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U Pennsylvania's Low-Cost Online Anatomy Courses Use VR

Spurred by the success of an earlier anatomy class offered as a massive open online course (MOOC), the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine is expanding its course offerings through its own institutional website and enhancing the course content with the help of a textbook publisher and 3D simulation company.

The university's anatomy faculty has been developing the materials for a series of courses using Elsevier texts, Netter Atlas of Human Anatomy, Gray's Anatomy for Students and Larson's Human Embryology. The content creators have also worked with Sharecare Reality Lab to add digital, 3D, anatomic simulations that use virtual reality to enable students to explore the human body.

The idea for the series came from an earlier MOOC titled, "Going Out on a Limb," which drew 39,000 participants for an anatomy course on the upper limb. Feedback encouraged the university to create similar programs on other aspects of human anatomy.

The first offering, "Thoracic Anatomy," is open for enrollment and will begin Oct. 11, 2016. It costs $115, has nine hours of lectures and comes with a certificate of completion. Other courses in the works include "Heart & Lung Embryology" and "Head & Neck Anatomy." All of the programs are self-paced and will be open for eight weeks. Next year the university plans to deliver additional classes on the abdomen, pelvis, back, extremities and brain.

"Penn has been a pioneer in the use of digital media in medical education for more than 20 years. We were one of the first medical schools to provide online streaming of its entire curriculum. The new courses further Penn's vision of a school without walls," said Gail Morrison, senior vice dean for education in the School of Medicine, in a press release. "Along with the prestige of our brand and our phenomenal teachers, we will continue to create innovative ways to educate online as we move into teaching the next generation of students embarking on medical careers."

The use of the virtual reality components, Morrison added, "is changing the way people learn. By making anatomy visual, we are improving one's overall understanding of how the body functions — something you can never get from a cadaver."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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