IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Ohio High School Uses Cutting-Edge VR for Anatomy Lessons

An all-female Catholic high school in Ohio is trying to give its students a leg up in health sciences with immersive 3D virtual reality software that visualizes the human body at different scales and positions.

A woman using a VR headset holding one hand out in front of her, with digital lines overlayed on the image.
As AR/VR technology continues advancing for more practical applications, some K-12 schools are slowly making more use of the emerging technology to provide students with more interactive lessons. Among them is Saint Joseph Academy in Ohio, which recently began using HoloAnatomy software from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) — a fairly new AR/VR tool that allows users to visualize 3D holograms of the human body in detail for anatomy lessons.

According to a news release in January, the academy recently became the first school in the world to obtain the collegiate-level technology suite for high school instruction. Using Microsoft HoloLens 2 headsets, the platform allows instructors to display a body at different scales and positions with labels, intended to make lessons more immersive and experiential.

A Saint Joseph news release sent to Government Technology said the 3D mixed reality technology was developed at Case Western Reserve University, and Saint Joseph has been using it since early 2022 with students in its Honors Anatomy and Physiology class — a required course for students in its Health Sciences Honors Program. Saint Joseph science teacher Fred Kieser told Government Technology he recently developed his own anatomy curriculum using the software, adding that AR/VR technology could serve as a cost-effective alternative for schools and institutions with limited access to cadavers for anatomy lessons.

“The whole purpose of a cadaver is so you can see how all the pieces fit together in a human, and while that’s not always practical, this is much more practical,” he said. “When they see the hologram, if you will, or when they see the virtual reality, they can walk around it and see a three-dimensional image exactly like a human, whereas on a screen or paper, it’s two-dimensional, and you don’t get a feel for how the muscles overlap.”

Nancy Farrow, senior VP of marketing for Ilumis, a company formed to market and sell CWRU’s invention, explained in an email to Government Technology that the HoloAnatomy platform can visualize complex anatomical structures and systems, allowing students to freely move in and out of holograms for more collaborative anatomy lessons.

“You simply put on a HoloLens headset, and a human body appears in three dimensions — the anchored hologram is like magic, empowering students and teachers to literally immerse themselves in the body’s systems through mixed-reality technology,” she wrote. “It’s a new realm of dynamic, collaborative education that helps students learn faster and retain more vital information. What’s remarkable is that you can all be in the same room, making eye contact as you explore the 3D body together, or engage virtually from anywhere in the world.”

Farrow said HoloAnatomy’s software has been on the market for three years and is now in use at more than 20 institutions worldwide, including Northwestern University and Oxford University, among others. She said the company also recently released the HoloAnatomy Neuro Software Suite, an interactive 3D tool that uses mixed reality to visualize the brain and neural activity.

“Ilumis plans to enhance the HoloAnatomy Software Suite with additional anatomical content and develop new applications based on customer recommendations and our partners at Case Western Reserve University,” she wrote. “The response thus far has been remarkable, as academic institutions realize they can teach human anatomy without cadavers with our innovative mixed reality software.”

According to the news release from Saint Joseph, the academy started flirting with AR/VR ed-tech tools in 2018, becoming the first high school in Northeast Ohio to acquire the Anatomage Table, which also provides 3D visualization for dissections, as well as a simulated anatomy experience with about 8,000 images of humans and other animals.

“We’re continually looking for new opportunities to help our students explore their interests and passions and ways to stand out from their peers. Using the Hololens 2 with HoloAnatomy sets the stage for what learning at the next level will be like,” Saint Joseph Academy President Mrs. Kathryn Purcell said in a public statement. “It’s an incredible experience to send our graduates off to college or university with and should help to set them apart from their peers.”

Noting the positive response from students so far, Kieser said he hopes to make more use of the software suite and AR/VR tools in the near future as virtual reality technology improves for K-12 classroom applications.

“I think this fits very well with how [high school students] are learning as they grow up now,” he said. “I think in 10 years, we’ll see a lot more stuff like this.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.