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Learning the Hand, Hands-On

The occupational therapy students pass skeletal hand forms back and forth along the table top counters in the science lab room. Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy Holly Preston quizzes them on the bones, joints and muscles that connect each intricate part of the fingers, thumb, palm and wrist.

As part of Preston’s pop quiz, the students palpate their palms and observe the innate response of their fingers to the change in pressure. In addition to the natural study their own bodies provide for the class – Applied Anatomy – Preston passes out iPads for students to share and instructs them to open up an app called “Muscle and Bone Anatomy 3D.”

Sophomore Caleigh Alterio uses her fingertips to scroll from a muscular view of the body to a 360-degree rotation of the skeleton. Across the table, sophomore Nick Scherer scrolls through a similar screen image on his personal iPad, pointing out how it lets the viewer see multiple layers of muscle and bone, all of which can be rotated in 3-D. The download was just $7, he says.

Nick Scherer works with the iPad app in anatomy class

“It’s so cool just being able to actually see what we’re feeling,” sophomore Mackenzie Berger says as she mimics the movements of the arm, wrist and hand onscreen with her own appendage.

“I didn’t know the answer to [labeling] pictures on the lab exam, so this helps,” adds sophomore Taylor Szwec.  Indeed, the iPad app boasts video and even has an online quiz feature that Preston encourages students to work through.

“Eighteen out of 20 – bam!” Alterio boasts to Berger, moments later.

Alterio and Berger study a hand form during an OT quiz.

Preston is pleased with the app and how it gives students an interior view of the body, but it lacks just one element of focus, she says: the thumb. Perhaps that’s why Preston is so excited about another element of her biology classes – cadaver studies at the New York Chiropractic College in Seneca Falls.

Each semester, Preston’s classes make three or four trips to the cadaver lab during guest visit hours (when students are not in class). Given that cadaver labs are extremely expensive to maintain, she said, Keuka’s proximity to Seneca Falls means that students still receive the opportunity to study the human body up-close-and-personal.

“We simply go observe,” Preston says of the cadavers, which are already prepared for viewing.  “Students look at real muscle, real bone – nothing can replace the real thing. Of course, there’s a lot of apprehension before we go; we do a lot of questions about what to expect. But it’s amazing how [students] appreciate it, once they’re there. For a majority, it seems that they start off apprehensive, then start looking and then begin touching after a while.”

Preston stressed that respect for the dead is emphasized, and that she enforces a rule that genitals and heads remain covered while students examine major body joints.

“Definitely the shoulder – they really have to know the shoulder, the shoulder joint where the humerus fits into the scapula. That’s a big one. We also look at the carpal tunnel in the hand, and the students say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so crazy and so cool,’” Preston said. “I love that the lab has a sign that says, ‘Here is where the dead teach the living’ – I think that’s great.”

Because occupational therapy is so focused on human movement, Preston said her goal is to provide multiple ways in which students will see clear visuals of the anatomy.

“I can stand up there and lecture and they can zone out, but when they can actually see the [plastic] models, or use the iPads, and then go see the real thing and come back and use the iPads again, we get those ‘aha’ moments,” she said.

One Response to Learning the Hand, Hands-On

  1. Vicki Mailleue says:

    I’m MacKenzie’s aunt and I teach Human Physiology at the high school level. It is “so cool” (to quote my niece) that she has this opportunity!

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