AXON: A Novel Interactive Educational Tool for Improved 3-D Understanding of Neuroanatomy

Chan, C., Tattersall, A., Last, J. and Flanagan, T. C. (2013) AXON: A Novel Interactive Educational Tool for Improved 3-D Understanding of Neuroanatomy. In: 6th scientific meeting of the Irish Network of Medical Educators (INMED), 21st February to Friday 22nd February 2013, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.


There is a general consensus that neuroanatomy is one of the most difficult subjects of the undergraduate medicine curriculum on account of its sheer complexity. Studies have reported that better teaching methods may be more effective in conveying the complex spatial relationships of brain anatomy (1). This study aimed to develop a freely-available interactive animated learning resource that could be used to improve spatial and functional understanding of neuroanatomical concepts, and to determine its effectiveness through a student survey. As a pilot concept, we proposed to develop interactive animations to demonstrate complex sensory pathways. Original images were created in Adobe Illustrator, and subsequently animated using Motion software to illustrate sensory pathways. These animations were then integrated into a website using Adobe Fireworks and Dreamweaver to allow for an interactive user experience, and the resource was made available to undergraduate Medicine students for one semester. The students (n=230) were subsequently invited to complete a survey comparing this resource to other learning resources used to aid their 3-D understanding of neuroanatomy. The resulting pilot interactive website (AXON - Animated Exploration of Neuroanatomy) allowed users to ‘stimulate’ sensations in a virtual character at specified locations (foot, hand and face). Interactive images, animations, anatomical/clinical information, in addition to voice-over material, were provided in the package to assist the overall learning experience. 65 students (28%) completed the subsequent survey. As an overall resource, the vast majority of those students (88%, n=57) felt that AXON offered a better 3-D understanding of nervous system structures compared to other neuroanatomy resources. With regard to resource components, most students suggested that the graphics (91%), animated sequences (92%), mouse-over information (74%) and voice-over material (86%) were superior to those of other neuroanatomy resources. Suggestions for further development of the product focussed on classical lesions (34%), descending pathways (29%) and special sensory pathways (27%). A freely-available pilot resource has been developed for integration into undergraduate Medicine curricula to assist neuroanatomy teaching. It is evident that this tool can be used to enhance the learning experience of neuroanatomy. The product will be further developed to aid teaching and learning of additional neuroanatomy topics.

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