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Year : 2012  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 18-22  

Animations in medical education: You can do it!

Department of Anatomy, Dr. D. Y. Patil Medical College, Pimpri, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication20-Jun-2012

Correspondence Address:
Manvikar Purushottam Rao
Department of Anatomy, Dr. D. Y. Patil Medical College, Pimpri, Pune - 411 018, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0975-2870.97502

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Introduction: Animations are the best suited to convey and create an impact of an idea or concept in media business. Animations are sequential frames of pictures shown across this fourth dimension, namely "time." Cartoons are the best examples of animations; needless to say, animations grab the attentions of every one. Animations can also be effectively used in medical education especially in teaching human embryology. It communicates of a concept of three-dimensional structures against one more dimension, namely time. However, to create a module of animation, knowledge, and operative skills of animation software like Flash® , Author ware® , Macromedia® or other high-ended software is necessary. Aim: To design simple, user-friendly and easy to make an effective animation using one of the office tools of Windows® , Power Point® . Materials and Methods: A personal computer with following configuration was used. Pentium III processor with 1.3 Gz speed, 40 GB HDD, 128 MB RAM, with multimedia kit, key pad, and scroll mouse was used. Programs used were Power Point® and MS Paint® . A screen play of sequences of diagrams was written. Frames consisting of diagrams of stages of development were drawn in MS Paint® , and were pasted in PowerPoint slides and animation tool was applied. Previewing was done at every stage. Results: Stages of development of storyboard have been shown as print screen images, 1-6. Conclusion: Emphasis is that such simple animations can be easily made. It is cheap and does not require any sophisticated software. However, it is time consuming but can be taken up as phased assignments or can be given as undergraduate student projects. This will certainly help to build teaching material in the department.

Keywords: Animations, embryology, fourth dimension, student project, medical education

How to cite this article:
Rao MP. Animations in medical education: You can do it!. Med J DY Patil Univ 2012;5:18-22

How to cite this URL:
Rao MP. Animations in medical education: You can do it!. Med J DY Patil Univ [serial online] 2012 [cited 2020 Jul 16];5:18-22. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Animation is currently a multi-crore industry involving the computer and multimedia technology. Right from a small cartoon to a multi-million dollar Hollywood movies animation technology has grown tremendously. Advertising industry uses animations extensively and fights for brand positioning. But animation is an expensive preposition.

Animation is better education tool because:

  1. there is absolute control over message to be dissipated,
  2. information can be given in slabs, making the learner to await for next slab of information, and
  3. certain amount of suspense can be built in teaching learning process.

Events of growth of parts of body, stages of disease, operative steps in a surgery, dynamic changes of tissues, enzymatic and metabolic cycles, or plan of treatment can be effectively communicated using an animation. Preparing an animation sequence for the text content is not an issue, but graphic animation showing sequences of stages of development is difficult. Human embryology is one such subject which requires series of two-dimensional pictures with 3 D rendering and that is a challenge!!With the advent of increasing research and change in concepts in human embryology, understanding basics of human development needs to be thoroughly understood in the first-year medical career.

Unlike gross anatomy, histology, or osteology, embryology is a dynamic subject. The word "dynamic" signifies that human developmental study talks about sequential changes that occur across a time line. Hence, making students understand the concepts of developmental stages is a difficult task. Author is of the opinion that teaching embryology is a challenge. Till now, the lecture in embryology had been a mix of talk, line diagrams drawn by chalk, and few OHP transparencies. Embryology is being taught as a descriptive science, but in reality it is a dynamic science. Few projection transparencies prepared from text books were also being used to supplement the lecture. But the fact remains that a three-dimensional concept is being dealt in a two-dimensional depiction.

The teaching methodology further evolved around using 3D models showing stages of development of an organ or a system.These models were conventionally made of clay, plaster of Paris, plastic or of late fiber glass material which were used and stored in anatomy museum. But these models show a still concept.

The crux of the problem of communication in embryology is spatial orientation and sequential changes of shape and size of structure over fourth dimension, referred as "time." Traditional audiovisual teaching techniques are not of much help to make the learning of embryology and birth defects more meaningful and purposeful for a medical teacher. Volumetric shape of human embryo and its change during development is difficult to comprehend as they are viewed as 2D schemes in the text books.

Computers and multimedia graphics have ushered in a new era of research applications in medical education. Advent of 2D and 3D animations has now made it possible to teach embryology meaningfully. Computers and multimedia graphics address the specific needs of embryology learning. Animations can effectively depict the morphological changes over a period of time. Both 2D and 3D aspects can be successfully used in animations. The basic principle is to run series of frames of diagrams showing sequential changes drawn in 2D by using software. The speed of frame change is 25 to 30 per second. Eye perceives the subtle difference between two frames as a change in picture. The principle is similar to that of a movie projector.

A number of 2D and 3D animation software are available. 2D and 3D animators, macromedia flash, macromedia director, anipro are few examples of software. To use these software programs respectively, one needs to get trained. Expensive cost of production of animations is also an impediment in the in-house production of such animations.

Keeping above factors in mind, author attempted to make a simple animation using the software program available with Microsoft Windows® . The aim was to make an inexpensive and easily workable animation module to teach a complex concept of development of inferior vena cava for first year medical professionals using animation tool available in Power Point and to emphasize that making reasonably presentable animation in any subject of medical education is easy and feasible.

