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A Comparison of Anatomy Curriculum Delivery Methods Within a Health Services Program

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Listen and learn : Research paper
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Steven Skaggs  

Learn about the results of a dissertation-based investigation focusing on student performance in an online anatomy course. The researcher performed a quasi-experimental cohort study comparing student outcomes (standardized exam scores) during an online-only course against students who received either a hybrid or a traditional learning experience.

Audience: Teachers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Online tools, apps & resources
Grade level: Community college/university
Subject area: Health and physical education, Higher education
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Set professional learning goals to explore and apply pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness.
  • Dedicate planning time to collaborate with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology.
  • Explore and apply instructional design principles to create innovative digital learning environments that engage and support learning.
Additional detail: Graduate student

Proposal summary


The challenges this study hopes to address and the questions it seeks to answer have an inherent complexity which requires a multifaceted theoretical approach. Therefore, the structure and composition of the dissertation content will rely on two separate, but interrelated, frameworks: e-learning theory and the technology acceptance model:
1. E-learning theory: this model is foundational to the dissertation. To explain, e-learning theory is “defined through a theory-based framework that relates learning technologies, instructional strategies, and pedagogical models or constructs” (Aparicio et al., 2016, p. 299). From this position, the researcher can observe and survey the integrated location where stakeholders (e.g., the students), learning philosophies (e.g., andragogy), and technology (e.g., online course delivery) intersect. E-learning theory
2. Technology acceptance model: This theory, simply put, defines how an end-user, a student in this specific situation, comes to support and adopt a piece of technology (Davis, 1985). This framework is broad, allowing for the integration of any high-tech device within any setting. For the purposes of this dissertation, we will concentrate on PA students and online resources. It is also worth noting that this framework has the potential to contribute greatly to a student perception of an intervention; however, it is possible to hypothesize that student success may run tangential to technology acceptance. This, again, justifies the need for multiple frameworks.


This study seeks to answer the following two questions:

1. Is there an academic performance equivalency among graduate-level students within a health services training program when comparing different methods of anatomy course delivery (i.e., traditional lecture-based with a cadaveric component, hybrid model employing both a cadaveric and digital component, and all online)?

2. What are the attitudes, perspectives, and positions of first-year PA students regarding their experience following their completion of a non-traditional/non-cadaveric online anatomy course?

The research plan is divided into two equal components, each structured to address the above presented questions. A cohort of first-year PA students (N = 45) would constitute the participants. The student-participants will complete multiple written and practical exams as part of an online anatomy course progression. The outcomes on these will be compared to that of multiple previous controls (i.e., hybrid anatomy delivery and non-digital anatomy curriculum).

A three-way ANOVA (univariate general linear model) will be employed when responding to the first question. To explain, there will be three independent variables (i.e., no technology intervention, hybrid course, and fully online). The dependent variable will be student score. Certainly, this may be oversimplified, and adjustments (e.g., a multivariate model) may be required depending on initial findings following data collection. Additionally, this portion of the study will include descriptive analysis of data, including age ranges, gender ratio, and averages of previous academic performance (e.g., GPA).

A survey instrument will be designed to address the second question. To avoid bias, students will receive a post-exposure cross-sectional questionnaire focusing on their online anatomy experiences and perceptions. The survey will use both structured Likert scales. The results will primarily be presented using a descriptive approach.


Preliminary analysis reveals that student performance across cohorts (investigational and control) is equivalent, with slightly higher performance in the online group. Additionally, regarding perception of course delivery, the student-participants that online curriculum, developed within an e-learning framework, was an effective way to learn.
It is important to stress – data analysis is ongoing and final results are pending.


This investigation focusing on online delivery of Anatomy is unique and innovative especially when considered in the context of contemporary curricular development. There are examples of investigations into high-tech enhancement of anatomy course delivery; however, most rarely proceed past augmentation of the traditional approach. That is, most of the interventions and experiences in previous studies still relied on cadavers as a primary teaching method, in contrast to this investigation, which, for the interventional group, will have no cadaveric exposure. If this investigation can demonstrate academic and perceptional equivalency between delivery methods, this will place emphasis on the efficacy of an online only anatomy course. This impacts availability and importance. Simply put, for certain groups (e.g., rural, lower socioeconomic, and specific racial or cultural minorities) online courses may be their only option. Proving this equivalency potentially mitigates the requirement for an unattainable course. Additionally, it may lessen institutional commitment to the cadaver experience. This, too, could potentially increase access for those less-fortunate students.


Aparicio, M., Bacao, F., & Oliveira, T. (2016). An e-learning theoretical framework. An e-learning theoretical framework(1), 292-307.

Davis, F. D., Jr. (1985). A technology acceptance model for empirically testing new end-user information systems: Theory and results Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. Boston, MA.

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Steven Skaggs, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Steven A. Skaggs is an assistant professor and associate program director at UT Health in San Antonio, Texas. He spent the last fourteen years working in medical education; he developed a deep devotion and strong commitment to the adult learner during this time. Over the past three years, his investigational efforts shifted from traditional course delivery (i.e., passive, lecture-based learning) to more progressive instructional strategies (i.e., critical thinking, learner-centered, problem/project-based, and flipped classroom). He is particularly interested in integrating instructional technology along with novel/unique teaching strategies into health services educational curricula.

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