Mount Royal University prof celebrates growth of world-leading textbook

10th edition of Human Anatomy and Physiology hits bookstores

In the race to keep up with the changing world of academic publishing, Katja Hoehn has been a leader of the pack.
It's been eight years since Hoehn, MD, PhD, first coauthored North America's most-widely distributed textbook on the human body. After publishing the 10th edition of Human Anatomy and Physiology last month, the Mount Royal University Department of Chemical and Biological Sciences professor reflected on how her work has been shaped by the shift in how students learn best in the digital age.

“The textbook has changed almost completely from the original version,” said Hoehn. “Students have grown up with advanced technology and they’re used to looking at very sophisticated images. They expect to see realistic, three-dimensional art with vibrant colours in their textbooks.”

Professor Katja Hoehn demonstrates how one page in her bestselling textbook, Human Anatomy and Physiology, has changed over the past decade.
— Photo by Bryan Weismiller

Hoehn’s 29-chapter anatomy textbook is now chopped into bite-sized chunks, with more room for detailed figures to teach and tell the story. Each chapter now contains a QR code that can take students to a video of a clinician describing why the chapter is important in the real world of clinical medicine.

Today’s students are also afforded more opportunity to pause, apply and reflect on what they’ve learned. Concept maps have been built in to the beginning of each chapter to better chart the academic journey.

It’s far from window dressing. The material has changed, too, thanks to advances in the medical field.

“Our knowledge of the underlying causes of diseases and how they are treated continues to grow and evolve and new findings have to be incorporated into the text,” said Hoehn, who teaches biology in the Faculty of Science and Technology.

Prior to 2006, Human Anatomy and Physiology was written solely by internationally known author Elaine N. Marieb, an anatomy and physiology professor in the United States. Hoehn was recruited to co-write the academic bestseller because of her reviews of previous editions.

Her writing process has also evolved since she first spent evenings, weekends and summers penning her first full textbook.

Hoehn and Marieb have spent considerably more time poring over the art and supplementary online materials in the form of animations and other online tools. The duo aimed to make the figures look as good projected on an overhead or a smart device as on two-page paper spreads.

Getting the students’ perspective is an integral part of the development process, Hoehn stressed. Mount Royal students have pitched in by participating in focus groups that provided much-welcomed feedback on the art.
Hoehn noted that students still prefer paper textbooks in anatomy and physiology, with an estimated 90 per cent opting for the hardcopy instead of the e-version. On the other hand, learners additionally seek electronic material — particularly on their mobile devices.

“As textbook authors we have to be flexible and think about all of this as we develop the materials,” she said.

Despite going to great lengths to keep up with the times, there’s one thing that’s stayed constant through each edition — and that’s the author’s passion for her work.

“Writing a textbook like this is truly a labour of love,” Hoehn said. “I want the best possible textbook for my students and I'm driven to make this the best textbook that it can be. I believe that the changes I've made can help students learn even more effectively than previous editions.

“I also feel that working on this textbook combines all of my skills from medicine, research and teaching, and allows me to make the greatest contribution to the education of allied health professionals.”

Bryan Weismiller — Feb. 19, 2015