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Tablet technology eases student veterinarian learning curve

This article is the first of a monthly series highlighting strategic areas in the OVC Healthy Futures Strategic Plan 2022

Technology will improve many aspects of learning for student veterinarians and will increasingly be integrated into their future careers. Key objectives of the Vet Med 2.0: A New World of Instructional Technology area will include supporting student learning through advanced technology in classrooms and teaching spaces and improving student confidence and competence through use of state-of-the-art teaching technologies.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the value of on-demand videos as a teaching tool? 

In the case of first-year DVM students at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC), access to videos and photos via tablet technology seems to be easing the learning process for veterinary anatomy. 

Biomedical Sciences professor Jeff Thomason has long used videos as part of teaching the first year veterinary anatomy course to illustrate body structures and dissection techniques. They’ve been invaluable, but also limited to the introductory portion of each class. Students would watch the video, then refer to the lab textbook during dissections, assisted by Thomason, grad student teaching assistants and lab technicians, Roman Poterski and David Robinson. 

Student veterinarians using tablet in class

Thomason has been exploring options to further enhance video accessibility. “With tablet technology, it was obvious immediately there was good functionality with a low cost,” he says. 

The new approach allows students to take the videos along as they work their way through each lab section. 

After an intro lecture to provide background for the day’s lesson, the students move into the lab portion of the class using the tablets. Each one holds a set of videos for a given lab for a particular species, along with photos of individual areas and diagrams for that day’s lesson. The videos guide students through each step, not only illustrating each structure, but also dissection techniques. 

The tablets allow students to review the information throughout the class. It’s a bit like having a portable Dr. Thomason, they note. 

They can pause videos and review as often as they like throughout the class, notes Thomason. They can also easily pop out of the video to look at still photos of particular areas. 

The overall verdict is uniformly positive as students note the plusses – photos of each area offer spelling and information on particular structures, close captioning on the videos provides spelling of technical terms, as well as the ability to pause and review throughout the class. They also note the value of having the video right beside them with accompanying visuals as they work through dissections.

Students also teach and coach each other and “that’s proven
to be very effective,” adds Thomason.

Close captioning on the videos has proven helpful on a couple of fronts – spelling of specific terms, a boon for recalling details, as well as keeping the noise level low. There aren’t multiple tablets competing for sound, adds Thomason, smirking at the thought of 19 versions of his voice simultaneously.

Each group of three or four students has a tablet. One student operates the tablet, while the rest work through the dissection while watching and listening to the video as it goes through each step. 

The course introduces students to the anatomy of a number of domestic mammals, studying species side-by-side. Very few veterinarians work in single species, notes Thomason. Working on species side-by-side has advantages. “If they understand one mammalian species they can understand them all. There are differences but if you learn the anatomy of one mammal you can understand the modifications in another species.”

The fall semester focused on thorax, abdomen, head and neck. In the winter semester, different regions of the body are covered – the pelvis, reproductive system, as well as hind and front limbs. 

Thomason hopes the tablets work as well with the muscular system they have for the initial systems covered. 

“Limbs are challenging. Students come into first year knowing where the heart, stomach and brain are and what they do. Limbs are brand new stuff for most of them. If you know the basic structure of a muscle you’re going to repeat that structure a hundred times but the details are quite tricky for them.”

Adds Thomason, none of this would have happened without the team he works with – anatomy lab preparators and instructors Poterski and Robinson, OVC videographer Kevin Hogg and grad student Danielle Halucha who took on the task of editing the videos and saving and renaming each photo, loading them all onto the tablets and organizing them so students can scroll through and find individual items easily.

Thomason redid the lab manual when he took over the course in 1994. Realizing students wanted more detail on how to do actual dissections, Thomason set to work recording every lab in every lecture. This next step with tablets uses the same concepts but allows students much more hands-on learning during each lab. 

It allows them do the steps at their own pace, he adds. They’ve found ways to adapt it to what works for their group.

Students also teach and coach each other and “that’s proven to be very effective,” adds Thomason. 

An added advantage, less stress in the class. Notes Poterski, “Listen to the class, lots of discussion, lots of chatter, but there’s not a stressful feel to the room.”