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Blog No. 2 Prof.Michael Hortsch

Currently I am holding the rank of professor in the Departments of Cell and Developmental Biology and of Learning Health Sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Based on my background as a cell biologist and many years of experimental research in the field of developmental neurobiology, I have taught medical and dental histology at the University of Michigan since 1991. I am also the recipient of several top teaching awards at the University of Michigan. Over the last 10 years, I authored over 15 publications in the field of medical education. Among others, I am on the editorial board of Anatomical Sciences Education and I am an associate editor of the FASEB BioAdvances journal. 

As modern technologies play an increasingly important role in teaching the biomedical sciences to today’s students in an ever-changing curricular environment, I am interested in investigating whether these new technologies are effective in educating tomorrow’s scientists and health care professionals and how we can use these new teaching modalities to help our students learn better and gain a deeper understanding of the expanding volume of scientific knowledge. For that it is important to understand how modern electronic resources are used by students and what positive or negative impact they have on students’ learning outcome. 

Based on my research results, I have developed several more effective new electronic teaching resources. My most popular electronic learning tool is a series of mobile applications called SecondLook™that have been published by the University of Michigan at the iTunes and the Google Play app stores (http://secondlook.med.umich.edu). These new resources allow students to use their study time more efficiently as they direct students’ learning efforts towards gaps in their knowledge and skills. They embrace active learning and self-assessment by using an e-learning platform. Moreover, based on the Socratic method, the SecondLook™ concept emphasizes analytical processing and logical connections over pure fact learning. SecondLook™ resources are available for several basic science and clinical topics with many more in preparation. 

In my experience and opinion, a blended approach of combining time-proven and novel teaching strategies offers the best way to elevate the level of learning from a fact-memorization to an analytical and problem-solving mode. Each teaching/learning resource and modality has specific applications and uses, none being a magic wand suitable for all situations. Students love alternatives, without being overwhelmed by a too wide array of choices. In most of my research and educational resource development projects I have engaged student collaborators as partners. The boundaries between teacher and learner must be fluid and interchangeable for educational innovation to be successful.

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Blog No. 1 By Dr. Siobhan Moyes

At the Peninsula Medical School, we recently carried out a qualitative study that aimed to better understand our students’ perception of barriers and enablers to learning Anatomy (Moyes et al AMEE 2018). One emergent theme was students’ struggle to make sense of the new anatomical and clinical language. With many students rote learning names of structures/conditions, rather than understanding them.  As this issue is not unique to anatomy, addressing it would benefit a variety of disciplines. 

I designed a short, simple activity to be piloted as part of the year 1 Medical School induction. The aim of which was to provide students with an approach to breaking down seemingly complicated words to better understand them. There was the potential for a session identifying prefixes, roots and suffixes to be somewhat dry, so I decided to gamify the activity to increase engagement.

This simple game consists of a number of cards that contain an anatomical or clinical prefix, root or suffix on one side, and a definition on the other. The PDF (here) provides a selection that can be printed out, or used as inspiration, and contains a lesson plan. The session starts by outlining why this approach will be useful to them and that, by the end of the session, they should be able to translate a list of seemingly complex clinical and anatomical phrases that are visible on the screens. In groups, students start by identifying the terms they know and try to work out the terms they are unfamiliar with. Staff are on hand to help them work out some of the more esoteric terms. This also helps them identify the value of shared knowledge and group work. At the end of the session students worked together as a group to translate the phrases on the screens. As this activity was located in the induction period, we pitched it as a fun ice-breaker. 

Following the session, we provided a link to a short podcast we created about clinical and anatomical language you can find here (link). Students’ learning was assessed a week later during their Anatomage table induction, where they were repeatedly asked to break down the names of structures on the virtual cadavers. All students were able to identify the component parts of the words and apply them to what they were dissecting, which was suggestive that this activity provided them with the tools needed to apply to a variety of situations. 

Feedback from this session was overwhelmingly positive and we have trialled it with other learner groups including experience days for school children and for postgraduate Physician Associate students, all with similar success. 

If you have any questions about this approach, please just email me on Siobhan.moyes@plymouth.ac.uk.

A very warm welcome to GALEN, the Global Anatomy Learning Education Network. We are proud to be working in collaboration with the IFAA on this new initative that aims to create a forum for all discussions related to anatomy education. We welcome your input through our Social Media Channels, for you to browse, contribute to and share experiences.