The Future of Education

Edition 14

Accepted Abstracts

Using Virtual Reality and Ontologies to Teach System Structure and Function. The Case of Introduction to Anatomy

Soergel Dagobert, University at Buffalo (United States)

Olivia Helfer, Western New York Library Resources Council (WNYLRC). (United States)


This paper explores the use of virtual reality and ontologies to help learners understand the structure and function of highly complex systems, such as the human body; cars, ships, or airplanes; and buildings. This approach to learning and instruction engages different parts of  learner's mind ꟷ visual-spatial processing and conceptual processing ꟷ for a total learning experience leading to a comprehensive understanding of the system ꟷ the spatial arrangement of its components and the nature and function of each components. This approach has been discussed in several disciplines, including medicine, mechanical engineering, and architecture, using ontologies such as the Foundational Model of Anatomy (FMA) ( The paper presents examples, such as from anatomy: Show a skeleton visible to the learner in 3D just if it was standing there; the learner can take out a bone and examine it more closely. Add muscles, vessels, nerves, organs. Using knowledge from FMA, label and visualize body components, for example: Label each bone with a number that reflects its position in the FMA body part hierarchy. Highlight bones in a region of the body, such as the right foot. Use colors or other means to highlight and visualize components of the body by any of the classifications in the FMA: Concrete body parts( specific structural elements of the body such as the heart, the left lung), Classes of body parts (serous membrane, muscle, nucleated cell, limb),  Body substances (fluids and other non-structural physical entities). Spatial concepts (anatomical planes, directions, and patterns, as well as immaterial spatial entities such as surfaces and spaces), High-level body systems based on physiological function (such as the cardiovascular system, endocrine system). These are also concepts students learn about in courses such as Harvard' s Human Anatomy and Physiology I ( In conclusion, the paper presents some general principles identified from the literature across several disciplines, including medicine, mechanical engineering, and architecture.

Keywords: Learning and instruction, Virtual reality, Ontologies, visual-spatial processing, conceptual processing


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Loures Brandão, G. V. et al. (2018). Virtual Reality as a Tool for Teaching Architecture. In Marcus & Wang (Eds.), Design, User Experience, and Usability: Designing Interactions (pp. 73–82). Springer.

Mohamad, U. H. et al. (2021). An Overview of Ontologies in Virtual Reality-Based Training for Healthcare Domain. Frontiers in Medicine, 8, 698855.

Nilsen, T. (2015). Ontology-driven Education: Teaching Anatomy with Intelligent 3D Games on the Web. 320.

Quevedo, W. X. et al. (2017). Virtual Reality System for Training in Automotive Mechanics. In De Paolis. Bourdot, &  Mongelli (Eds.), Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Computer Graphics (pp. 185–198). Springer.



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