At the recent Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards, Dr Lee Wallace won the Individual Teaching Award for ‘Enhancing student engagement through innovation and sensory rich learning’. In this blog post, he explains the key challenges, innovative solutions and new ways forward for learning activities in his subjects Structural Anatomy and Functional Anatomy.


The main challenges in terms of delivering engaging learning and teaching in my subjects were:

  • preparing students for assessments involving detailed anatomical structures/movements and specific metalanguage
  • overcoming difficulties in studying away from campus due to limited access to anatomical models and overwhelming content volume

Engaging multiple senses

Studies show that engaging multiple senses in the learning experience improve student learning and retention.

In my subjects, students participate in unique sensory activities such as identifying complex anatomical landmarks or classifying movement with reduced intrinsic feedback (i.e. eyes closed) and in both the presence and absence of augmented feedback (i.e. verbal instructions). These activities utilise a combination of tactile learning and language that draws upon sensory rich descriptions. This helps students associate complex anatomical features or landmarks with everyday objects or experiences.

These learning activities were initially inspired by a strong performing student with vision impairment who demonstrated the positive impact of sensory-rich learning environments on student outcomes. This led to a further refinement of digital accessibility and inclusivity materials, such as increasing the use of illustrative terminology to describe the orientation of anatomical landmarks and movement patterns, and the addition of laboratory audio resources. 

Next steps: the black box

The concept of sensory rich learning will be explored further through the creation of the ‘black box’ approach.

Students will work with partners and take turns being visually impaired with the use of a black box that is open on one side only. This enables one student to be able to see the anatomical structure (such as a bone) with the other using palpation attempting to identify and differentiate between complex landmarks. The student impaired visually by the box is required to explain each structure they are touching and assimilate with information presented earlier in the module. The partner provides feedback and hints where needed, and also asks questions about the function, structure and location of each landmark.

This provides an opportunity for students to learn together in a fun and novel environment, and enhances engagement through collaboration and communication. This concept was recently awarded a Scholarship of Learning and Teaching, and will be completed over the next 6 months in collaboration with Dr Rob Bower.

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