About the Pocket Anatomy app
For iPad and iPhone
For Mac OS X
https://itunes.apple.com/ie/app/pocket-anatomy/id874870819?mt=12 (OS X)
Both above currently on special for €9.99
Pocket Anatomy is an anatomy app for Mac desktop, iPad and iPhone. The core of the app is a fully navigable 3D model of the body, organized as a series of layers from the skin all the way through to the skeleton. Using a simple and intuitive interface the user can navigate between layers. Within each layer, structures of interest are tagged with pins. The pins can be toggled on or off as the user wishes. Tapping on any pin brings up the name of the structure. Tapping on the ℹ symbol beside the name brings up additional information about the structure including key points of clinical relevance. From here the user can also access an audio guide to pronounciation, add their own note to the pin, or bookmark the pin for later access. The app includes an extensive testing module in which students can test their ability to identify pinned structures, locate specific pins on the appropriate body layer, and answer key questions about pinned structures.
Watch this 4.40min YouTube video showing Pocket Anatomy in use.
I am Brendan Wilkins, a lecturer in anatomy at NUI Galway located in Galway, Ireland. I was involved in the design and content writing of an early iteration of the Pocket Anatomy app, supervising a group of medical students that worked closely with the company. The work was part funded by Enterprise Ireland through the Innovation Voucher scheme. I am currently using the app with a class of 200 first year medical students. These students are on a five year undergraduate degree programme that will lead to them becoming qualified medical doctors.
How students use the Pocket Anatomy app
Our anatomy programme is centred around cadaveric dissection during compulsory lab sessions. In addition to lecture attendance, students dissect a complete human body over the course of their first year. Within the dissection room students dissect, examine pre-dissected specimens, and engage in other associated activities. We provide iPads within the dissection room for students to use on a shared basis. We also permit students to bring their own tablet devices to the dissection room if they wish.
The iPads are provisioned with a set of resources designed to complement and extend the traditional books and other paper resources we provide for the students. Pocket Anatomy is one of the apps we provide and is the most extensively used app within the dissection room.
As our class sizes are very large (100 students per lab session) only half of the class are assigned to dissect at any given time in a lab session. There are 8 dissection stations and there is at least one iPad at each dissection station for use by the students assigned to that table. There are additional iPads available for use within the room which are not assigned to any specific table but can be used by the students wherever they are needed. At present we are not proscriptive in how the iPads or the apps are used, but allow the students to use the devices and apps as they find best.
At the dissection table Pocket Anatomy is heavily used as an adjunct to the recommended dissection guide. The guide is available in electronic form on the iPads and there is also a paper copy provided at each dissection table. Students consult the guide initially to determine the steps they need to follow for that days dissection. We have noticed that the students then use Pocket Anatomy to ‘rehearse’ the steps they will take in dissection and develop a work plan for that day. As the dissection proceeds the students consult Pocket Anatomy to help identify and name the structures they encounter and tease out some of the finer details of the relationships between structures. They make extensive use of the additional information provided with each pin, particularly the clinical notes. We often observe students scrolling rapidly between layers in the app to establish the relationships between deeper and more superficial structures, before they begin removing the more superficial, again in a form of ‘rehearsal’ of what their next dissection step will be.
Away from the dissection tables, Pocket Anatomy is again the most used app on the iPads, though in a different way. Mostly it is used in testing mode, with students sitting in small groups and testing each others ability to identify pinned structures and answer questions about those structures. This is similar to using flashcards in revision, but the experience is richer and more immersive because of the 3D nature of the model used in the app. To a lesser extent it is used to explore and learn anatomical relationships. Increasingly we notice students with queries about structures first look up the structure in Pocket Anatomy and only if they cannot get a definitive answer there do they go to other sources. We have also observed students transcribing content directly from the app into their own notebooks in the same way that they would take notes from a book although thankfully, most students don’t do that.
Other noteworthy uses
There are two other noteworthy uses of Pocket Anatomy in the dissection room. Firstly staff use Pocket Anatomy to explain points of anatomy, particularly in planning and visualizing the next steps in a dissection. This is done either at individual tables, or by connecting an iPad to the AV system (electronic whiteboard and overhead monitors) and broadcasting to the entire room. The ability to annotate and draw on the 3D model is a very useful feature here.
Secondly, in some circumstances we use a small portable LCD projector to project the model onto the body surface of a volunteer. This enables the students to relate surface anatomy to all of the structures present beneath the skin surface. It requires carefully selecting a volunteer of an appropriate size and is only useful in very limited circumstances (male torso, back, upper limb), but is dramatic and memorable when used in this way.
While we have found Pocket Anatomy to be a useful and valuable tool in anatomy teaching, we have encountered some specific limitations. It is only available on Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac OS X) and only around half of the students have such a device. For that reason, we cannot rely on Pocket Anatomy for any individual aspect of teaching, as to do so would exclude those students without an Apple device. When not on offer it is priced at €25, which is above the ‘sweet spot’ price that most of our students will pay. Several students have commented that they prefer to use browser based anatomy apps that are available for free (or are ad supported), rather than paid apps from an app store.
Pocket Anatomy has a well developed set of sharing tools, enabling pins, notes and sketches to be shared with others and so should be ideal for collaborative learning and study. However this requires registering an account and so is of no value to those without their own copy of the app. Furthermore, as the iPads we make available to the students do not have an associated account, annotations and notes made in the dissection room are not available outside of it.
Anecdotally, many students still prefer working with a textbook rather than using apps like Pocket Anatomy. While no single specific reason (other than personal preference) has been given, we suspect that the reluctance to use apps is linked to assessment concerns. Medical students are particularly assessment focused and spend little time on any material not perceived as being immediately relevant to ‘the exam’.
We will continue to use Pocket Anatomy in the dissection room as we do at present. We are considering incorporating the use of Pocket Anatomy in a more structured way in lectures and in producing short video tutorials using the Pocket Anatomy 3D model. However, given the platform limitations we have no plans to require more extensive use by students than at present.
Question: What artery supplies levator labii superioris alaeque nasii?
Using the app, find the answer and tweet it to #12appsDIT. Who will get it right?