Experiences with a personal anatomy website
W.A. Beresford
Department of Neurobiology & Anatomy, West Virginia University,
Morgantown, WV 26506, USA

Topics are setup, context, access, security, benefits and problems. The site - http://wberesford.hsc.wvu.edu - is on a small university PC running homespun html in Windows 95, with unrestricted access. Files are mostly under 2 Mb. It serves medical, dental and paramedical students. The local students take conventional lecture-, laboratory- and computer-based courses, with cadavers, atlases, and microscope slides. Most site material is hand-drawn Powerpoint histology slides, aimed at providing the minimum for theoretical coherence and useful clinical fit. They serve self-learning, and use in lectures, where they complement separately projected 35mm slides. The Powerpoints augment an online histology textbook. The site has some gross-anatomical slides for a paramedical course, a text-only laboratory guide, and sample exams. It also houses an out-of-print monograph and presentations at scientific meetings.
With open access, security measures are needed: details by personal inquiry. Benefits includes world-wide distribution of free learning material; continuity of service (thank you WVU HSC); prompt updating; and informality. Among the drawbacks are the only occasional feedback, despite heavy traffic; the lack of peer criticism; instructors' desire to develop their own teaching materials; the 'house style' may displease some; for the author, Powerpoints are never finished; and actual home & foreign download times are unknown so only the scientific files have micrographs.


The server is a small un-networked 1997 Dell PC running Windows 95 within a University system. The help of the WVU Health Sciences IT professionals in sustaining the site is appreciated, including one replacement of the hard drive. Access from the URL is unrestricted and requires no registration: possible since others' copyrighted material is not used. Security issues do arise.
Except for two files with micrographs for scientific meetings, files are under two Mbs, and in homepun html or '95 Powerpoint. The aim is to allow easy overseas access with older, widely available programs, and to keep home downloading times short.
Although no direct interaction is provided for, local students have such a site (SOLE) and use e-mail.

Around 1997 various ingredients interacted. A note-style histology textbook had not made it into a fourth edition; and the publisher of a 1981 monograph had been absorbed by another house, creating a need for a different outlet.
Medical histology lecture time was reduced, increasing the emphasis on 'self-directed learning', while LCD projectors replaced chalkboards: factors requiring a 'digital remastering' of the erstwhile preferred medium of colored chalkboard diagrams with talk.
Other instructional features were then added to the site - old exams, a copy of my webboard material from another site, and the histology laboratory manual.
Since 2001, I have used the site to offer items presented at scientific meetings, and to try out some of the material contributed to an online course in paramedical anatomy.
The bulk of the site material is Powerpoints (ppts) - histology presented as it is in the lecture - to fill a perceived gap - explanatory diagrams - among the many textbooks and atlases, and among the several good collections of digital micrographs (but too few TEMs) on the Web. Also, my textbook needed illustration in some form.

Our histology lectures are used for explanation and emphasis, more than to expound on theory, and for an introduction to the difficulties with the laboratory slides. Ppts provide tools for emphasis - sequence, fonts, repetition, drawings, etc
The ppt format and even downloading times oblige one to keep the material condensed Ppts still allow a progressive diagram-based mode on instruction
Still feeling my way in the medium, including finding out how much text if one is not there to talk in simple online learning
Some omissions still exist because special senses are taught in a Neurobiology course
Swansong for my histology teaching. More generally, Histology is losing its administrative identity, but maybe this site can contribute can to the discipline's online persona

Easy to amend and keep up-to-date;
Can adopt a more personal and informal tone which may help retain the interest of some students;
The lecture gives more than is on the ppts, but points emerging as essential can be added to the ppts;
If the lecture-theater Zip drive fails, one can retrieve and present the Powerpoint part of the lecture from the website;
Old exams placed on the site provide reassurance ;
Webboard comments on difficulties encountered in one year's lab can be included in the lab guide for the following year
Lab guide is accessible if the hard-copy has been left at home.
Likewise having material on the web allows some choice where to keep heavy textbooks;
World-wide reach, and no charge beyond Web access;

Variety of treatments for study and review - use textbook for before lectures, review from ppts and notes;
Web materials add to the ways of learning to suite different students' tastes;
Constructing one's own material avoids copyright problems and allows one to offer unrestriced access;
Other instructors have a good idea of what is being covered and how - transparency in the curriculum;
Assist distance learning by staying accessible after the online course registration period is over (Problem of most online courses - one cannot return to the site, once one's registration period is over despite a need to review for comprehensive and licensing exams)
serve as an low-tech, fast example of a potential that can be built upon, to which needs to be added, say, live action of cells at work;
A Website can allow younger, research-oriented faculty to establish a more visible teaching presence and exposure to one's peers

Students receive handouts or print them out themselves, thereby losing the on-screen differentiation of items and ideas by color. We issue a CD to offet this, but this creates the problem of keeping Website, Course-site, & CD versions the same
Web learning materials can be kept up-to-date, but may then outstrip what is on licensing exams, e.g. caveolae, proteasomes
Hard to find out how long download times actually are
No established mechanisms exist for peer criticism and review of such Web sites. The closest is to be listed in a journal among recommended sites, but the evanescence of URLs remains a hazard.
Mistakes in technical spelling are hard to spot on-screen and some persist

What works in the context of one university's courses may not be so useful in another
One is never finished with ppts - the temptation to improve persists, & three versions may need updating
The house style may put off some people. The ppts have a black background, because LCD projectors vary greatly in intensity, and many bleach out other backgrounds. Color intensities and fonts are chosen as compromises between monitor-screen and projection-screen legibilities.
Teaching materials are like toothbrushes - one is not eager to use someone else’s
Still very much feeling my way in the medium, including finding out how much text is needed when one is not there to talk, as in totally online courses