About the Authors

Ava Schwartz
Teaching Assistant, Biology Department
College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering
University of Rochester
Jonathan Holz
Associate Professor of Instruction, Biology Department
College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering
University of Rochester

About the Tool and Class

TitleThe use of Visible Body as a digital tool in an online section of human anatomy lab
ToolVisible Body. More information at https://www.visiblebody.com
Tool descriptionVisible Body is a collection of databases comprised of sets of online interactive 3D virtual anatomy models and videos. These are available to students at no additional cost through University of Rochester’s River Campus Libraries and Miner Library. The models allow students to visualize and interact with the musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and nervous systems on computers or mobile devices. More specifically, it allows students to highlight structures, to turn them translucent and/or remove them to see underlying structures, displays important information about structures such as where muscles attach to the skeleton, and allows for rotation of structures and changes to levels of magnification. Additionally, there are videos that demonstrate, for example, how the bones of the skeleton move when a specific muscle contracts or the molecular mechanisms behind muscle contraction.
Class/ Target LevelUpper-level undergraduate students in online, in-person, or hybrid learning environments; students interested in anatomy; primarily juniors and seniors who may require the course for entry into pre-professional programs; any student who requires an upper-level biology elective.
Course TitleBIO 217L Principles of Human Anatomy
Background Information About the Class
The course is designed as an upper-level introduction to anatomy. There are both lecture and lab components. The goal of the course is to introduce students to the underlying themes of anatomy and to provide them with enough detail to appreciate these themes in context.

The lab component is designed to offer students hands-on interaction with anatomical models, histological slides, and prepared specimens. As a prerequisite to taking the course, students must have taken two semesters of introductory biology. Students who chose to take the course online may have done so for a variety of reasons.
Lesson TimeEach lab was held for 2 hours (9am-11am) on Mondays once per week. I will use the lab on muscles that move the limbs as synecdoche.
Number of Students20 students were registered for the online section, however additional students would attend as necessity dictated. For example, students in other labs would attend this section if they were required to quarantine during their regularly scheduled lab section.
Learning ObjectivesAfter Completion of this lab, you should:
• Be able to identify the subset of muscles that move the limbs
• Be working to memorize/understand the origins, insertions, and actions of these muscles

Lesson Plan


Prior to the lesson students were given a list of muscles that specifically noted which muscles the students would be required to identify and to know the origin/insertion/actions of, and “pre-lab” reading as well as a list of videos identifying muscles and demonstrating their movements were also provided. A brief review of previously covered topics was also performed.


The Teaching Assistant (TA) would use Visible Body to demonstrate 7 structures. Students would then be given time to review and to ask questions, and the TA would then go on to demonstrate 7 more structures, students would be given time to review and ask questions, and so on.


Students were asked review questions prior to being excused from lab. Additionally, students were asked to complete a number of follow up assignments, such as palpating muscles, review questions, and review sheets where muscles could be labeled. The lectures were recorded for future viewing and TAs also created shorter videos reviewing and demonstrating muscles on the models.


On the corresponding exam students were asked to identify muscles from an image bank generated from visible body and the textbook. Additionally, they were asked to provide the origin, insertion, and/or action of muscles. The average score of online students on the corresponding exam was 88.97% compared to 88.45% for in-person students. The difference between the groups was not statistically significant. These findings are representative of the other exams, as well.



Accommodations: Standard exam time was 1 hour. Students with disability were offered additional time to complete their exams as requested by the Office of Disability Resources.

Differentiation: Students were presented with information in a number of different ways. Visible Body was used as were images from the text, lab models, videos professionally prepared (from Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy) and those prepared by TAs for review and the recording of the lab. The TA would review and/or alternate between resources as requested by students.


Reflection from instructor

It is quite challenging to teach an anatomy course online. This was most notable in the lab component of the course, where I believe students directly interacting with models and specimens in three-dimensional space is critical to their overall understanding and learning. Students not being able to work in groups was an additional challenge. Based on exam scores and student feedback, the use of Visible Body offered a satisfactory surrogate for students interacting with models and specimens in the lab. I will work to integrate the use of Visible Body into future courses even when students are able to attend in person and safely participate in group work. Additionally, I will work to optimize this integration (e.g. to provide more structured differentiation and to utilize it in a manner better targeted to specific topics).

Preparation time/materials

Quite a bit of additional time was required for initial onboarding and getting used to navigating Visible Body. Capturing images and labeling them to use for review and exams was also time consuming (perhaps an additional hour per lab). Structure lists also had to be altered if differentiation was not possible on a static Visible Body image.

