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Learning theoretical knowledge doesn't have to be boring

Abstract

Marta Kankofer was one of a small team that developed teaching materials for veterinary students to allow them to use their cognitive abilities to solve virtual problems. The VetVIP project promotes self-study based on solving problems and aims to increase satisfaction and motivation among second-year students, who find themselves in a theory-heavy stage of the veterinary course

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IN the majority of veterinary faculties, teaching theoretical topics to veterinary students is a challenge. Students usually begin their veterinary studies with the expectation that they will soon be learning about diagnosis, treatment and even clinical procedures. In reality, the first, second and third years are often used for learning theory, which, for the majority of students, doesn't seem to relate to clinics and practice, and they feel disappointed.

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From the teacher's point of view, teaching theoretical topics, such as biochemistry, during these years is crucial for providing a good foundation to learning. Teachers present facts step-by-step in a logical way, but sometimes their application to practical aspects and how the facts relate to each other are overlooked. Additionally, teachers want to transfer as much knowledge as possible and give clear explanations of the mechanisms of reaction and processes.

Currently, the expansion in knowledge results in teachers providing more and more detail; however, topics often become overloaded with details that are important for science but not for clinical practice.

Marta Kankofer is based at the University of Lublin in Poland; she presented the VetVIP concept at a workshop on new ways of teaching veterinary basic sciences at this year's VetEd symposium at Bristol vet school

The aim of our project was to integrate theoretical and clinical knowledge to increase the interest of students learning biochemistry and physiology. We used a problem-based approach in preparing new computer didactic materials for second-year students. Virtual patients with virtual problems were created. Virtual patients are regularly used in teaching clinical topics in human and veterinary medicine, but are not yet used in teaching theoretical subjects. A group of teachers of theoretical and clinical topics from three European universities, supported by the e-learning department at Hannover university and a computer company in Munich, worked for two years on new ways to present 30 virtual cases, as outlined in the box on p ii.

Our approach did not cover diagnostic procedures or treatments, only the relationship between a particular clinical sign, its effect at cell/tissue level and the consequences to the organism. We tried to follow the expectations of both students and teachers by introducing a clinical situation and the problem in such a way that students felt they were solving the problem. We included the facts as they are presented during regular teaching, but from a different point of view.

All cases start with a real-life story and are supported by funny as well as serious pictures, schemes and graphs. Even song was included to help with recall.

The topics were carefully selected, based on discussions with students about the subjects that they found difficult, the experience of teachers and the relevance of biochemistry in clinical practice. Over the course of several meetings, the authors discussed the content and ways of presenting particular aspects of diseases. Finally, students were given access to the first 15 cases. They also had to participate in a ‘before’ and ‘after’ test, answering questions relating to their acceptance of this way of teaching.

The statistics showed clearly that this way of teaching could increase learning success, which was visible not only from the test results, but also through better marks in biochemistry exams.

As a result of this work, we believe that student motivation can be increased. Logical thought instead of mechanical recollection should guarantee that students retain theoretical knowledge for longer. The most important thing, however, is the introduction of clinical thinking and reasoning, which is crucial for veterinary practice.

Sharing findings

The project has been presented at local and national meetings as well as international conferences. At a workshop held during this year's VetEd event, lecturers involved in teaching theoretical topics got together to discuss ways of raising students' motivation for basic sciences. As it turned out, they were really interested in this way of teaching, as well as in developing broader cooperation on virtual problems and patients in veterinary medicine.

The main product of the project is the hope that it will change the way students study biochemistry and other theoretical topics. Preliminary opinions of students are promising. Further analyses are necessary to evaluate students using biochemistry in their clinical years to see if this way of teaching influences their clinical reasoning. What is also important is that our participation in the project resulted in a new vision for teaching biochemistry from a teacher's point of view, which allowed the collection of new experience in didactics. We encourage all potential users to check how this way of teaching may influence their learning success and perception of biochemistry. Further information about the project and the possibility of other faculties accessing the cases can be found at www.vetvip.eu.

Reflecting real life

These 30 virtual cases mirror real-life situations faced by vets. Between the virtual diagnoses, puzzles and obstacles presented, underlying theoretical mechanisms and clinical signs are hidden. All this demonstrates their interrelation and the importance of mastering the theoretical and practical aspects of veterinary competence. Problems additionally feature pictures of patients and graphs. This way of presenting information, which is different from books, makes studying biochemistry more interesting and motivates students to deepen their knowledge for fun and not merely out of duty. The teaching aims for each case are available at www.vetvip.eu

Hannover university

  • Carp farm visit.

  • Identifying the killer.

  • Your nephew's sick guinea pig.

  • Death by broken heart.

  • Delicious white liquid.

  • Sweet blood.

  • Love hurts . . ..

  • My friend's sick kitten.

  • Couch potato.

  • When pink piglets turn white.

Budapest university

  • Paralysed by fear – your first patient.

  • I need a paternity test, and fast.

  • Haemostasis.

  • The really fat cat.

  • Ricketts.

  • Coma patient that won't wake up.

  • Lymphoedema.

  • Addison's disease.

  • The pressure is rising.

  • Hepatic encephalopathy.

Lublin university

  • Kajak the explorer is trying to reveal the secret of energy production.

  • My first patient.

  • That's what friends are for.

  • Sugar sustains.

  • Working muscles.

  • Hyperlipidaemic pony.

  • Beneficial or deleterious cortisol.

  • Inflammation.

  • A dairy tale.

  • To be or not to be pregnant.

Acknowledgments

Alongside Marta Kankofer, those who worked on this project were: Zbigniew Gradzki of the University of Life Sciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Lublin; Jan Ehlers, Christine Kleinsorgen, Hassan Naim and Maren von Koeckritz-Blickwede, of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover; Tibor Bartha and Mira Mandoki, of the Szent István University, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Budapest; and German partner, Martin Adler.

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