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Anatomy by whole body dissection: a focus group study of students’ learning experience

Authors Burgess A, Ramsey-Stewart G

Received 14 April 2015

Accepted for publication 26 June 2015

Published 25 August 2015 Volume 2015:6 Pages 533—537

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/AMEP.S86583

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Dr Anwarul Azim Majumder


Annette Burgess,1 George Ramsey-Stewart2

1Central Clinical School, Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, 2Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Background: The social construction of knowledge within medical education is essential for learning. Students’ interactions within groups and associated learning artifacts can meaningfully impact learning. Situated cognition theory poses that knowledge, thinking, and learning are located in experience. In recent years, there has been a reported decline in time spent on anatomy by whole body dissection (AWBD) within medical programs. However, teaching by surgeons in AWBD provides unique opportunities for students, promoting a deeper engagement in learning. In this study, we apply situated cognition theory as a conceptual framework to explore students’ perceptions of their learning experience within the 2014 iteration of an 8-week elective AWBD course.
Methods: At the end of the course, all students (n=24) were invited to attend one of three focus groups. Framework analysis was used to code and categorize data into themes.
Results: In total, 20/24 (83%) students participated in focus groups. Utilizing situated cognition theory as a conceptual framework, we illustrate students’ learning experiences within the AWBD course. Students highlighted opportunities to create and reinforce their own knowledge through active participation in authentic dissection tasks; guidance and clinical context provided by surgeons as supervisors; and the provision of an inclusive learning community.
Conclusion: Situated cognition theory offers a valuable lens through which to view students’ learning experience in the anatomy dissection course. By doing so, the importance of providing clinical relevance to medical teaching is highlighted. Additionally, the value of having surgeons teach AWBD and the experience they share is illustrated. The team learning course design, with varying teaching methods and frequent assessments, prompting student–student and student–teacher interaction, was also beneficial for student learning.

Keywords: anatomy by whole body dissection, surgery, medical program

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