Biomedical informatics research group develops teaching/diagnostic software

A multidisciplinary informatics research group working in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) has created a Java-based "Problem List Generator" learning tool that helps veterinary students improve deductive reasoning skills as they learn the art and science of diagnosing disease.

Currently being beta-tested by second year students in the VMRCVM, the software is the "brainchild" of veterinary clinical pathologist Holly Bender and a 16-member interdisciplinary team of faculty members and graduate students from across the university collaborating as the Biomedical Informatics Research Group.

The technology appears so successful the United States Department of Agriculture has funded the group with a Higher Education Challenge Grant to develop a diagnostic training module for food animal diseases using the technology.

Bender began working on the project to improve the way veterinary students learn how to apply knowledge in a problem-solving environment. While first-year students enrolled in the DVM curriculum spend much of their time learning facts, second year students are challenged to begin developing "higher order thinking skills" by applying their knowledge in "case-based" problems.

"This can be a very painful process," explains Bender, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. "This software facilitates their thinking."

One of the biggest problems she saw in her students was a tendency to jump to diagnostic conclusions on the basis of pre-conceived notions without fully considering all available evidence. To counter that, the Web-based auto-tutorial forces the students to work through a process where they "arrange data abnormalities in a causal hierarchy."

For example, clinical pathologists routinely evaluate blood and urinary chemistry assays that provide information on blood hemoglobin, white blood cells and a range of other parameters.

By systematically ide

Contact: Dr. Holly Bender
Virginia Tech

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