Baylor Class Provides Opportunities for Hands-On Learning with Laparoscopic Training Boxes

  • Lap 1
    Students in the laparoscopic class conduct research projects to investigate the impact of various factors on students' performance with the laparoscopic training boxes. (Courtesy Baylor Photography)
  • Lap 2
    Laparoscopic training boxes are often used by medical students to teach the skills and dexterity needed for laparoscopic surgery. (Courtesy Baylor Photography)
  • Lap 3
    Marty Harvill, Ph.D., offered to oversee an independent research class using the laparoscopic boxes after undergraduate students built their own boxes. (Courtesy Baylor Photography)
March 22, 2017

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Media contact: Tonya Lewis, (254) 710-4656

WACO, Texas (March 22, 2017) – Instead of reading a textbook and taking notes on a lecture, Baylor University undergraduates in an independent research class led by Marty Harvill, Ph.D., are learning the basics of laparoscopic surgery with hands-on activities, developing enough dexterity that some students were able to fold tiny origami hats in a box.

The independent research class provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to use laparoscopic training boxes, a device often used to teach surgical residents how to conduct a laparoscopic surgery. In the year-long class, students in Earle Hall use the laparoscopic boxes and conduct experiments, while older lab assistants manage the lab times and work with the collected data.

“Ultimately, the goal is to teach them how to think about research projects,” said Harvill, senior lecturer of biology in the College of Arts & Sciences. “The second goal is to give them hands-on experience with laparoscopic tools.”

To develop the skills and dexterity required for laparoscopic surgery, students do a number of exercises with the laparoscopic boxes. One of the exercises requires students to move small rubber items from one peg to another inside the box. At the start of last semester, this exercise would take each student approximately 15 minutes, Harvill said. Now, the average time is about a minute and 30 seconds.

Another key element of the class is designing research projects. Small groups of students designed projects to investigate a variety of questions, such as how different types of music might impact people’s performance with the laparoscopic boxes. Another project analyzes the effect of peer- and authority-pressure.

“We’re just finding all kinds of projects we could come up with,” Harvill said. “I think I’ve got 50 or 60 projects in my head right now of things we could do.”

Last semester, the class collected data on the students’ training. The lab assistants are turning that data into research posters which will be presented at Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Achievement (URSA) Scholars Week, March 27-31.

Harvill said the class engages students through hands-on activities, allowing them to better understand the real-life applications of what they’re learning.

“If they want to be a physician, this gives them a hands-on experience of what it would be like,” Harvill said. “It maybe motivates them a bit more if they’re studying the academic side of it and know there’s something else they’ll get to do.”

Working with the laparoscopic boxes can also help students discover whether they want to attend medical school and pursue a career as a surgeon. Some students in the class have discovered their passion for laparoscopic work, while others learned that it might not be the right path for them.

“What we’ve found is that, because this is a visual thing, some people couldn’t do it,” Harvill said. “Their depth perception was not very good. The whole semester, they did improve, but they didn’t improve as much as everyone else.”

The laparoscopic boxes used in the class were created by a student, Davis Payne, who is now a senior health science studies major.

“I started looking up online how to build one just for the fun of it and found out where to get the materials,” Payne said. “Ebay has everything. I took the bits and pieces of the articles’ design that I liked and made one using my own measurements.”

After building some laparoscopic boxes, Payne wanted to do student trials. When volunteers did not consistently show up for the experiments, Harvill offered to create an independent research class, allowing students to learn how to use the laparoscopic boxes while Payne and lab assistants conduct their trials.

The lab assistants help the younger students with their designs and learn how to mentor a project, Harvill said.

“It’s been fun to have a teaching role, and to see something you’ve made and see it applied,” Payne said.

After the success of this year, the laparoscopic class will become an annual opportunity, with Laparoscopic 1 available in the fall semester and Laparoscopic 2 in the spring.

“As far as I can tell, I don’t think there are any undergraduate places in the United States that are doing anything like this,” Harvill said.

by Kalli Damschen, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit

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