The Human Anatomy program team (left to right): Fidel Fernando, Associate Professor Goran Strkalj, Marin Casey, Michael Rampe, Anneliese Hulme, Dr Mirjana Strkalj, Joyce El-Haddad and Associate Professor Richard Appleyard.
Among the winners from this year’s Learning and Teaching Awards is a perfect example of what differentiates Macquarie from other universities: an environment that encourages collaboration; a drive to do things differently and using new technologies to enhance learning.
Led by Associate Professor Goran Strkalj in the Department of Chiropractic, a team of experts have come together to transform an outdated anatomy program into a vibrant, student-centred program enhanced by exciting digital technologies.
Ten years ago, Goran notes, anatomy at Macquarie was a marginal discipline taught to small number of chiropractic and science students, using outdated modes of delivery. With the arrival of the Macquarie University Hospital in 2010 and subsequent growth in the University’s health and medical teaching, there was a need to create an enhanced anatomy program that was flexible enough to cater to everyone from a law student looking to specialise in medical law, to a doctor training to be a surgeon.
“With Dr Mirjana Strkalj leading the Hospital team, working in their world-best anatomy labs, we had two groups teaching anatomy in two different parts of the University,” Goran recalls. “We took the best from both sides – with our different backgrounds and different areas of expertise – and built an exceptional program that is scaffolded and flexible enough to serve a number of different degrees.”
Bringing more than 20 years’ biomechanics experience to the program was Associate Professor Richard Appleyard, Director of the Surgical Skills Training Program in MQ Health.
“Working with Goran, we’ve created one of the best anatomy teaching spaces in the world,” says Richard. “Our digital infrastructure in the labs allows student to access high-fidelity images of pre-recorded lectures from anywhere. It’s really the future of anatomy teaching.”
With anatomy being a notoriously difficult subject, extra effort was made to have the students apply their new knowledge wherever possible, both in and out of the lab.
“There’s a lot of complex terminology in anatomy and it requires a lot of memorising,” Goran notes. “We give our students – especially those in the more advanced units – every opportunity to apply their new knowledge straight away. We go to the lab to study human bodies; we discuss clinical cases. It’s not just pointing at a skeleton at the front of the room – we go much further than that. We ask: ‘What if there’s a fracture here? Which nerve would be injured? How would that impact function?’”.
Another differentiating element of the program is it’s humane and respectful approach to anatomy.
“Anatomy has had rather dark and disturbing past,” notes Goran. “People stealing bodies from graves for dissection and so on. It was important to embed a respect for the bodies that our students work with, all of which are donated with an informed consent. They are not just specimens – they are the students’ first patients.”
With a new pedagogical approach sorted, one puzzle piece in the new program remained: the technology that would help bring anatomy to life.
“We knew we needed technology as part of our program,” says Goran. “The digital world is not an imaginary world – it’s the world we live in, and that our millennial students will be working in. But we were limited to making fairly crude videos within the department – we needed the media experts to step in and help us.”
Enter Michael Rampe, a Senior Learning Designer who was working in the central Learning and Teaching Centre at the time. With his unique expertise in 3D technologies, the anatomy project took a huge leap into a new frontier.
“This particular project really caught my interest,” Michael remembers. “That’s often how a lot of great things happen at Macquarie – people come across each other and get excited about solving a problem together.
“It just so happened that at the time we were starting to work on bringing 3D scanning technology into online spaces [now the widely used Pedestal 3D platform]. I was working with Goran and some archaeologists in the Faculty of Arts on laser scanning bones, and Goran was keen to prove that a 3D printed bone was as good as a real one.
“The answer was yes, which meant we could start to use these bones for students’ pre- and post-lab learning, as well as making the scans available online for students’ reference.”
Also on Michael’s agenda: overhauling the program’s video resources.
“I worked with Anneliese Hulme [now a teaching fellow in the Department of Chiropractic] to train the team to make create their own polished, high-res videos – she and Goran brought the anatomy; I brought the media skills! And we found these videos were massively used, especially before exam time. We really nailed the format.”
With the program fully interwoven with cutting-edge technologies, students in the program now have on-demand access to some of the best digital learning resources of their kind.
“We’ve ended up with an infinitely richer experience for our students,” says Goran. “They have the opportunity to see the same human structures from different perspectives. In the lab, students use bones, 3D models and digital x-rays as they’re working on the cadavers in the lab. And then when they go home, they have all these 3D images that they can rotate and compare to what they’ve seen.
“Quite the step up from a textbook and an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, isn’t it?,” laughs Richard.
Congratulations to the Human Anatomy Program team – winners of the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Programs that Enhance Learning:
Associate Professor Goran Strkalj (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
Dr Mirjana Strkalj (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences)
Associate Professor Richard Appleyard (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences)
Anneliese Hulme (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
Michael Rampe (Faculty of Arts)
The team would also like to thank:
Fidel Fernando (Faculty of Science and Engineering)
Marin Casey (Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences)
Joyce El-Haddad (Faculty of Science and Engineering)