Bones seen on big screen bring student study to life

by Hilary Thomson
Staff writer

Students just can't take their eyes off a new video in the Faculty of Medicine's Anatomy Dept.

It's not a movie or a game, however. It's the Ultrascope, a new video instruction system specifically designed for teaching anatomy.

The first such unit in Canada, the sophisticated magnification device allows instructors to demonstrate anatomical structures and transmit the images to 180 students in two anatomy laboratories.

The system incorporates a high resolution colour video camera and zoom lens attached to a suspended portable swing arm. The camera, positioned over a display table, is manipulated by hand or by foot pedals to show the specimen from various angles.

The resulting colour image can be magnified up to 28 times and displayed on the six 29-inch monitors in each lab. A cordless microphone broadcasts commentary to both labs. The entire unit is mobile and can be used in either lab.

"This system is a quantum leap forward in our teaching capability," says Wayne Vogl, the Anatomy professor who suggested buying the unit. "The magnification and resolution is incredible -- it's been a joy to work with this piece of equipment."

A brochure advertising the Ultrascope came across Vogl's desk just when the new medical/dental undergraduate curriculum was being designed. He saw its potential for meeting the challenges presented by the new curriculum.

The old curriculum called for 250 hours of gross anatomy instruction per year. Students spent a lot of time in labs with faculty demonstrating major anatomical points to one small group at a time.

The new curriculum balances anatomy with other disciplines and clinical skills, focusing on problem-based learning tutorials. The number of hours available for lab work is greatly reduced.

And because Dentistry and Rehabilitation Sciences students share the gross anatomy laboratories with medical students for the first two years of the new curriculum, greater numbers of students were moving into already crowded labs.

Both laboratories had to be redesigned to accommodate these changes. The Ultrascope, which arrived from New Zealand the night before classes started last fall, became an essential element of the plan.

"The Ultrascope allows us to demonstrate dissection to large groups of students quickly and in detail," says Vogl. "It has really expanded what we can do with anatomy labs.

"It allows faculty and students to examine specimens simultaneously, working and discovering together," says Dr. Andrew Chalmers, associate dean, Undergraduate Education, Curriculum, in the Faculty of Medicine.

The system has a huge potential, according to Vogl.

The anatomy labs can be electronically linked to the teaching hospitals and IRC lecture halls, allowing for live broadcasts of surgery and dissection. Entire presentations or single images can be recorded for use in distance medical education.

"There are only two other Ultrascopes in North America -- one in Virginia and one in Wisconsin -- so this one's getting a lot of attention," says Vogl.

Purchase of the Ultrascope was made possible by a grant from the Mr. and Mrs. P. A. Woodward's Foundation.