Whether it’s piloting a virtual aircraft on the X-Plane or allowing people with disabilities to experience the joy of walking again on the Oculus Rift, simulations have played a critical role in society. At its core, they afford us real-life experiences, often at significantly less expense, which is why their usage is extremely popular in industries such as health care.
In health care where resources such as time, money, and equipment are vital and limited, simulations are used as a compromise. For this reason, between 2005 and 2006, a project named Computer Assisted Learning for Teaching Oral Pathology to Dental Students was developed.
Supported by the Instructional Technology Courseware Development Fund (ITCDF), the project allowed for researchers from different academic fields to collaborate with each other and pool their respective expertise to create an online learning package consisting of virtual slides to teach undergraduate students (studying in an oral pathology course) microscopic examination.
Experts that were brought on board the project included Joyce Nyhof-Young, the curriculum evaluation coordinator at the Faculty of Medicine, Grace Bradley, a professor at the Faculty of Dentisty, and Deepika Chugh, an assistant professor Chugh at the Faculty of Dentistry.
During the course of the project, 85 annotated virtual slides were prepared using software called ScanScope GS and Zoomify Enterprise, and subsequently placed on the University’s course management Portal.
To aid in the learning experience, each slide had a Notes Box that guided students through the section, with links to images. Also, animated annotations were provided to illustrate diagnostic features.
“There was a recognized need that pathology labs take a lot of equipment, they take up a lot of space, and you have to keep replenishing the resources over and over as slides break,” said Joyce Nyhof-Young.
With this being said, the online program gave students a chance to examine and answer questions on the digitized sections of all the histological sections of slides at anytime and anywhere without requiring them to come into laboratory and use the resources, which was one of its greatest strengths.
Overall the program was effective and generally well received by users, as there were comments on how it was more efficient and easier to use virtual slides as opposed to glass slides by course instructors and students. Moreover, it was speculated that students who utilized the virtual slide program had a better chance of scoring higher on the term test in comparison to students whom utilized only glass slides.
Today, these sentiments still remain true.
For about eight years now, the program has been used to teach undergraduate dental students. Also, Bradley and Chugh are working towards integrating the virtual slide programs for histology, general pathology, and oral pathology in order to make for a more cohesive curriculum that spans from Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) years 1 to 3.
When reflecting back on the project, Nyhof-Young had nothing but positive attitudes and comments.
“It’s a very hands on lab situation and they were hoping to be able to promote a learning experience that students could access 24/7 anytime anywhere,” said Nyhof-Young. “It was a real value added to the Faculty of Dentistry.”