It’s no mystery. Students in Dr. Kirk Hillier’s second-year Anatomy and Physiology class at Acadia University can get a feel for the CSI world and gain valuable learning experience simply by engaging Anatomy Interactive.
Hillier is the mastermind behind the development of this series of interactive, game-style software modules for human anatomy and physiology instruction. Using decision-making adventures, the software provides students with the opportunity to solve murders (through autopsy), provide emergency blood transfusions, diagnose diseases, examine athletic physiology or engage in surgery.
It offers a problem-based learning approach to give students immersive, interactive, real-life situations.
The concept for this instructional tool took shape about three years ago, Hillier said. “It was the first year I was at Acadia and I was at a social event. Tom Herman (Vice-President Academic) asked me if I had done anything engaging in class. I said, ‘No,’ but it sort of got the gears going. I wondered, ‘What can we do that’s different? How do you get students to put on the shoes of a coroner or an EMT?’”
Anatomy Interactive was the answer.
Think outside the box
The study of anatomy, Hillier noted, is all memorization and knowing how one thing interacts with other structures. However, “you really need to see what you’re working with, “so he started thinking about gaming and how it could be applied to education.
He hired two Acadia students – a content editor and a programmer – that summer and set up a combination of quizzing and choice-based adventuring in a first-person mode.
“The idea was to make students think outside the box and outside their comfort zone,” he said. “I developed modules based on different themes that are independent, but have a logical order to them.”
For example, the first module, the Westwood Chronicles, describes a scenario in which an Assistant Coroner is brought in to determine a cause of death. The second puts students in a situation where they must examine a skeleton in a basement and draw conclusions as to the when, how and why.
“The key thing,” Hillier said, “is it’s different from anything that’s out there right now. It’s not just a regurgitation of anatomical features.
“I can put up slides in class and say, ‘this is a pelvis.’ But this way (using Anatomy Interactive), students need to be able to think about things and solve things that are extrinsic to the problem. It’s as broad as we want it to be and the sky’s the limit.”
From the outset, Acadia’s Office of Industry & Community Engagement (ICE) were onboard to assist in establishing the project.
“They were definitely instrumental in helping to find direct funding sources,” he said, “and in the review and development of proposals that went into funding organizations.”
He added that ICE played a significant role in recognizing the importance of legal issues and setting up things like marketing and usability studies. “They have a handle on the types of things that are important when you are an industry partner and when someone like myself has absolutely no idea.”
Additionally, ICE put Hillier in touch with other people on campus who might have similar interests or experience and he has hired 10 Acadia students, excluding actors, to work on the project since its inception. ICE is now working with Hillier to commercialize Anatomy Interactive, including licensing discussions with educational publishers.
Anatomy Interactive combines the benefits of case study learning with the mass appeal of video gaming to produce a fun and interactive experience that maintains a ‘hidden’ curriculum of basic anatomy and physiology.
“It’s built on a platform that includes video, questions and modules,” Hillier said. “It also permits people to use the software to actually construct modules on anything. The structure is there.”
So is the market potential. The goal is to sell the software to textbook manufacturers, mostly in the U.S., who are very interested in feedback and score maintenance systems.
Anatomy Interactive delivers in that regard by offering quiz and practice modes within the program. In quiz mode, students’ results are tallied, or scored, and it’s possible to grade the performance. In practice mode, students receive prompts that suggest whether something works or not. Feedback is provided to enrich the learning experience, which can then be tested using the quiz mode.
“Revenues could be reinvested,” Hillier said, “to expand and develop the modules. If those dividends could be pushed back into the product we could expand the nine modules and make them more involved. We could also expand development to look at additional fields, such as psychology, medical schools, EMT training or nursing schools.”
It’s real-life learning that allows Acadia students to test the limits of their intellectual horizons and explore their inner Grissom. What could be cooler than that?
Text courtesy of Fred Sgambati