During this last academic year, Geoffrey Goodfellow, OD ’01, noticed a small but significant change among the students he teaches at ICO: A marked number of them had switched their note-taking method from pen and paper to stylus and tablet.
It may not seem like much, but Dr. Goodfellow says it demonstrates that students have fully integrated technology into their everyday lives–and they expect the same from their optometric education.
“These students have downloaded the PDF before class and are writing on top of that on their tablets,” says Dr. Goodfellow, associate professor and assistant dean for curriculum and assessment. “This is a generation that’s coming to us with more tools available to them and more comfort using them. It’s important for us to keep up with the experience level of the student and, as faculty members, we have the opportunity to learn new and creative ways to deliver educational material.”
Fortunately, students coming to ICO—and those who are checking it out during an interview or open house—learn quickly that the school has a deep commitment to ensuring the campus is equipped with the latest technology and educational tools. From the state-of-the-art Lecture Center to the comprehensive electronic health record system at the Illinois Eye Institute, ICO strives to balance technology with the human touch in education.
“A lot of the newer optometry schools were built with today’s student in mind, and technology is a huge part of that,” says Jessica Condie, OD ’10, chair of ICO’s Educational Technology Committee. “The fact that we can be an established and well-known school and still be a leader on the technology front is very impressive.”
The committee is made up of five to seven faculty members, two administrators (including Dr. Goodfellow) and a liaison from ICO’s information systems department. The members, who usually meet quarterly, are charged with making sure ICO’s existing technology is working as it’s supposed to and that any new technological needs are met.
“Some of us on the committee are lecturers, some are full time in the clinic, some are administrators—we are from all different walks,” says Dr. Condie, assistant professor. “So when we get together, we ask ourselves what could be better, or more effective, in our different areas and then try to find something to fulfill that need. Once we identify what that might be, we make a recommendation to the administrative team and they guide us from there.”
While ICO has always prided itself on keeping up with the latest optometric advances, the current technology initiatives date back about three years. The 2011 academic year began with the opening of the $3.5 million renovated Lecture Center, offering students an interactive, high-tech way to experience the classroom. Its features include:
All lectures are video and audio recorded and then housed online so students can review them as needed.
Learning management system
Students have access to course handouts, class announcements, presentation notes, assignments, practice questions and gradebooks anytime they wish.
Turning Point (audience response system)
Faculty members use the world-class audio and visual systems in the Lecture Center to present multiple choice questions and surveys to students. Students use their clicker devices to test their own understanding and to give immediate feedback to the instructor.
“Our Lecture Center is just as top of the line, if not more so, than some of the new spaces that have been created in the last few years,” Dr. Goodfellow says. “It’s important to remember that even though our institution is 140 years old, our classrooms are not. There is a longstanding commitment to renovate and rebuild those areas.”
“At a professional school, you can learn as much as you need to know but you also need to interact with patients, students and professors. I like the gadgets and things that are supplementing us, but I don’t want it to go too far.”
– Melissa Spalding ’15
He also notes that the library—which is undergoing a major renovation this year—has extensive digital resources that no longer require faculty or students to trek across campus in search of information.
“Nobody walks to the library anymore to get a research article,” he says. “I can get the PDF from the comfort of my office. Handouts can be downloaded at 3 a.m. by students. Everything is just a lot more available now.”
Fourth-year student Melissa Spalding certainly appreciates the availability of digital content, particularly during those late-night study sessions.
“I attend every class and then I re-watch every lecture,” she says. “I will pause it, take notes, look something up before I move on. That ability to watch it again has served me many times.”
She says ICO’s technology resources really impressed her and went far beyond what she experienced as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, where some professors still used overhead projectors and white boards.
“ICO is definitely as advanced as anyone can be,” Spalding says, adding that the Turning Point system in the Lecture Center has been very useful in helping her learn the concepts of each lecture because instructors can get immediate feedback and tailor their teaching to what the class needs.
Dr. Condie uses the system in class frequently, asking students questions about the material to determine whether they are ready as a class to move on to the next topic. She often tries to make it a game, offering points toward small prizes at the end of class for the student with the highest game score.
“It really makes it more fun, which leads to more engagement, which helps everyone,” Dr. Condie says. “It also helps me to know how much I need to review before I can move on to the next lecture. In the course reviews from last term, students said that was something they enjoyed.”
As useful as it is, the Turning Point system is a good example of how technology can enhance the classroom experience but never replace it.
“Those ‘clicker questions’ are absolutely necessary,” Spalding says. “There is something to be said for attending class. Otherwise you could get the material and never have to show up. At a professional school, you can learn as much as you need to know but you also need to interact with patients, students and professors. I like the gadgets and things that are supplementing us, but I don’t want it to go too far.”
Dr. Condie says the technology committee spends a great deal of time discussing the parameters of those “gadgets” and where they are appropriate for learning.
“That’s a debate a lot of us have: Are we making it too easy for students?” Dr. Condie says. “But my approach is that I want them to be prepared to see patients. I want them to be able to gather information as effectively as possible so they can figure out their own way to store and retain it. Therefore, it streamlines the way to seeing patients and becoming effective clinicians.”
Dr. Goodfellow agrees, and says he still finds plenty of ways for student interaction during his lectures.
“It’s not like I leave behind all the old ways of teaching and teach only with new technology,” he says. “We still do tons of stuff in class where we have students work in groups and I pass out a piece of paper with a question on it for them to discuss. I haven’t found technology that can replace human interaction or group work. Working together, selecting a spokesperson and getting the job done in a team environment is still an important focus of what we do.”
Likewise, in the labs and in the Illinois Eye Institute, students are taught to use the electronic health record as a way to get information quickly so they can spend more time talking with patients.
“In the clinic, the technology supports me in that everything is right there in front of me,” Spalding says. “You don’t have to retype everything if the patient is within normal limits. If you use it properly, you have time to talk to the patient and then click a few buttons.”
As for what’s next, Drs. Condie and Goodfellow say that’s something the technology committee discusses all the time. They want to continue striking the right balance between human instruction and interaction and the need to adapt to changing technology.
“As quickly as technology changes, it would be short-sighted to say we reached a plateau,” Dr. Goodfellow says. “This is a generation coming in with more tools available to them than ever before. In the future, we’ll probably see e-testing where students take their boards on a tablet at a testing center. We’ll see more social media tools within the educational process. Maybe there will be live Twitter feeds in class.”
Spalding, who hopes to do a primary care/ocular disease residency and would like to teach someday, says ICO’s use of technology has given her some good insights into how she wants—and doesn’t want—to integrate digital tools into her own career.
“I really don’t want it to advance anymore,” she says. “It’s nice to have an iPad or a laptop to zoom into something, but I don’t want everything to be online learning or a webinar. I definitely want to work in an institution that has all the tools and gadgets available for me, but how much I use them will be up to me.”
Jacqui Cook is a freelance writer in suburban Chicago. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.