Neurological Sciences Team Creates Virtual Anatomy Course

June 2, 2020 by Jennifer Nachbur

A team of faculty members in the Department of Neurological Sciences has been transforming their popular hands-on summer Human Gross Anatomy course into a comprehensive, inclusive online curriculum featuring pre-recorded lectures, gross anatomy lab dissection videos, a 3D anatomy app, and live online discussions.

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Each summer, dozens of physical therapy and Master of Medical Science graduate students from the University of Vermont and beyond come to the Larner College of Medicine for a very hands-on Human Gross Anatomy course. But with in-person instruction prohibited due to COVID-19, faculty members in the Department of Neurological Sciences had to either cancel or develop an alternative plan.

With only six weeks to prepare before the first day of class on June 22, the team, led by Thayer Professor of Neurological Sciences and Director of the Anatomical Gift Program Gary Mawe, Ph.D., got to work to create a comprehensive, inclusive online version of the class—a testament to their commitment to these students and passion for education.

First, Mawe took an online course design boot camp, researched several software programs, and consulted—through a listserv hosted by the American Association of Anatomists—with educators at many other institutions faced with the same dilemma.  Following consultation with other course faculty members, he settled on a curriculum that includes a combination of pre-recorded lectures, newly-generated gross anatomy lab dissection videos, a 3D anatomy app called Complete Anatomy, and live online discussions with faculty members. In addition, enrolled students are able to purchase a set of plastic molded bones at a greatly reduced rate.

For the past several weeks, faculty members, including Mawe, co-director and Professor Victor May, Ph.D., and Assistant Professors Derek Strong, Ph.D., Nicholas D’Alberto, Ph.D., and Abigail Hielscher, Ph.D., have been performing the dissections that students would normally do, and recording narrated videos. Assistant Professor Nathan Jebbett, Ph.D., has been editing the videos to include names and information about structures of interest, and related schematic diagrams. Sharon Henry, P.T., Ph.D., A.T.C., professor of rehabilitation and movement sciences emerita, is providing most of the lectures on upper and lower extremities. All lecture and laboratory videos will be close captioned, with ASL translation, as well.

While the group has yet to determine which virtual meeting technology they’ll use to deliver the course—Microsoft Teams has auto-captioning, which enhances ADA compliance—the plan is to structure the course similarly to how it’s done in person. For one hour in the morning, students will view three to four lecture videos, then complete an hour of “lab” using the dissection videos, followed by a one-hour online class discussion featuring quiz questions. After a break, they will have another hour of lab and finish the day with a second hour-long live discussion. The last session of each week will include representative practice written and laboratory exams, and a live, online review session. ASL services will be provided.

Each faculty member is creating a video biosketch to introduce themselves to the students to help personalize the online experience. More than 65 students have enrolled to date.

“It’s a customized course,” says Mawe. “They won’t see the biological variability, like size of muscles and variation of arterial branches, that they would normally see in a large anatomy laboratory,” he admits, "but the faculty are doing their best to get around that by including specimens from the department’s collection of high quality dissections that have been saved, with the consent of the donors."