Purpose: The objective of this study was to assess the impact of virtual models and prosected specimens in the context of the gross anatomy lab.
Method: In 2009, student volunteers from an undergraduate anatomy class were randomly assigned to study groups in one of three learning conditions. All groups studied the muscles of mastication and completed identical learning objectives during a 45-minute lab. All groups were provided with two reference atlases. Groups were distinguished by the type of primary tools they were provided: gross prosections, three-dimensional stereoscopic computer model, or both resources. The facilitator kept observational field notes. A prepost multiple-choice knowledge test was administered to evaluate students' learning.
Results: No significant effect of the laboratory models was demonstrated between groups on the prepost assessment of knowledge. Recurring observations included students' tendency to revert to individual memorization prior to the posttest, rotation of models to match views in the provided atlas, and dissemination of groups into smaller working units.
Conclusions: The use of virtual lab resources seemed to influence the social context and learning environment of the anatomy lab. As computer-based learning methods are implemented and studied, they must be evaluated beyond their impact on knowledge gain to consider the effect technology has on students' social development.