Dissecting the anatomy
Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

What is it that connects the superheroes Deadpool and Elastigirl? Both Deadpool and Elastigirl (or “Mrs. Incredible”) were used in an anatomy lecture to illustrate important concepts: tissue regeneration and hyperflexibility, respectively.

The instructors at The Ohio State University College of Medicine created the “SuperAnatomy” course to make it easier for their undergraduate students to learn about human anatomy, a subject that is notoriously difficult and, for some, terrifying or unpleasant.

Research shows that using superheroes in the classroom makes the subject matter more approachable and enjoyable for students, as well as increases their motivation to learn.

Wolverine’s musculoskeletal system and Groot’s skin issues were only two of the many topics that were discussed in the extensive content examples.

According to Melissa Quinn, associate teacher of anatomy at Ohio State and senior author of a study on the effectiveness of the course, the effort was focused on bringing imagination to the classroom in the form of outside-the-box guidance and as a way to influence trainees’ creativity and keep them engaged.

Since students in introductory courses sometimes lack a firm grasp of the mechanics, “it’s a little harder to talk about scientific significance,” as Quinn put it. To put it another way: “But if you generate popular culture, which everyone is flooded with in some method, shape, or type, and connect it to the fundamental sciences, then that ends up being a method to use it a bit more.”

Anatomical Sciences Education recently published the study’s findings.

The course’s author, Jeremy Grachan, was a Ph.D. student in anatomy at Ohio State University and is currently an assistant professor of anatomy at Rutgers University School of Medicine in New Jersey.

All undergraduate students, regardless of their intended major, can enrol in SuperAnatomy because it is a three-credit hour course at the 1000 level. There were three 55-minute lectures every week, and there were two labs per term. Human Anatomy 2300, a four-credit-hour course taken primarily by pre-health occupation majors, served as a primary inspiration for this course’s content, which features live and taped lectures, evaluation sessions, and one laboratory per week.

Students from both courses (36 from SuperAnatomy and 442 from Human Anatomy) were invited to enrol over the course of three semesters in 2021 and ’22. In order to gauge students’ mastery of course material and application of concepts, researchers administered 50-question exams during the first week of class and again at the end of the semester. Both pre- and post-course surveys were completed by the students.

Students’ knowledge and ability to apply material were found to be equivalent between the two courses. For the record, the SuperAnatomy content wasn’t limited to just cartoons and comic books.

To incorporate superheroes into the existing anatomy programme, “we looked at courses running in our anatomy curriculum and took the pertinent parts of those courses,” Quinn explained. “Therefore, we did increase the course load.”

Students in a follow-up survey for SuperAnatomy said that including references to superheroes and other pop culture icons helped them gain a broader understanding of the course material and increased their motivation to succeed.

The authors wrote, “Collectively, if the students are enjoying the course and inspired to learn the material, it may be better not only for their scholastic success, but also for their psychological health and social wellness.”

Learning about the human body can be unsettling because of the juxtaposition between the clinical and personal nature of anatomy textbooks and labs.

“If you do not have a great tourist guide to assist you, you may be inclined to quit quite rapidly,” Quinn said. “And none of us wants to become complacent in our guru.

We’ve learned that it’s possible to make a subject like anatomy, which has been around forever, accessible to the next generation of mentors. And it’s not just for fun; it’s a way to make the study of anatomy exciting.

The study was co-written by Ohio State students Mason Marek and James Cray Jr.

More details:

Anatomical Sciences Education (2023) Jeremy J. Grachan et al., Effects of using superheroes in an undergraduate human anatomy programme. Reference: 10.1002/ ase.2312

Anatomy of a’superheroic’ science class (2020, August 9); retrieved 2020-08-10 from https://phys.org/news/2023-08-anatomy-superheroic-science-class.html

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