Google Images Search Results as a Resource in the Anatomy Laboratory: Rating of Educational Value

JMIR Med Educ. 2022 Oct 21;8(4):e37730. doi: 10.2196/37730.


Background: Preclinical medical learners are embedded in technology-rich environments, allowing them rapid access to a large volume of information. The anatomy laboratory is an environment in which faculty can assess the development of professional skills such as information literacy in preclinical medical learners. In the anatomy laboratory, many students use Google Images searches in addition to or in place of other course materials as a resource to locate and identify anatomical structures. However, the most frequent sources as well as the educational quality of these images are unknown.

Objective: This study was designed to assess the sources and educational value of Google Images search results for commonly searched anatomical structures.

Methods: The top 10 Google Images search results were collected for 39 anatomical structures. Image source websites were recorded and categorized based on the purpose and target audience of the site publishing the image. Educational value was determined through assessment of relevance (is the searched structure depicted in the image?), accuracy (does the image contain errors?), and usefulness (will the image assist a learner in locating the structure on an anatomical donor?). A reliable scoring rubric was developed to assess an image's usefulness.

Results: A total of 390 images were analyzed. Most often, images were sourced from websites targeting health care professionals and health care professions students (38% of images), while Wikipedia was the most frequent single source of image results (62/390 results). Of the 390 total images, 363 (93.1%) depicted the searched structure and were therefore considered relevant. However, only 43.0% (156/363) of relevant images met the threshold to be deemed useful in identifying the searched structure in an anatomical donor. The usefulness of images did not significantly differ across source categories.

Conclusions: Anatomy faculty may use these results to develop interventions for gaps in information literacy in preclinical medical learners in the context of image searches in the anatomy laboratory.

Keywords: Google; anatomical images; anatomy; anatomy laboratory; educational value; images; information literacy; internet search; literacy information; medical education; medical students; scoring rubric.