Computer-aided learning and distance education in veterinary clinical pathology

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Abstract

Since 1990, Murdoch University in Western Australia has offered a Master of Veterinary Studies (Small Animal Medicine and Surgery) degree by distance education to veterinarians all over Australia. Similar to the other units within the course, the fundamental instructional medium of the clinical biochemistry component is print supplemented by audio teleconferences, personal phone calls and E-mail. To resolve problems that occurred using mutlipart written cases studies, a simple DOS-based computer program (CaseMaster) was developed to simulate case studies. In 1995, 12 CaseMaster case studies were used to supplement the printed material provided and provide a form of assessment for each of the 21 students enrolled in the unit. Each text file and the files required to run CaseMaster were copied by the program to a disk which was then mailed to the student. The files were keyed to the diskette and could not be copied. Each CaseMaster case was composed of a series of ‘questions’ consisting of a block of text and/or laboratory data ending in a question. Each new question started with the answer to the previous question. Students could go back and look at earlier questions and their own answers at any time, but they could not change their answers once they had been completed. Students were encouraged to include questions for the instructor in their answers where appropriate. The finished case studies were returned to Murdoch University, the answer files printed, comments and assessment made and the printed answers returned to the students with a printed copy of the case study questions. There was an excellent sense of interaction between most of the students and the instructor in these case studies. At the end of the semester, the students were sent a questionnaire and the results analysed. CaseMaster was very well received by the students. They thought it was an excellent way to learn clinical biochemistry and worth developing further. The negative aspects identified by both students and the instructor were the large input of time required, especially in the earlier cases, and the limited word-processing capacity of the program.

Presented at the ISACB Meeting, Glasgow, July 1996.