, students have expressed frustration with the speed of the program on the Oxy network and the anatomy lab is not equipped with computers, which makes it difficult to fully exploit this resource. In the past, students have used 3-D anatomical models and their textbooks as the only resources for identifying landmarks during scheduled lab hours. These same 3-D models are used for practical exams. However, enrollment has risen to a point where 3-4 students may be crowding around one model, which hampers student learning. In addition, students who have purchased the hard copy of the text prefer not to bring it to lab due to its size and several other students have opted to purchase the online textbook.

This semester, 3 iPads loaded with previously researched anatomy apps were made available during scheduled lab hours. For this review, I will discuss the following apps: Visible Body 3D Human Anatomy Atlas by Argosy Publishing ($29.99), Brain Pro (NOVA series) by 3D4medical.com ($9.99), Heart Pro III by 3D4medical.com ($17.99), 3D Brain by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (free), modalityBODY by Modality Inc. (free). I have discovered that these well-designed apps provide a viable alternative to the textbook and Real Anatomy dissection software. Some apps provide students with a more realistic depiction of the landmarks as well as a more comprehensive view of how organs and tissues are organized in the body than the traditional 3-D models. General benefits of all apps reviewed include the ability to 1) rotate 3-D images in space; 2) add or delete dissection layers; 3) show or hide landmark labels (pins); 4) learn more about the landmarks and related medical conditions. The 3D4medical.com Brain Pro and Heart Pro III are perhaps the most versatile of the apps reviewed. In addition to the 3-D image, these apps also include movie clips to demonstrate how the structures learned in lab function within the body. Pins can be added or deleted in case the app goes into more or less detail than that required for the course. Both apps have built-in customizable quiz features, which is helpful for large class sizes. Modality is the only app reviewed that allows the user to develop custom image sets. This is convenient when images from the textbook are available online. Pins and labels can then be added to any image. Albums for different organ systems can also be purchased through the modalityBODY store, but these albums are expensive.

View product reviews and more screenshots for Visible Body, Brain Pro, HeartPro III3D Brain, and Modality Body on iTunes.

Despite these benefits, it has taken several students multiple lab meetings to feel comfortable with all app features, which increases the duration of time required to learn landmarks. In addition, many students still have difficulty translating what they see on the iPad screen to a 3-D model they can hold in their hands. However, I do not believe this lack of spatial visualization is isolated to the iPad. I have also observed that students have difficulty identifying the same structure if presented with a cross-sectional vs. longitudinal cut anatomical model. If each student was provided an iPad to use both in and outside of the lab time, these limitations would likely be minimized. Indeed, several students have indicated that they would use an iPad to study for the practical exam. Some students still prefer not to mix the mobile devices they use for “fun” with course learning.

One of the biggest downfalls for using the iPads in the way I have this semester, is the time required to prep for each lab. Unfortunately, anything that is customized, one of my favorite features, must be repeated for each iPad. The apps are currently designed for individual consumption, which limits their use as a pedagogical tool in the mass classroom setting. However, I believe the benefits outweigh the limitations and am looking forward to incorporating additional 3D4medical apps into next semester’s class.