Cadaver dissection has long been the primary method to teaching anatomy in the health professions. Recently, computer-based teaching methods are being developed and improved for their utilization in anatomy education. Some institutions are replacing cadaver labs with computer alternatives. There is a debate about which modality, cadaver or computer, provides the best method of anatomy education. Additionally, some scholars state that in health care, learning must occur in all three learning domains; cognitive, affective and psychomotor. Learning across all three domains is hypothesized to occur in cadaver-based anatomy courses, however this is not currently supported with empirical studies.
This study was designed to assess the current state of anatomy education with questions related to learning goals, learning activities and assessment methods utilized. The survey was distributed electronically to anatomy instructors of the 218 accredited physical therapy programs in 2014. A total of 83 surveys (38.1%) were returned for analysis, however only 38 (17.4%) filled out all necessary components of the survey for full analysis. Course learning goals provided by each instructor were examined and categorized them into each learning domain: cognitive, affective and psychomotor. Each instructor asked what learning activities were utilized to address each learning domain and what assessment strategies were utilized to capture that learning. Alignment was defined as an instructor having a learning goal along with a learning activity to address that goal and a paired assessment strategy related to that goal.
This study found that while instructors are very consistent in pairing learning goals with appropriate learning activities and assessment in the cognitive domain, this relationship does not exist in the affective and psychomotor domains. All of the 38 instructors who responded had learning goals, learning activities and assessment methods in the cognitive domain for a total alignment of 100%. Despite the majority of instructors discussing learning activities across all three domains in their courses, few identified learning goals or assessment tools specific to the affective or psychomotor domains. Only 8 (21.1%) instructors demonstrated alignment in the affective domain, while only 6 (15.8%) instructors had alignment in the psychomotor domain.
Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: The Pursuit of Excellence in Physical Therapy Education
It appears the primary deficit when trying to gain an understanding of what learning is taking place in human anatomy education is less related to the type of laboratory modality utilized, and is instead related to the absence of specific learning outcomes and assessment tools. Implications suggest the need for instructors to explicitly link their course learning activities, learning goals and assessment methods to truly the capture learning occurring across all learning domains during their human anatomy course. Then perhaps we may determine the benefits of one teaching modality, cadaver or computer, over the other.
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