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News . Feature Stories . Student-designed app teaches embryology, improves scores

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August 11, 2014

Student-designed app teaches embryology, improves scores

CIA, CWRU students develop interactive software that brings human development to life for medical and dental students

Student-designed app teaches embryology, improves scores

By Julie Troha

Human embryonic development is one of the most beautiful processes in nature. But the process is so intricate that medical students studying this early stage of life may have trouble fully envisioning how an embryo morphs through time and space. That’s why biomedical artists from Cleveland Institute of Art are working with software engineers and scientists from Case Western Reserve University to develop Embryon, an educational software application that is improving learning – and test scores – for medical and dental students.

The application teaches development of the human embryo through interactive three-dimensional models, animation sequences, and assessment tools. “I have been teaching embryology for years, and find that 2D text images and sections do not convey its complexity and beauty,” said project supervisor Dr. John Fredieu at the CWRU School of Medicine. “3D models are more effective in learning the nuances of these events.”

For the project’s first release in 2008, CIA students Cory Hughart ’10 and Jackie Watson ’10 collaborated with a CWRU medical student under the direction of faculty from both colleges. The app was subsequently tested by a group of CWRU medical and dental students. The students who studied Embryon’s interactive animations in addition to their standard curriculum achieved higher test scores than their counterparts, said Dr. Fredieu.

Building on the project’s initial success, the team expanded its ranks last year to redesign the application. CIA students Carolyn Bartel ’13, Julianne Pasini ’13, Jennifer Kerbo ’13, Maia Garcia Fedor ’14, and Leah Hustak ’15 have updated the designs and worked with CWRU programming students to make the app accessible on the web and iOS devices.

“This project has been a fantastic opportunity,” said Kerbo, a recent CIA grad and lead artist for Embryon. “I cannot imagine a better opportunity to work in our field and gain more experience. We involve students and recent grads and encourage them to learn while being paid.”

Embryon currently covers development of the head and neck. Kerbo said the team hopes to release a new unit featuring the cardiovascular system in a few months. The cardiovascular project will explore the application of games and simulations to higher education. In the future, additional topics could include gastrointestinal and genitourinary development.

“The work we do needs to serve two purposes,” said Tom Nowacki, professor and chair of CIA’s Biomedical Art Department. “It needs to be eye-catching and at the same it needs to educate the audience.” He said CIA’s biomedical art major teaches not only software techniques, but also principles of interactive design and narrative within the context of the medical illustration profession.

All materials produced by the Embryon team will be available for use by other institutions, both public and private. The initial version of the application can be accessed on the CWRU website or downloaded for the iPad in the iTunes app store. Release of the second version is pending project funding through the team’s Indiegogo campaign.

“Now that we have a finished web app, iOS app, and designs for a new project,” said Kerbo, “we are hopeful that people will see that we want to make new materials for students to use.”

Above: a screen shot of an Embryon animation highlighting the developing central nervous system.

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