Bob Tallitsch served as Principal Investigator for NSF grant exploring computer assisted instruction

From 2008 to 2012, Bob Tallitsch served as the Principal Investigator on a $150,000 grant awarded through the National Science Foundation. This Course, Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) grant funded a project entitled “The effects of computer-assisted instruction in teaching human anatomy: An experimental study.” NSF typically funds less than 20% of the approximately 100 CCLI grant applications that are submitted each year.

Co-investigators on this grant were Dr. Allison Beck, also in the Biology Department at Augustana College, and Drs. Kirk Kelley and Brenda Peters at St. Ambrose University.

The Results:

Computer-assisted instruction increased students’ ability to interpret 3D relationships and retain essential course material in undergraduate anatomy and A&P courses.

The Details:

Learning information in a college-level Human Anatomy or combined Anatomy and Physiology (A & P) course requires students to utilize at least two different learning skills: (1) the acquisition of a large and complex technical vocabulary and (2) the development of an ability to interpret and understand three-dimensional relationships within the human body. Studies have indicated that computer-assisted instruction (CAI) may improve overall learning and achievement scores in a variety of subject areas and age groups. Despite the proliferation of anatomical software products, little is known about their effect upon learning in undergraduate Human Anatomy and A & P courses. This three-year study, led by Bob Tallitsch and conducted by faculty at Augustana College and St. Ambrose University, determined whether or not CAI laboratory modules involving the Cyber-Anatomy™ program would (1) increase students’ understanding and interpretation of 3D structural relationships, (2) increase student interest in Human Anatomy and A & P courses, and (3) increase the retention of anatomical information at the undergraduate level.

710 students enrolled in two Human Anatomy classes at Augustana College and two A & P classes at St. Ambrose University were recruited to participate in this study.

PVRT data demonstrates that the groups were not significantly different before the class began, but were at the end of class. So while there was improvement in both groups from the before to the after testing, the CAI group’s scores were significantly greater than the control group at the last testing. This data supports the hypothesis that CAI utilizing Cyber-Anatomy™ enhances the students’ ability to understand and interpret 3D structural relationships (Figure 1).

Data indicated that CAI utilizing Cyber-Anatomy™ did increase student interest in the classes, but not at a statistically significant level. Data indicated that high student interest levels at the start of these classes in all years of the study (ceiling effect) did not allow for a statistically significant increase in student interest levels.

Retention of Essential Material: Statistically significant differences were seen between control (no CAI) and experimental (CAI) data.

(a) The results from the normalized scores of the Test of Essential Materials (TEMnorm) also support the hypothesis that CAI is an effective method for teaching Anatomy or Anatomy and Physiology. A 2(institution) x 2 (group) x 2 (sex) ANOVA was conducted on the TEMnorm scores. The data analysis shows the significant differences between the CAI and control groups (Figure 2).

(b) The main effect of institution was also significant regarding the Test of Essential Materials (TEMnorm), with Institution “A” students scoring significantly higher than students from Institution “B” (Figure 3).

(c) The institution x group interaction was not significant, indicating that both schools showed the same pattern of scores – higher using CAI than without (Figure 4).

The mission of the Biology Scholars Program is to empower biologists to be leaders in science education reform and catalyze professional societies to sustain undergraduate education reform. The Biology Scholars Program has three residency programs: Assessment, Research, and Transitions. The Assessment Residency Program seeks biologists who utilize varied teaching strategies in their classrooms and laboratories and are motivated to design courses and assessments to maximize student learning. Residents are chosen from competitive applications, and are individuals who are asking questions about the purpose of their courses AND the effectiveness of their course assignments.

A computer showing a three dimensional model of a human torso