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The ATLAS project: The effects of a constructionist digital laboratory project on undergraduate laboratory performance



Anatomical education is a dynamic field where developments in the implementation of constructive, situated-learning show promise in improving student achievement. The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of an individualized, technology heavy project in promoting student performance in a combined anatomy and physiology laboratory course. Mixed-methods research was used to compare two cohorts of anatomy laboratories separated by the adoption of a new laboratory atlas project, which were defined as preceding (PRE) and following the adoption of the Anatomical Teaching and Learning Assessment Study (ATLAS; POST). The ATLAS project required the creation of a student-generated, photographic atlas via acquisition of specimen images taken with tablet technology and digital microscope cameras throughout the semester. Images were transferred to laptops, digitally labeled and photo edited weekly, and compiled into a digital book using Internet publishing freeware for final project submission. An analysis of covariance confirmed that student final examination scores were improved (P < 0.05) following the implementation of the laboratory atlas project (PRE, n = 75; POST, n = 90; means ± SE; 74.9 ± 0.9 versus 78.1 ± 0.8, respectively) after controlling for cumulative student grade point average. Analysis of questionnaires collected (n = 68) from the post group suggested students identified with atlas objectives, appreciated the comprehensive value in final examination preparation, and the constructionism involved, but recommended alterations in assignment logistics and the format of the final version. Constructionist, comprehensive term-projects utilizing student-preferred technologies could be used to improve performance toward student learning outcomes. Anat Sci Educ 8: 12–20. © 2014 American Association of Anatomists.