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Image: Supplied/La Trobe University

La Trobe University has announced, as part of a pilot, that it is swapping textbooks for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) when it comes to teaching anatomy students about the human body.

Over the next 12 weeks, the university will see second-year anatomy students at the university studying Allied Health and Science degrees, such as health and sciences and biomedicine, access 3D anatomy images using AR via their smartphone, tablet, or computer no matter where they are. Using AR, students will also be able to superimpose anatomical structures over a peer who can perform movements along with the app to understand muscle function, the university claims.

The students will also have access to HTC VR headsets while on campus, which the university said can be used by students to visualise and manipulate anatomical structures.

According to La Trobe, the aim of the pilot is to help students improve spatial awareness, explorative learning, and accessibility to 3D anatomy images — from skeletons to human specimens — plus associated text, clinical cases, and quizzes.

“The reason we’ve done this is because it shows the students we fully support technology. It also gives them the accessibility, mobility, and dexterity of using these resources so when they leave, they can feel they are confident to use it off campus as well,” head of the Anatomy Discipline Aaron McDonald told ZDNet.

See also: Can you use AR and VR to teach employees soft skills? (TechRepublic)  

“The big thing with the content is there’s always heaps of information and that can lead to content overload, so we have designed the material so they can build on information and not get inundated with all this information.”

McDonald added that the technology would change the way students do group work. 

“It allows us to re-write group activity for anatomy … we’ve designed the activities so students can work in groups with AR over iPads,” he said.

Assistant lecturer of Human Anatomy Heath McGowan touted the cost of using AR technology would also significantly reduce the cost for students.

“Rather than have students spend AU$40-something on the licence, we have purchased a buying in bulk deal for AU$10 per licence for the AR technology so students can install that application for free. This makes it more portable and accessible than even just a textbook that can sometimes cost AU$150,” he said.

McGowan said there are plans to expand the technology to be used for all anatomy courses, including physiotherapy, podiatry, and speech pathology at all La Trobe university campuses in Bundoora, Bendigo, and Albury-Wodonga.

“We want to see if we can benefit students not just in the short term but can we up their marks and skills permanently,” he said. 

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