Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Science Education

First Advisor

Hand, Brian

First Committee Member

Park, Soonhye

Second Committee Member

Alonzo, Alicia

Third Committee Member

Fagenbaum, Ray

Fourth Committee Member

Foster, Dan

Fifth Committee Member

Sandra, Alexander


This research study was conducted to examine student perceptions about learning anatomy and to explore how these perceptions shape the learning experience. This study utilized a mixed-methods design in order to better understand how students approach learning anatomy. Two sets of data were collected at two time periods; one at the beginning and one at the end of the academic semester. Data consisted of results from a survey instrument that contained open-ended questions and a questionnaire and individual student interviews. The questionnaire scored students on a surface approach to learning (relying on rote memorization and knowing factual information) scale and a deep approach to learning (understanding concepts and deeper meaning behind the material) scale. Students were asked to volunteer from four different anatomy classes; two entry-level undergraduate courses from two different departments, an upper-level undergraduate course, and a graduate level course. Results indicate that students perceive that they will learn anatomy through memorization regardless of the level of class being taken. This is generally supported by the learning environment and thus students leave the classroom believing that anatomy is about memorizing structures and remembering anatomical terminology. When comparing this class experience to other academic classes, many students believed that anatomy was more reliant on memorization techniques for learning although many indicated that memorization is their primary learning method for most courses. Results from the questionnaire indicate that most students had decreases in both their deep approach and surface approach scores with the exception of students that had no previous anatomy experience. These students had an average increase in surface approach and so relied more on memorization and repetition for learning. The implication of these results is that the learning environment may actually amplify students' perceptions of the anatomy course at all levels and experiences of enrolled students. Instructors wanting to foster deeper approaches to learning may need to apply instructional techniques that both support deeper approaches to learning and strive to change students' perceptions away from believing that anatomy is strictly memorization and thus utilizing surface approaches to learning.


anatomy education, approaches to learning, mixed method


ix, 134 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 124-134).


Copyright 2009 Andrew John Notebaert