College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Julie Dickson and the spatial teaching of veterinary anatomy

Julie Dickson is researching new and innovative ways of teaching veterinary anatomy and picking up EUSA teaching awards along the way.

What are you currently working on?

Julie Dickson teaching veterinary students

My PhD research investigates the way we teach anatomy, specifically it looks into teaching veterinary anatomy spatially i.e. in 3D. Although anatomy is inherently a spatial topic the main methods of anatomy learning are through 2D textbooks and prosected specimens (pre-dissected specimens).

These delicate specimens hold much detailed information (and can take considerable time to learn the intricate layers of) and can only be viewed in the dissection room limiting the students learning time from these specimens.

I am researching whether teaching spatially using 3D printed models of canine joints such as the knee and 3D computer models that the students can move and rotate themselves plus have 24/7 access to, will improve their spatial thinking and anatomy learning.

I believe thinking spatially is an important aspect of any learning and is especially important in disciplines such as veterinary medicine where surgery is a core day one skill.

What do you hope will come out of your research?

I hope that my research will give the students a deeper and therefore more memorable understanding of anatomy. I hope that my work will help to explore any links between spatial ability and anatomy learning as well as potentially contribute towards discovering the ‘threshold concepts’ of anatomy learning.

My aim is to give the students a solid and confident foundation in anatomy so they can develop strong clinical skills. I also hope my research teaches the students to understand how to learn and to appreciate the process of learning. 

Additionally I hope my research highlights the importance of the growing field of veterinary educational research.

How did you get here?

Julie Dickson collects her award at the 2016 EUSA Teaching Awards

I graduated from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in 2011 and then subsequently worked in a mixed and then a small animal practice (during this time I successfully sat the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam).

While studying at the R(D)SVS I completed a summer research project at The Roslin Institute and since then had always considered doing a PhD (at this time I thought it would be a lab based). So I came back to the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in 2013 as a teaching fellow in veterinary anatomy and physiology to explore a career in research.

While working as a teaching fellow I discovered a passion for education and learning; I loved developing lectures and thinking about how to explain a new topic or using new creative teaching approaches. I also realised that while teaching I thought differently about anatomy compared to students and colleagues. I thought of anatomy spatially and in 3D.

Additionally when I explained anatomical concepts to the students I explained it in 3D and I would often receive the resounding ‘oh’ of understanding from the students. Therefore I decided to pursue this area of educational research and investigate the links, if any, between spatial ability and anatomy learning.

Who are you collaborating with?

Currently we are collaborating with the Edinburgh College of Art, the Psychology Department at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Bristol Vet School.

Tell us something about you that might surprise us.

I once had a food fight with chimpanzees.

Related links

Visit the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies website

View Julie's profile on Edinburgh Research Explorer