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App gives optometry students instant feedback


Dr Kwang Cham and Anthea Cochrane   Image: Kwang Cham


By Philip Ritchie


University of Melbourne optometry students can now receive feedback directly after their exams, instead of waiting potentially weeks for academics to address the cohort, thanks to an iPad app.

Students using the app, called OptomOSCE or Object Structured Clinical Examination, will receive feedback and results after finishing four optometry exams: binocular indirect ophthalmoscopy, fundus lens, tonometry and gonioscopy.

The app was co-developed by Dr Kwang Cham and Anthea Cochrane, lecturers at the University of Melbourne’s Optometry and Vision Sciences department. Dr Cham has been working on the technology for two years.

‘We were successful with a university grant that led us to develop an app for OSCE assessments,’ Dr Cham said. ‘We use this app for clinical assessment to provide timely, written feedback.’

The app is based on RapidFeedback, another app developed for oral presentations by Professor David Shallcross who directs the Engineering Learning Unit at the university. Dr Cham said OptomOSCE wouldn’t have been possible without backing from a university Learning and Teaching Initiative, and a Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Seed Funding grant.

The app works in the same way as a paper-based examination component does, but includes the perks of technology: a check-list, scoreboard, timer, spaces for examiner comments, and a student login. There’s an automatic failure indicator in the event that, for example, unsafe or unprofessional behaviour is detected.

While the many technological additions are helpful, Dr Cham said the greatest benefits to students and examiners are the removal of human error and the streamlining of feedback and results.

‘One of the struggles is we can have 120 students doing OSCEs across the program all at similar timepoints, and it’s nearly impossible to give timely, written feedback.’

With the app, results and pre-determined feedback, such as various comments on a student’s technique, complications or how they went overall, are emailed to students following completion. Examiners can also add additional comments where they think it’s necessary.

‘If there are contradictory or additional comments that the pre-filled text didn’t cover, we have the ability to add or delete or input any that we want as well.’

Student feedback about the app had been strong, Dr Cham said. Ninety-five per cent of users agreed that the written feedback using the app was timely, relevant and high quality; ninety per cent thought it helped identify strengths and weaknesses.

Academics favoured the app too, according to a staff survey, noting it as a cost-effective, time-saving and complementary for delivering feedback and supporting learning.

While optometry students have a working version of the app, there’s more work involved to make it easier to use and expand into other disciplines.

‘There are so many techniques that we can develop it for, so it’ll take a few more years before it’s completed. There’s ongoing development; we’re trying to make it more efficient and have more user flexibility.’

 ‘For the past year, we have collaborated with the department of nursing and physiotherapy to develop an app for the School of Health Sciences, making it more generic and with potential future adaptations for the audiology and social work disciplines.’

Dr Cham said the app wasn’t just about the four exams currently covered. He would like to see it developed to include clinical placements where optometrists can give feedback to students using the app.

‘Our final goal is to be able to do a full patient consultation using the app, so starting from history up to patient-advisor management and therapeutic prescribing, rather than just being technique-specific.’

Dr Cham is interested in collaborating with universities to include the app in other programs.

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