Actively Learning Online Human Anatomy

Author Information
John Arle
Rio Salado College
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Rio Salado College
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Rio Salado College utilizes active learning methods to improve learning effectiveness, and faculty and student satisfaction.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

Grades are based on homework (10 percent), two take-home tests (30 percent), and midterm and final exams (60 percent). I use a national standardized test generated by the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society. The national achievement average is 51 percent on this test, and the sample base is entirely from the traditional classroom. Students (entirely online)score an average of 63 percent on these same items.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

learning effectiveness:In 1995, Rio Salado made a commitment to moving its entire program online to take advantage of the emerging possibilities of the internet. Faculty Chair of Sciences John Arle's first online efforts in an online human anatomy course consisted of lessons heavy with information presentation. Eventually, this evolved to a format that guides student research and engages students in active learning. Each online lesson is divided into the following four sections: introduction, instruction, self-assessment, and student learning summary: The introduction provides a brief overview of the new lesson content, links previous learning with the new content, and actively engages the students. Lesson instruction begins with a list of learning objectives that describes exactly what students need to master. Objectives are then subdivided into individual research focus points and questions, indicating the topics that students need to research from course resources. Resources may include the textbook, CD-ROMs, web sites, online PowerPoint shows, audio files, video files, PDFs, and so on. Within a particular lesson, conceptual instruction is integrated with lab instruction. The self-assessment section interactively exercises the students' learning, using online resources such as interactive tutorials, tests, puzzles, practice lab practicals, games, and written assignments. Online media, materials available for this component are nearly unlimited. The student summary section requires students to respond to probing essay questions that ask them to explain specifics learned from the lesson. Human interaction is concurrent with technology-mediated instruction and self-assessment. Online discussions interconnect teacher and students, and provides further interactions between students and the content as well as the needed "high-touch" component. Without this contact, many students will fail in their efforts to work independently through an entire class. The online format of instruction and the immediate access to technology have expanded Arle's ability to teach specific scientific topics and have increased his effectiveness. Arle can engage students in anatomical study in ways that cannot be done in a face-to-face class. He now teaches human anatomy and physiology courses with interactive virtual human dissection, as opposed to using a cat in a tray. Some skeptics may point out the two-dimensional versus three-dimensional compromise of virtual dissection. Arle's reply is, "At least I'm using the right species." To create the virtual human dissection lab, Arle uses two CD products from (Animated Dissection and Anatomy Modeling): ADAM Interactive Anatomy (AIA) and ADAM Interactive Physiology (AIP). The AIA program allows Arle to construct a series of interactive slides linked to the AIP CDs that guide the students' observations. The AIP CDs are structured by body system: nervous, muscular, urinary, respiratory, fluids and electrolytes, and cardiovascular. Together, these interactions are extremely detailed, allowing students to identify structures, dissect, or move in any direction. They provide students with both a highly interactive environment and an incredibly rich self-assessment program. Seeing how these systems work is far more compelling than reading or hearing Arle's descriptions. For all microscope work, Arle replaces microscope observations of body tissues with online views and links to medical schools. Histological (microscopic tissue) examination is possible through online photomicrograph libraries. He uses two websites, one at the Loyola University Medical Education Network
(, the other at the University of Kansas (

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
John Arle
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