The Anatomy Lesson

a review for SIMS 296a-3 by David Engberg

The Anatomy Lesson is a multimedia CD-ROM produced by the Stanford University Medical Media and Information Technologies (SUMMIT) group and distributed by Mosby-Yearbook, Inc. as the "Clinical Anatomy Interactive Lesson".

This program was developed for use in college-level anatomy courses to provide high-quality anatomical multimedia information within an intuitive package designed for both instruction and reference.

The Hypermedia Problem

Previous educational works produced by the researchers at the Stanford Medical School came in traditional paper-based formats such as high-quality textbooks that have very well understood models for interaction and pedagogy. Unfortunately, these models t ypically constrain the information user to exactly one mode of interaction with the content. Each piece is only presented in one fixed context that may have different levels of relevancy for the actual user.

By migrating to an interactive hypermedium, the researchers were confronted with many new problems and opportunities. They had hundreds of high-quality images and video/animation sequences but recognized that a linear, textbook-style approach to this con tent would be a usability disaster. On the other hand, a disjointed hyperweb of snippets is hardly conducive to the focused, thorough educational goals of a medical school curriculum.

They addressed these issues through two innovations: interactive media and multi-modality.

Interactive Media

For this visually rich data set, the researchers needed a way to present images with a large volume of associated meta-information to describe anatomical features and processes. In a traditional book, these images would have been accompanied with labels that would be constrained to the physical space of the page. With hypermedia, they could place the structural information directly in the image and use the software to present different regions of the image along with labels and rich descriptions.

They developed software called the Interactive Image Tool so doctors could annotate an image and then they integrated a viewer for this new format into the Anatomy Lesson for presentation to the user. The result is so simple and powerful, that it could b e reused in many other contexts, including the help system, which allows users to see a picture of the interface with instructions and explanations about each feature.


In a traditional book, the single structure imposed by the physical nature of the medium tends to force exactly one pedagogical model on the information, but in a hypermedia product, authors are able to provide multiple presentations over the same informa tion.

The Anatomy Lesson approaches this by providing three modes of interaction with the information. The first two modes are focused on classroom usage using two different teaching styles. In Lesson Mode, learning is guided through a series of multip le-choice questions, each presented with enough information to find an appropriate answer. This teaching style contrasts with the more traditional one offered by the Textbook Mode, which structures the information as a linear textbook, with page n umbers matching an existing anatomy book. This mode can serve as an alternative or supplement to a standard textbook.

The last mode, the Atlas Mode, provides a reference model of access to the multimedia information.


The program was originally developed on the Macintosh, but a Windows port is nearing completion. In addition, they have created an innovative web-based system that simulates interaction with the anatomy lesson to give potential users a sense of what is of fered:

From the demo, a user can get the sense that the goal of their interface was to empower the user to use the rich information in whatever way is most appropriate for their needs. This is in contrast with both traditional textbook approaches and much softw are design, which attempts to constrain and dumb down interfaces as much as possible to prevent user error. By providing advanced content and multiple garden paths that all lead to the right materials, the Anatomy Lesson makes very innovative use of the n ew media technologies and points the way for future textbook adaptations.

David Engberg
Last modified: Thu Oct 17 10:12:44 PDT