  Materials and Methods Top

A personal computer with following configuration was used:

  1. Pentium III processor with 1.3 Gz speed, 40 GB HDD,128 MB RAM, 1, 4"floppy drive, with multimedia kit, key pad and scroll mouse.
  2. Operating system: Windows 98® , and MS Office 2000® . Programs used are shown in [Figure 1] and [Figure 2].
    Figure 1: Drawing done in MS paint

    Click here to view
    Figure 2: Pasting the pictures sequentially in power point slides

    Click here to view
A screen play of sequences of diagrams was written. Frames consisting of diagrams of stages of development were drawn in MS paint® [Figure 3]. The line diagrams were given adequate rendering to give 3D effect. The frames were numbered according to the sequence in the screen play. These frames were pasted in PowerPoint slides. The animation tool for entrance and fade effect was applied. Slide show was run to see the animation effect after every animation command. Finally, after applying all the animation, the slide show was done to see the effect of sequence.
Figure 3: Applying animation tool

Click here to view

The module created was development of inferior vena cava where a series of system of venous channels appear on the posterior abdominal wall, of which parts remain and others disappear. Finally, inferior vena cava is formed as a result of contribution of many small "pieces" and thus composite in development.

  Results Top

Different stage of construction of the picture and labeling has been shown in the figures. These stages are shown in [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5] and [Figure 6]. After application of the animation tool in the power point, sequential development of the concept was vividly visualized.
Figure 4: Concealing parts of the picture with drawing tools and filling it with white color so that in animation it will appear as "disappeared"

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Figure 5: Parts that remain to form inferior vena cava

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Figure 6: Final frame showing multiple sources contributing to the development of IVC

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  Discussion Top

Literature survey revealed many studies which aimed at the beneficial effects of computer-assisted animation in teaching and learning. Author could not find any study like the present one which deals with creation of an animation module using one of the Microsoft office tools like power point.

Following paragraphs emphasize that animations do have an edge over static graphics.

Habbal and Harris (1995) [1] used animation-assisted computer teaching for embryology. Images of stages of development of heart and its valve mechanism, development of spinal cord animation were attempted. They either scanned the sequential images or prepared the diagrams and used a vector animation package. Student performance was very positive and the authors were of the opinion that this technique has a great potential. However, their efforts involved additional software skills.

Watt et al [2] did computer morphing by scanning electron micrographs and used it as adjunct to embryology teaching. They adopted computer morphing techniques and prepared movie sequences of development of the face and plate. Retouching techniques to color the separate processes and further sequences were used to improve the quality of graphics. Although this technique was adaptable to any area of biological development, it did involve complicated technical steps and expertise which our fraternity may not have. Authors reported that student feedback was very favorable.

Ruiz, Cook, and Levinson [3] in a study of critical review of animation in medical education searched and reviewed MEDLINE, PsychINFO, and EMBASE for articles describing the use of computer animations in medical education. Selective review was also done on non-medical education research on the use of computer animations. They opined that despite animations being used in a variety of computer-assisted learning applications, few comparative studies have been published and the evidence is inconclusive. The benefits of animations may also vary according to learner characteristics such as prior knowledge and spatial ability. Their conclusion was that factors facilitating learning included permitting learner control over the animation's pace, allowing learners to interact with animations and splitting the animation activity into small chunks (segmenting).

Computer animations were found to be better in comprehending the complex and dynamic process of DNA replications in molecular and cellular biology. A study conducted in West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine by Thatcher [4] reported an objective difference in understanding the concept as compared to those who studied text books, and majority of the subjects preferred animation.

Marshand coworkers [5] are of the opinion that using 2D slices of stages of embryonic development with animation aids long-term retention of concepts.

There are reports contradicting these views. Randomized control trials regarding use of static graphics and computer-based animations did not produce any significant changes in cognition indicating that cheaper to produce static graphics are equally effective. [6]

Animations are best modes of teaching supplements in embryology. Many animations are available on the internet (list of websites is given below). Most of the animations can be downloaded after payment. However, only sample demonstrations can be freely downloaded. The content of the animation may not exactly match needed topic requirement. Secondly, it is always necessary to have internet connection to avail such animations. Even if these animations are obtained, they may not be suited to the teachers need and style of presentation. Best option, therefore, is to create own animation according to the needs of the teaching module.

Most of the medical teachers are computer savvy. Making a power point presentation is not new. Using animations tools available in the power point program and making an animation is not a difficult task. However, drawing a picture in MS paint is little time consuming, but not difficult as the paint program is user friendly. Although one needs to invest time initially, the advantage of using same module again and again with a better impact is worth all the initial toil. Students can be involved in the project of creating graphics for the modules. Author stresses that such simple animations can be easily made. This can help to build teaching material in the department. Module of development of inferior vena cava was presented in state and national level conferences of anatomy teachers and received unanimous appreciation.

URL of web sites


  References Top

1.Habbal OA, Harris PF. Teaching of human anatomy: A role for computer animation. J Audiov Media Med 1995;18:69-73.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Watt ME, McDonald SW, Watt A. Computer morphing of scanning electron micrographs: An adjunct to embryology teaching. Surg Radiol Anat 1996;18:329-33.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Ruiz JG, Cook DA, Levinson AJ. Computer animations in medical education: A critical literature review. Med Educ 2009;43:838-46.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Thatcher JD. Computer animation and improved student comprehension of basic science concepts. J Am Osteopath Assoc 2006;106:9-14.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Marsh KR, Giffin BF, Lowrie DJ Jr. Medical student retention of embryonic development: Impact of the dimensions added by multimedia tutorials. Anat Sci Educ 2008;1:252-7.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Tunuguntla R, Rodriguez O, Ruiz JG, Qadri SS, Mintzer MJ, Van Zuilen MH, et al. Computer-based animations and static graphics as medical student aids in learning home safety assessment: A randomized controlled trial. Med Teach 2008;30:815-7.  Back to cited text no. 6


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]

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