Take 5 with Victoria Roach, Ph.D.

As a way to learn more about the diverse educators who share their expertise with our medical school students, OUWB presents a special interview series called “Take 5.” Let us know what you think.

Assistant Professor of Anatomy Victoria Roach, Ph.D. teaches gross anatomy at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. She came to OUWB in March 2016 after receiving her Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Clinical Anatomy from The University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. A lecturer for undergraduate - and graduate-level anatomy courses, Dr. Roach also led dissection-based laboratory sessions and taught anatomy in both a traditional laboratory setting and online using videoconferencing software and virtual 3D visualizations of the human body. She also taught the grantsmanship and budgetary components of The Financial Aspects of Clinical Trials course offered by Western University’s Continuing Studies Department. Dr. Roach’s research focuses on the role that spatial reasoning ability plays in skill and knowledge acquisition. Her previous work included using eye-tracking technology to map proficiency in spatial reasoning through patterns of visual salience, and she has developed a novel salience-based cueing strategy to train spatial reasoning. She is a member of the American Association of Anatomists and The Committee for Career Anatomists.

You’ve taught anatomy in both a traditional laboratory setting and also in a fully online format environment using videoconferencing and 3D visualizations of the human body. What are the differences between these two modes of teaching?

There are some pretty major differences between the two modes and they both pose very different challenges. For me, as a lecturer in an online environment, the most challenging part is delivering a live lecture to a computer screen instead of to an audience of students. In a live classroom, you get immediate feedback from the students — they laugh at your jokes, they nod their agreement, and you can see when they are confused — but with a computer screen you don’t get that feedback. If the class is viewed synchronously, it helps a little bit with feedback, because the students can send you an emoticon to let you know if they’re entertained or confused, or if they have a question. But if it’s an asynchronous class, like a webcast, you have to get used to hearing yourself speak in total silence and that can be pretty challenging.

I’ve found that with online teaching there was a lot of engagement for students who wanted it. Students would book tutorials and I could illustrate visually with virtual white boards or we could share screens with each other to speak about specific content….Having that technological distance almost gives them a bit of anonymity too so they’re not terribly concerned about your opinion of them.

That was at my previous institution. Here at OUWB, we’re working on getting more online learning opportunities operational, so we’re actually laying the groundwork to create a series of anatomy pre-matriculation modules for students who have been accepted to OUWB, but may want to bolster their anatomy knowledge before they start AFCP in the fall.

Do you have a preference of one over the other?

A lot of teaching is interaction with students and seeing that “aha moment” on their faces. It’s not as rewarding if you don’t see it firsthand. When you see a student discover a structure on their own, and they exclaim, “Oh, this is it!” it’s so delightful as a teacher to see that you helped them reach that discovery on their own. No amount of emoticons will diminish that feeling.

Did you have a defining moment that spoke to you about spatial reasoning as a specialty?

I went into a course-based master’s under the assumption that I had no interest in research, but I later learned that I would have to do some research to fulfill the program requirements — and the research would have to occur as a project that I had to define by myself. Terrified by the idea, I was left to my own devices to ponder. It occurred to me as I was sitting in a movie theater watching Avatar. I was quite impressed with the idea that cinema could develop a visual stimulus that could transcend depth. I wondered how useful that concept would be in a medical/surgical setting.  As it turned out, that ponderance unfolded into my master’s thesis, which ultimately used the same technology that James Cameron used.

Can you sum up spatial reasoning for a layperson?

You could probably liken spatial reasoning to understanding where you are relative to where you parked your car. Some people have a knack for it, while others really struggle with it. Those who struggle with it (spatial reasoning) tend to get lost more often, and have a hard time imagining where things are, or should be. Technically, you could probably think of it as an understanding of three-dimensional structures as they relate to each other. Unfortunately, there isn't one clear, concise definition of spatial reasoning present in the literature - so I’ve been struggling with how to define spatial reasoning for the past eight years now, and that’s the definition I’ve settled on.

What about OUWB resonated most as a place where you would like to teach?

First, I was struck by the idea that there would be an educational research based tenure track position for an anatomist who’s heavily interested in both education and research. In Canada, where I’m from, “educational research” and “tenure track” don’t often appear together. The idea of rewarding people for educational scholarship appealed to me. Secondly, the diversity and inclusion of the staff appealed to me; our department is heavily populated by international professors. It’s wonderfully refreshing to see that value of inclusion and diversity.

Also, I have to mention the holistic review process that OUWB prides itself on. Where I’m coming from, way more emphasis is placed on MCAT scores and GPA. In my opinion, I don’t know if those two metrics would yield the best doctor; someone who aces tests doesn’t necessarily have the social and emotional skills that are critical to good patient care. I find the idea of accepting students because they are more than just a “great MCAT score” very refreshing.  We have to think about the patients. We want a physician who cares — who are empathetic and compassionate — and I don’t think that’s distilled enough through an MCAT or a GPA.

You certainly aren’t the furthest from home for OU’s international professors, but can you tell me, is there anything you miss most about Canada?

London is about a two and a half hour drive from here, so I do go back often. But as far as the things I miss most, beyond my immediate family (Hi Mom!)…Coffee Crisp chocolate bars! They’re so good!!

Can you tell me one thing people at OU probably don’t know about you?

I used to be an auxiliary percussionist in my school band, so I played the bass drum, the crash cymbals, and the sleigh bells. So not requiring much musical talent, just the ability to count and to bang a big drum. The band was very good, and talented enough to hide the cacophony I was responsible for on my various percussion instruments. We won second at nationals, despite all of my crashing and ringing.