When Tiffany Garrison-Stanley started teaching anatomy at Blackhawk Technical College three years ago, she found herself yearning for a more student-led learning environment.

With the help of planning, a fresh space and new technology, Garrison-Stanley hopes that’s now an option.

The chair of the college’s math and science departments oversaw the creation of a new Anatomy Learning Center in Room 1303 on BTC’s main campus.

The center features plastic models, computerized training, virtual reality and an $80,000 Anatomage table, a machine capable of interactive 3-D cadaver dissections, case study reviews, CAT/MRI scans and more.

The virtual table lets students see the human body inside and out as well as highlight and study individual systems. Garrison-Stanley said it's rare for a technical college to have such comprehensive technology.

“When I first got on campus, I was teaching anatomy, and I found this tool to be really helpful doing that,” she said of the table. “The problem was I was teaching in our lab, and I would have to cart all of the students down to the room where this was housed, and so it made integrating it into the curriculum really difficult."

Now, Garrison-Stanley hopes the new anatomy center will allow college instructors to let students lead conversations and explore the human body in a new way.

The Anatomage table has been a big hit among students.

It houses four cadavers, each with its own underlying health conditions and backstory that can be discovered during dissection. The cadavers are computerized renderings of real people whose bodies were donated to research.

"I think that the usage of the plastic models was limited with the way the curriculum used to be designed. I think it's really critical that a student be able to see an anatomical structure three-dimensionally,” Garrison-Stanley said.

"And in some ways, it's actually better than a regular cadaver. You can undo your cuts; you can do things that you couldn't do on cadaver tissue, and it doesn't smell."

Having the Anatomage table, the computers and other materials in the center improves the way BTC teaches students, Garrison-Stanley said.

"One thing we're looking very closely at is making sure that the lab is designed so that it's accessible to all types of thinkers. It's important, especially with our student body, that we make it accessible to everyone, regardless of whether they're an audio learner or a visual learner. We have to make it flexible,” she said.

Students must sign up to use the lab because of COVID-19 restrictions. It is available to any student enrolled in an anatomy class and is also available through Zoom. Instructors are welcome to use the lab during lectures, which could enhance learning, too, Garrison-Stanley said.

Student Billy Theama, who hopes to be a physical therapy assistant one day, says the anatomy lab already has helped him.

“It’s like a playground,” Theama said.

He visits the lab for about six hours each week before his classes and said its different elements have enhanced his ability to learn.

“It’s nice to have all of the resources in one room, and then to be able to jump between learning from a textbook to having a hands-on model that you can connect it with, to having the Anatomage table with the 3-D model and getting more familiar with all of it, it makes it stick a lot more when you can combine those learning methods,” Theama said.

Carlos Ansoleaga-Lopez is also studying at BTC with hopes of working as a physical therapist. He visits the anatomy lab weekly and prefers the Anatomage table.

“For me, it’s a big, nice table where everything is a good size, and you can move things around and see it all. It’s easier for me to learn, and it’s a great way to practice.”

That’s exactly what the lab is for, Garrison-Stanley said.

"I think collectively as a department, we've had to learn to kind of pry our hands off of that old-school lecture,” she said. “We have to stop talking at students and let them introduce the questions, let them explore what they need to explore.”

“And so I think the onus to create the lecture has left the building. We no longer want to tell them what they need to know. We want to give them a premise for what they need to know and have them explore it at their own will.”