The Pedagogical Value of Mobile Devices and Software in the Anatomy & Physiology Laboratory

Zvi Ostrin, Assistant Professor
Vyacheslav Dushenkov, Assistant Professor
Both from the Natural Sciences Department


Mobile devices such as iPads and smart phones have become ubiquitous in our culture. Although it is clear that mobile devices offer many powerful capabilities that traditional textbooks or lab manuals cannot match, it is not so clear how pedagogically useful such devices are, particularly in the sciences. There are surprisingly few relevant studies that directly examine the pedagogical usefulness of digital mobile learning.

As a small step in clarifying this matter, for the past several years we have been using iPads and content-specific apps in our Anatomy & Physiology classes, in an ongoing effort to examine the efficacy of such devices for our Hostos students. Our inquiry started as a series of pilot projects within our own lab classes. With the help of a CUNY C3IRG grant, we expanded our inquiry to encompass five lab instructors, ten lab sections, and an examination of four core topics: Tissues, Skeletal System, Muscle System, and the Heart. Each of the five instructors taught one experimental lab section using mobile devices and specific apps as the major learning resources, and a second control lab section without mobile devices, i.e., using the assigned lab manual.


Our primary hypothesis, that mobile devices and content-specific apps would increase student enthusiasm and engagement, was confirmed, and is consistent with other studies. Students enjoyed using the apps and mobile devices in the lab, had a positive learning experience, and felt that this modality motivated them to learn the subject matter and was more effective as a learning tool than the lab manual. Our secondary hypothesis, that the digital technology would increase student learning and information retention, did not yield statistically significant results. Indeed, the literature suggests that it is difficult to extract meaningful data from experiments designed to measure the impact of mobile devices in the classroom. Going forward we hope to continue our investigations with a larger student sample size and modifications in the way students access the mobile devices and apps.

Our data support the conclusion that mobile devices and content-specific apps increase student enthusiasm and engagement in the A & P 1 lab. However, further research is needed to clarify the extent to which students’ positive response to digital technology translates into gains in learning, understanding, and information retention. In general, the five participating instructors felt that mobile devices and apps could play a positive and useful role in the lab, as a “new and attractive way of presenting the material taught for that class,” which would keep students engaged in learning. However, the instructors had mixed feelings about the amount of student learning that was actually taking place when using the digital technology. Although the apps engaged the students and helped them to see the lab material in a fresh way, some instructors felt that this modality added a new layer of confusion to the lab work, especially since some students had difficulty in mastering the use of the apps.


Our article on the results and significance of this study was recently published in the December 2016 issue of HAPS Educator, the Journal of the Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, and is available by clicking on the link: Ostrin & Dushenkov-Ped’l Value of Mobile Devices-HAPS Educator, December 2016-Article wCover


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