Benefits and challenges of the tool

Visible Body (specifically the Muscle Premium version) was an extremely useful tool for teaching the muscular system in particular. Being able to highlight, fade, or remove certain muscles made it easy to eliminate any confusion on which muscle was which when showing students their locations for the first time. Visible body was superior to the physical models for identifying deeper muscles. The videos showing muscle actions (i.e. leg flexion, arm extension, trunk flexion, etc.) were very useful for allowing students to connect muscles with actions through a visual representation of the muscle performing that action. I found it beneficial to go through all muscles by location, and then go through these videos, identifying the muscles involved in each, so students could connect both action and location with each muscle. A challenge with visible body was being able to find a close-up view of the entire muscle. Sometimes in order to achieve a close-up view of a specific muscle, you had to zoom in to a point that wouldn’t allow the full muscle to be seen. I found that using different views other than the full body view (i.e. upper body, etc.) could help get around this issue in some cases.

In-class experience

There were some difficulties integrating the use of Visible Body with other technologies such as zoom, microphones, lecture capture, and the Elmo projector.

Ease of use/Ranking

The use of Visible Body itself would be just above beginner; the use of Visible Body to teach the online lab section I would rank as advanced due to the concomitant coordination of various other factors.

Reflection from students

“I personally really enjoyed using visible body during lab. I thought it was especially helpful because it was a tool that we could take home and practice with on our own time (rather than having to practice in-person with the actual models). I also thought it was useful because it specifically highlighted and named the landmarks (specifically for the skeletal system), which allowed me to get more familiar with them. Additionally, I really liked the format that we had in our lab section where our TA showed us the structure and it’s landmarks on visible body and then split us into breakout groups to look for them on our own. I believe that this strategy really helped me to solidify the information.”

“1. I think the TA using visible body as a demonstration tool is a little difficult because it is hard to see exactly what is being clicked on to hide/remove parts to be able to see the actual part we wanted to or switch between different sections for the best view (or maybe just talking aloud saying im hiding x to view y) I think maybe this app could be better used by doing a demonstration on day 1 of lab or a recording on how to best use it/get to things, because that took a while to figure out by myself. I think it may be better used if during zooms we could have done more of an interactive platform where we could play like games to find the object instead of just going into small groups or maybe doing that at the open labs! (like the ones we did in class with pointing to the body regions but with muscles). I’m not sure if there is a platform that would do this or a way to make it more interactive though online. Even a worksheet as lab hw, while annoying, I think may be helpful to kind of force the understanding of visible body with question like “in respect to x, where is y” or using this version of visible body, tell me all the muscles you see in the image, or something along those lines and grade on just completion!
2. I think as a student who was not in person to have an actual skeleton, it was helpful to view where everything actually is whereas just pictures can be kind of difficult to orient. I used it a lot to study once I got the hang of it to quiz myself on where things were since you have to click on It to get the answer. I also really liked the videos on one of the apps for muscle movements and the connections between different systems. Very helpful.”

“Personally, I like how my TA uses physical models of bones and muscles as demonstration tools in comparison to using visible body. I prefer physical models over using visible body. However, I think visible body is a great studying tool for viewing structures under different angles. It can also clear up any confusions regarding where the structure is located and how the structure looks like. However, I rarely use visible body. For me, the diagrams on the PowerPoint slides and the physical model demonstration by my TA was sufficient for me to learn the different structures and achieve a good grade. “

“From being a student that took the Anatomy/Physiology labs online, I believe that the TA’s implementation of visible body was crucial to the learning experience of the students. Even though classes will be mostly in-person for the upcoming semester, Visible Body is a great supplemental demonstration tool that teaching assistants can utilize to convey the more inconspicuous physiological and anatomical processes/parts. The visual representations provided by the app was user-friendly and easy to navigate. Moreover, it easily allowed me to review the class/lab material in an organized format, enhancing my overall learning experience in the class while also adequately preparing me for exams.”

“About the visible body, I think that it was a good study aid for me, but I wish I had used the physical models too. I was taking this course remotely, and I did not have access to the models in person. So, the 3D models on the visible body were the closest things that I could use even though some structures from our list were hard to find or not annotated. Although my TA would use the visible body for some structures, I preferred when she used the physical models in the lab as a demonstration tool because the structures were more identifiable, and that was more helpful for exams. On the visible body, when I did not use the color codes option, it was hard to find some structures or to see clearly how they look.”


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