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Doing dissections differently: A structured, peer-assisted learning approach to maximizing learning in dissections



Areas of difficulty faced by our veterinary medicine students, with respect to their learning in dissection classes, were identified. These challenges were both general adult-learning related and specific to the discipline of anatomy. Our aim was to design, implement, and evaluate a modified reciprocal peer-assisted/team-based learning format—Doing Dissections Differently (DDD)—to complement existing dissection classes, with the intention of enhancing both student learning and the student learning experience. Second year veterinary medicine students (n = 193), in their usual dissection groups, were randomly assigned to one of four roles: anatomist, clinician, radiologist, and learning resources manager. Students attended a preparatory workshop outlining the skills required for effective execution of their role. They were then asked to perform their roles throughout five consecutive musculoskeletal dissection classes. Student attitudes to dissection classes before and after DDD were evaluated by questionnaire (146 respondents). There was a significant (P = 0.0001) improvement after DDD in a number of areas: increased perceived value of dissection classes as an anatomy learning aid; improved appreciation of the clinical relevance of anatomy; increased use of resources before and during dissection classes; and longer preparation time for dissection classes. Before DDD, 45% of students felt that at least one peer did not contribute usefully to the group during dissection classes; no improvement was seen in this measure after DDD. Although the new format highlighted a potential need to improve teamwork, most students actively engaged with DDD, with dissection classes valued more highly and utilized more effectively. © 2012 American Association of Anatomists.