• medical education;
  • anatomical knowledge;
  • knowledge evaluation;
  • anatomical dissection;
  • medical imaging;
  • three-dimensional reconstruction


This research effort compared and contrasted two conceptually different methods for the exploration of human anatomy in the first-year dissection laboratory by accomplished students: “physical” dissection using an embalmed cadaver and “digital” dissection using three-dimensional volume modeling of whole-body CT and MRI image sets acquired using the same cadaver. The goal was to understand the relative contributions each method makes toward student acquisition of intuitive sense of practical anatomical knowledge gained during “hands-on” structural exploration tasks. The main instruments for measuring anatomical knowledge under this conceptual model were questions generated using a classification system designed to assess both visual presentation manner and the corresponding response information required. Students were randomly divided into groups based on exploration method (physical or digital dissection) and then anatomical region. The physical dissectors proceeded with their direct methods, whereas the digital dissectors generated and manipulated indirect 3D digital models. After 6 weeks, corresponding student anatomical assignment teams compared their results using photography and animated digital visualizations. Finally, to see whether each method provided unique advantages, a visual test protocol of new visualizations based on the classification schema was administered. Results indicated that all students, regardless of gender, dissection method, and anatomical region dissected performed significantly better on questions presented as rotating models requiring spatial ordering or viewpoint determination responses in contrast to requests for specific lexical feature identifications. Additional results provided evidence of trends showing significant differences in gender and dissection method scores. These trends will be explored with further trials with larger populations. Anat Sci Ed 1:27–40, 2008. © 2007 American Association of Anatomists.