Assessment of Mixed-Reality Technology Use in Remote Online Anatomy Education

“The advent of commercial mixed-reality (MR) technology, such as the HoloLens (Microsoft Corporation), offers new possibilities for anatomy education. At Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), the state of Ohio’s shelter in place order meant that students did not return from spring break in 2020, requiring an urgent modification to the anatomy curriculum, which has featured MR technology since 2018.

[..] This survey study used a modification of the HoloAnatomy Software Suite (CWRU) that allowed headsets to communicate across different Wi-Fi networks and a system to allow instructors and students to digitally point at an object to ask and answer questions.

[..] The 185 students who participated in the study were divided into 4 groups. Each group attended an equivalent 50-minute anatomy lesson focused on the bronchi, lungs, vasculature, and lymphatics. The lessons were held on 2 separate days (March 24 and 26, 2020). Real-time audio and chat were transmitted using the Zoom teleconferencing application (Video Communications, Inc). Class content lasted 35 minutes, with the remaining time set aside for potential technical issues. After each session, students were sent a survey to assess their experience and the technology’s performance.

[..] Only 28 students (16%) reported experiencing technical issues that they had not previously experienced in the in-person class, whereas 143 (81%) reported that the remote anatomy sessions were equivalent to or better than the in-person class. When given a choice, 102 students (58%) preferred remote delivery to in-person classes, and 148 (84%) reported believing that students can effectively learn human anatomy using this remote MR application. A total of 143 respondents (81%) reported seeing advantages of remote sessions compared with in-person sessions. Analysis of the 131 qualitative responses about remote sessions showed that the most common advantages reported by students were the ability to study on their own time (67 [51%]) and having more physical space to move around the anatomical models (32 [24%]). The most common disadvantage mentioned was difficulty interacting with the teacher and other students to ask questions (32 [24%]).

Previous studies have found that students achieve the same level of acquired knowledge in approximately half the time using MR in both medical and nonmedical situations. To our knowledge, this study was the first to show positive learning experiences for an entire class of medical students using MR remotely. The primary limitation of this study is that it was conducted at only a single institution and with students who had prior MR experience.

Outside the current pandemic, these results also address an everyday situation affecting students worldwide owing to the cost of maintaining cadaver laboratories, the lack of qualified faculty, or other societal reasons. The minimum required infrastructure to run applications, such as HoloAnatomy, is an MR headset and basic Wi-Fi connectivity. Similar to most computer technology, MR headsets are likely to become more affordable over time. Thus, MR has the potential to address cost and access issues to enable high-quality medical education around the world.”

Full article, Wish-Baratz S, Crofton AR, Gutierrez J et al. JAMA Network Open 2020.9.17