School of Medical Education, Newcastle University

Comprehensive medical education solution inspires teachers and students while further perfecting blended learning

Back in 2016, as part of the renovation of the dissection room at Newcastle University, a decision was made to also upgrade the equipment in the room in order to uphold the university’s commitment to excellence in learning. The anatomy team at Newcastle has been using the Sectra Table ever since, and this is their story.

Everyone is quite keen to use the Sectra Table. Every time we do some training, I learn something new. It’s great to play around with it and see what it can do.

Dr Iain D. Keenan, Senior Lecturer in Anatomy at the School of Medical Education, Newcastle University

Newcastle University is a civic university with one of the largest integrated medical education and hospital complexes in the UK, providing both undergraduate and postgraduate training. The School of Medical Education is particularly dedicated to excellence in learning and teaching. This is demonstrated by the innovative research and scholarship in anatomy education that have been conducted at the school. (Ben Awadh et al., 2022; Keenan et al., 2022; Keenan et al., 2019; Backhouse et al., 2017; Shapiro et al., 2019)

Currently, in addition to the opportunity to use the Sectra Table, students also get access to Sectra Education Portal. This cloud solution provides web-based medical education content on a subscription basis. The user administration tool allows the university to flexibly allocate user licenses to different cohorts and programs when needed. Dr Iain Keenan, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Medical Education and driving force behind the project, emphasizes the diversity that the solution brings—from CT scans and 3D renderings of real patient images to interactive PDFs.

By continuously offering teachers and students a vibrant learning environment, everyone feels supported and valued. “We all highly value the large array of material that is readily available within the Sectra Education Portal public library. We can integrate these resources into our teaching to create dynamic interactions and deeper learning scenarios,” says Dr. Keenan. “Our students are inspired by these opportunities to access real patient images and use digital tools that they will work with as future medical professionals.”

Newcastle University anatomy educators use the Sectra Table to provide integrated anatomy and imaging education for up to 1,000 students every academic year, including undergraduate, graduate entry and postgraduate anatomy students. The Sectra Table is currently used in almost every gross anatomy laboratory practical session and for every anatomical region, whether the students are pursuing a medical, physician associate or biomedical science degree.

The use of imaging technologies in pre-clinical medical education should not primarily be seen as a method for training future radiologists, but as an effective means for learning anatomy.

Dr Iain D. Keenan, Senior Lecturer in Anatomy at the School of Medical Education, Newcastle University

In the dissection room, students are typically split into smaller groups of eight. They then rotate between different stations, one station being a 20-minute session at the Sectra Table. For example, a class on the anatomy of the heart could include scrolling through CT scans and looking at the blood vessels. While they do this, the students also have their 3D-printed models of the heart, printed using real patient data. Recent research shows that this combination of switching between 2D and 3D gives the students a deeper understanding of anatomy. (Keenan et al., 2022)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the School of Medical Education has implemented a blended curriculum, during which Sectra Education Portal has been increasingly used for asynchronous self-directed learning. Due to the availability of flexible licenses, up to 1,000 students can have access to the cloud service, where teachers share URL links. The university is planning further research to investigate the specific value of the solution.

Even after having used the Sectra Table for a long time, students still want to go back for more. It is not just a novelty for them—they see its value as a resource.

Dr Iain D. Keenan, Senior Lecturer in Anatomy at the School of Medical Education, Newcastle University

Students have traditionally found histology education to be challenging. The digital slides in Sectra Education Portal have made this discipline more engaging and stimulating for students, especially compared with viewing only static histological images, as was previously the case. The highly responsive digital zoom function enables the user to focus on specific areas and structures on each slide. Dr Keenan is actively developing this approach further to provide an even more engaging histology learning experience. Histology classes are being developed to integrate interactive computer-based learning, moving away from didactic lecture-based approaches. “The view-sharing feature in the portal helps make teaching more interactive,” says Dr Keenan. This is something that was not possible before.

According to Dr Keenan, students’ understanding of concepts in anatomy, imaging, histology and embryology has been enhanced due to new approaches and increased use of Sectra’s solution. Their research shows that it is an important supplement for visualization and cognitive learning where especially novice students gain a fundamental understanding of the key concepts, structures and their relationships much faster than before. (Keenan et al., 2019)


Ben Awadh, A., Clark, J., Clowry, G. & Keenan, I. D. (2022). Multimodal Three-Dimensional Visualization Enhances Novice Learner Interpretation of Basic Cross-Sectional Anatomy. Anatomical Sciences Education, 15 (1), 127-142. DOI

Keenan ID, Green, E., Haagensen, E., Hancock, R., Scotcher, K. S., et al. (2022, in press). Pandemic-era digital education: Insights from an undergraduate medical programme. (In P. M.
Rea (Ed.), Biomedical Visualisation).

Keenan, I. D. & Ben Awadh, A. (2019). Integrating 3D Visualisation Technologies in Undergraduate Anatomy Education. Adv Exp Med Biol, 1120, 39-53. DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-06070-1_4

Backhouse, M., Fitzpatrick, M., Hutchinson, J., Thandi, C. S. & Keenan, I. D. (2017). Improvements in anatomy knowledge when utilizing a novel cyclical “Observe-Reflect-Draw-Edit-Repeat” learning process. Anatomical Sciences Education, 10 (1), 7-22. DOI 10.1002/ase.1616

Shapiro, L., Bell, K., Dhas, K., Branson, T., Louw, G., et al. (2019). Focused multisensory anatomy observation and drawing for enhancing social learning and three-dimensional spatial understanding. Anat Sci Educ. DOI 10.1002/ase.1929

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