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The FASEB Journal



Drawing, observational activities, and touch have been shown to enhance the learning process of three-dimensional structure in anatomy (Reid et al., 2019). However, the impact of observational activities and touch on learning outcomes specific to cadaver specimens has not been reported. We hypothesized that physical touch of prosected, cadaveric donors would lead to improved knowledge of human structure and higher scores on laboratory practicals. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the differences in learning outcomes by comparing laboratory practical grades of students who physically touched or did not physically touch cadaveric donors.


We incorporated prosected cadaver specimens in two undergraduate, pre-professional and pre-Health Sciences anatomy courses in an effort to enhance student learning. The physical manipulation of cadaveric donors by students enrolled in BIO 201, Human Anatomy (majors), and BIO 221, Human Anatomy and Physiology (non-majors) was tracked to determine if manipulation of the cadavers improves laboratory assessment outcomes. Students (n=176) from the courses across seven semesters were assigned as those who ‘manipulated’ (n=100) or ‘did not manipulate’ (n=76) the donors. Data was tallied and compared to performance on laboratory practical assessments. A Fisher’s exact test was conducted within individual course and combined course populations to assess if the relationship between physically touching a cadaver and receiving a passing grade on lab practical assessments is more than expected by chance.


Overall, students who manipulated cadaveric donors were more successful in the laboratory component of Anatomy courses than those who ‘did not manipulate.’ BIO 201 students who actively touched the cadaver during laboratory sessions received a “C” or better (n=58 vs 6 DFW) on lab practical assessments. In contrast, the majority of students who did not touch the cadaver earned a DFW (n=33 vs 18 C or better) (P


These data suggest students enrolled in anatomy courses with cadaveric donors will have improved lab assessment outcomes if they physically touch the donors.


It is imperative that anatomy faculty recognize that exposure to cadaveric donors may impact the overall learning experience, as students are better prepared for identification-based practical assessments when they are encouraged to touch, handle, and manipulate anatomical structures.



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