I was recently assigned the task of developing the summer Funeral Service Anatomy course into one that would reduce lab attendance to one full week and supplement lab time with interactive video and online modules. This was to continue to expand the Funeral Service Department distance course offerings to accommodate more of our commuting and out-of-state students. The last time I checked, most of our students do not have cadavers at home or stainless tanks in which to keep them. So, creating meaningful training and experiences in cadaver dissections for students from the comfortable confines of their second-floor apartment was a challenging task. Due to social distancing requirements, it was recommended that students’ homes be spaced no closer than three city blocks of each other when studying together online. I’m kidding of course, but we did have to take into consideration the rules and regulations that accompany cadaver-based instruction.
When Dr. John Fritch came to me and asked me to develop an interactive video version of the dissection anatomy course, I became as interested as he was to see if that could be done. The requirements for the class were as follows:
- Must include an in-lab component of not less than one week
- Incorporate a genuine cadaver experience
- Be designed for online testing, both quizzes, and exams
- Account for in-class and online learners
- Introduce students to dissection tools and how to use them
- Maintain excellent anatomy instruction in preparation for impending board exams
- Complete the course preparation and be ready in 16 weeks
We wanted to offer the course for the summer session so preparation started in the spring. My class load during the spring was already extensive since I also instruct courses in Biology and Forensic Science in addition to Funeral Service. I needed help if there was any chance of having a completed course ready to go for the summer semester. Thankfully I turned to students enrolled in individual study courses with me seeking more immersive and research experiences. One of these students had been assisting me for multiple semesters and was very familiar with my teaching goals and exam style. These students worked well together and were able to assist me in accomplishing this goal in a short time frame.
Lectures in my anatomy class include a lot of drawing of diagrams and me doing my best to verbally help students learn all about the structures of the human body. With students both in-class and online, technology has to accommodate both worlds. To accomplish this, the classroom I teach in includes a desktop monitor that allows me to create digital drawings in real-time. In other words, the students that are with me in the classroom can see what I am drawing (or attempting to draw) on a large, bright monitor. Online students can see the same drawings on their home computer monitor through the use of Zoom. For those of you who aren’t familiar with that application, Zoom allows live video and audio between devices. I can see the online students and they can see me and my drawings. Zoom also allows the students to see which of the other students are online. This allows us all to interact and students to ask questions in real-time.
The Funeral Service anatomy class includes four exams and eight quizzes. The exams are spaced out equally, so students have an exam every two weeks in the 8-week summer session or every four weeks during spring/fall 16-week semesters. The summer course has the same content as the regular 16-week semester course, just at an accelerated pace. There are two quizzes during each exam period. The quizzes are designed to tie up any loose ends on anatomy material that needs to be covered. With the help of my student assistants, we were able to create the online exam material to match the course outline and each of the four dissection guides in time for the class to go live by the summer session. To create an online anatomy exam, there had to be cadaver questions and anatomical knowledge questions. Creating cadaver-focused questions was the challenge, as there cannot be pictures used that include ANY type of identifying marks (tattoos, birthmarks, etc.), facial features, or genitalia. On some cadavers, that does not leave much to photograph (on the outer surface). To get around the photo issues, students have available an anatomy atlas that includes brilliant cadaver photos of each body area. Online students are tested directly from the atlas photos. The photos are incorporated into D2L Assessment Quizzes.
There was a happy ending to the story, as the course was completed in time to go live this past summer semester. I believe the course succeeded in offering the students the opportunity to have the physical experiences that traditional course attendees get given the campus attendance requirement and then we were able to build on that experience with the additional supplements online for the remainder of the summer semester. Even though they did not spend the entire summer semester in the lab doing dissections, there were skills developed to aid in the understanding and retention of the course materials. Teaching to names on a Zoom screen may not be every instructor’s cup of tea, but once accustomed to the technology, teaching skills can be revised (or relearned) to press all the right buttons.