A Reluctant Change for the Better

Published March 28, 2018

By Richard Alan Jones, Ph.D., Texas A&M University

Richard Alan Jones, Ph.D., Texas A&M University

If you would have asked me five years ago if I would ever teach my classes without my students doing dissections, I would have laughed and said that would never happen. Times are changing though, and changing fast. We certainly had to change with them. Even if we would have resisted, with the recent shortage of animals, specifically cats, available to purchase for student dissection, we really didn't have a choice, and we had to drastically restructure our class. Now instead of a heavy focus on cat dissection, we have switched to a virtual human dissection, models, and cat dissection viewing lab. The students do not get near as much hands on experience in our labs as they previously did, but given the resources available, we try to have them touch as much as we can while still staying within the realms of what is feasible.

Currently, virtual labs are the direction that teaching is progressing. Almost two year ago we hit a brick wall where we literally could not get cats for dissection in our teaching labs, or at least not get them anywhere in time for use in our classes. We could have switched to rabbits or fetal pigs, but the drawbacks, such as lesser developed musculature and smaller specimens, not to mention the cost of getting a variety of specimens to cover everything we could study in just one cat, made this an impractical option. We had to make a change for our students. We wanted the best we could get, especially now that we can only get enough good cat specimens for our instructors to dissect a small number of pro-sections for our students to view.

I had access to other publishers' virtual dissection software, but nothing else compared to the detail, both in dissection and associated text/tools content, to the Human Anatomy and Physiology Revealed form McGraw-Hill. With much help from McGraw-Hill, we were able to tweak and modify to fit our needs, fairly easily, the ample resources, such as pre- and post-lab assignments built and supplied for us by the publisher. As supplied resources have necessary adjustments that we cannot make ourselves, McGraw-Hill has been very willing to make those changes to keep us running smoothly. If fact, McGraw-Hill has been so very helpful, in every step they could help us with as we have made our transition.

The testing software (Connect) is flexible and we have found ways to add, such as our own quiz questions and assignments, and to modify these assignments, so that they fit our needs. Now that we have learned more and more about what the students often do wrong, such as not pressing the submit button when finished with an assignment in this testing software, operations have become very smooth for us. When there is a problem though, tech support from McGraw-Hill has always been more than outstanding. This is not the normal tech support you get these days where the person on the phone does not even understand what you are asking. Instead, tech support is very competent and easy to talk to. You might be on the phone with them for a long time, but they will find a solution, or a work around, for your problem, and their help solving student issues is invaluable. The representatives from McGraw-Hill have been with us, every step of the way, repeatedly, and are always a phone call or an email away, and are always incredibly knowledgeable. If they do not know the answer, they know how to find it, or who to call to get the answer, and they are resilient in their efforts until they get us the help we need. Some of the best support we have received has come from these representatives. They are clearly staying informed about the problems we are facing and have been keeping up their knowledgebase to include the solutions to these issues.

When we added the virtual dissection Human Anatomy and Physiology Revealed component to our course, along with required study and testing using Connect, our students' scores increased at first, but now my students are scoring more in the range that they previously did. In my estimation, this is likely due to increased retention. Based on my interactions with the students, and matched with an additional increase in the material required of them to know, and an emphasis on this additional material, likely resulting in scores less than desired but expected given the breadth of study. Talking to my students has clearly demonstrated that even though scores do not always show it, they are truly comprehending more, and walking away after my class with greater knowledge and thinking skills than they ever did in the past.

My students really enjoy the human addition to our labs, which were in retrospect, too cat intensive previously. Now they are getting more of the human anatomy and physiology experience they should be getting in a human anatomy and physiology lab. My students see more human and less cat dissections, but they can now integrate and make connections much better between species in similarity than they could before. Now they understand the cat as a model for human anatomy, where in the past I was never really sure they were truly making that jump.

As a result of all our changes, our students are getting a much better education. My job as an educator is to try to get my students the best education I can. I was really worried we might be forced into a step backwards, but as it turns out, we have now taken a step very much in the forward direction and I could not be more pleased with the benefits we are seeing from switching our labs as described here. If you are looking to make a similar transition then hopefully my thoughts can be of help to you. I wish you the best of luck. -Richard Alan Jones, Ph.D.