The Power of Hands-On Learning: A Conversation with Member Beth Moody Jones

By Sheryll Poe

This article was originally published in the June 16, 2021 edition of the Anatomy Now newsletter.

When Beth Moody Jones began teaching gross anatomy at the University of Hawaii School of Medicine in 2000, “I taught it how I took it 20 years prior. I had my flashcards and I was memorizing them,” Moody Jones reminisced. “I went to my first clinical and there was a question about anatomy in the hands, and I was going to the file card drawer in my head and I could not bring it up.”

Moody Jones knew that there had to be a better way to teach anatomy. She started teaching in segments or compartments and looking for the exceptions, or things that seemed out of place. “As a student who uses anatomy every day in the clinic, I knew what it took to try to remember it in front of the patient,” Jones said. “Find out what everything has in common and then what’s the exception.”

Moody Jones’ medical students and graduate athletic training students still had to learn function, attachments and innervations, but the vast memorization process no longer seemed insurmountable for overwhelmed students. “I restructured it so it was in soluble chunks that you could actually hold on to. My students do the whole body in one semester, without decreasing the content,” Moody Jones explained

Today, Moody Jones continues to find new innovative and creative ways to teach Gross Anatomy and Advanced Orthopedics for the Physical Therapy program at the University of New Mexico. “I’m trying to get anatomy to come alive to them as a clinician and available to them in a clinical setting,” Moody Jones said.

One of those innovations is Anatomy in Clay® Learning System, a hands-on clay modeling system that helps students better understand anatomical structures. “I use Anatomy in Clay to help me see what they’re not quite getting,” she explained. “They model from bone to skin, adding layers. What I find in doing that, it show the problem areas where they thought they understood that this muscle went a certain way. I can watch them and correct them.”

Moody Jones is always exploring new ways to help students visualize the material, including teaching cross-section anatomy with a plastinated cadaver. “Because again, if they understand the layers, they can put a needle in it and they actually know it much better,” she said.

This multi-modal approach prepared Moody Jones and her students for the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were able to do all of it throughout COVID,” she reflected. In fact, Moody Jones said, “I had the best grades I’ve ever had.”

Students took home models and used 4D and 3D computer programs to reinforce video lessons, which were broken up into 30-minute segments versus the normal one-to-two hour lectures. “What I heard from my students was they could watch these shorter videos and stop when they wanted, and go back to listen again, all while they were actively working on questions while watching it. By the time they came into dissection, they were more prepared,” Moody Jones said.

Students still had dissection but lab time was limited and groups were smaller, which meant students had to use their lab time wisely. “Overall, the hybrid approach gave more time for thought and learning. In the past, we did lectures in the morning and dissection in the afternoon. Now they’re getting a whole week to digest it,” Moody Jones explained. 

There is one lesson in anatomy that hasn’t changed over the years, Moody Jones noted, and that’s respect for the ultimate anatomy teachers – the body donors. “One of the things I instill in my classes is respect for the donor. This person chose before they died to teach. I’m still in awe of that,” Moody Jones said. “Our donors are our teachers. So we keep the lab clean out of respect for that last resting place. We don’t joke about things we find. We are in awe of the things we find. I try to instill in my students this love of their patients and their journey.”