Animations Help College Students Visualize Anatomy and Physiology

At Pasadena City College in California, students can earn a two-year associate degree in various occupational programs. Many choose to pursue a career in science by subsequently enrolling in medical, nursing or dental school.

Dr. Wendie Johnston, a professor in the life sciences division, teaches a physiology class in which the average age is around 30. Although these students were born before the advent of the microprocessor, they've had no trouble utilizing the department's Technology Center, funded two years ago by a vocational education grant.

Previously a storeroom, the center houses a dozen or so Macintosh and IBM-compatible PCs, printers and a CD-ROM-changer tower with seven quad-speed drives. The center plans to add six Power Macs and a state-of-the art system for collecting data on blood pressure, heart rate, etc.

A.D.A.M. in Action

Already in place is A.D.A.M. Interactive Physiology, co-developed by A.D.A.M. Software (Atlanta, GA) and Benjamin/ Cummings Publishing Co. This CD-ROM series currently comprises three modules, which dynamically present topics relating to the cardiovascular, muscular and respiratory systems.

The college owns multiple copies of all three modules, which sell separately or together. Johnston says the product, available for Macs and Windows PCs, has proved to be immensely valuable for all skill levels, from remedial learners to those at the top of their class.

She notes that students often must wait in a line to use A.D.A.M. Interactive Physiology and other A.D.A.M. titles, such as A.D.A.M. Standard, a multimedia introduction to human anatomy tailored for an undergraduate curriculum. "We have trouble getting them out of here (the Technology Center) at 9 o'clock at night" due to the popularity of the software, notes Johnston.

Most familiar to her class is the Cardiovascular module, devoted to heart and blood vessel physiology. All three modules blend animation, sound, narration and video to actively describe processes that cannot be seen. Self-quizzes reinforce understanding of exercises, and Dr. Elaine N. Marieb, also a registered nurse, appears in video clips to emphasize important points and concepts.

The program complements the information found in A.D.A.M. Comprehensive and A.D.A.M. Standard, and links to outlines and correlated text from Marieb's textbook, Human Anatomy and Physiology, 3rd Edition. Animated representations of events on the cellular and molecular level help one visualize difficult events.

Johnston says students benefit by moving through lessons and simulations at their own pace, learning from their mistakes along the way. For example, tutorials pronounce key terms and let users type in words to practice spelling. As a result, she's noticed higher grades and greater enthusiasm, even among two groups she thought might experience difficulties: older and economically disadvantaged learners.

According to Johnston, students also have reacted favorably to A.D.A.M.'s testing component, which guides them to pages in correlated textbooks where they may look for answers. She adds that some class members even continue their studies at home, thanks to a specially priced student edition of A.D.A.M. Standard, winner of a 1995 SPA Codie for best overall education program.

Love at First Sight

Johnston recalls that she first heard about A.D.A.M. Software about four years ago, when a colleague saw their products at an educational conference. "We were so impressed that we looked for some funding."

After finding the funds to purchase it, the life sciences department later held Saturday workshops to demonstrate how the newly acquired software could be integrated into lectures, presentations and labs. Using Sharp video/data projectors, instructors quickly began sharing graphics reproduced from A.D.A.M. Interactive Physiology with their classes.

Looking ahead, Johnston hopes that they'll soon be able to deliver sophisticated multimedia presentations that further promote the A.D.A.M. software series' mission -- linking structures and functions of the human body with greater clarity.

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.