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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Fall 1995, Vol.15, No.3
Plugging P&S into the:Technological Age: by Doug Brunk
Computer Applications as Teaching Tools

Although most of them didn't grow up in the Information Age, many P&S faculty are working computer-based material into their courses. Some are even designing their own programs.

The most recent prototype in development involves a partnership between Columbia and the electrical engineering and computer science departments at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. Using magnetic resonance images and computed tomography images of a male cadaver provided by the National Library of Medicine, the Columbia-Stevens team plans to design a computer-based system for students enrolled in human anatomy.

"It's going to be a massive project to identify all the objects," says Pat Molholt, assistant vice president and associate dean for scholarly resources. "We're going to start with the thoracic cavity. Then we're going to create a segment of the curriculum that will help students prior to dissection review what they're going to see, what the order of the dissection will be, the relationship between objects. They will, we hope, have large screen displays in the anatomy lab that will help them accomplish the dissection. The system will also aid in post-lab review."


DR. Jack Martin.

Other faculty members are exploring ways to bring computer-based technology into the classroom. Dr. Jack Martin, for instance, is developing computerized versions of MRI images as a primary way to teach brain structure in his neuroanatomy course.

"There's an emotional side to handling the brain that is never going to be captured with a computer," says Dr. Martin, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry. "It's awesome to hold a brain, and we should always have that available for students. But I think the more in-depth intellectual experience is going to come from other teaching modalities. For many students, it may be sufficient to manipulate a 'virtual' brain on a computer screen with a joy stick to gain familiarity and an understanding of structure. Actual hands-on experience is important for surgeons, of course. But in the future, who knows? There is talk of physicians doing surgery from a monitor with MRI."

Dr. Martin's program will enable students to cross reference computer digitized brain slices, MRI slices, and histological material.

"The nice thing about MRI is you can manipulate it, you can slice the brain any way you like," he says. "We can tweak the slicing routine so that we can generate images that are comparable to the ones from the histological material. It's helpful for students to see biological structure at different levels."

In psychiatry, Dr. Steven Hyler has developed a computerized Personality Diagnostic Questionnaire (PDQ-4) that provides clinicians and researchers with a quick way to assess personality disorders. Though it was developed for clinical purposes, Dr. Hyler uses PDQ-4 as a teaching tool in small groups.

"This is a way for medical students to see what we're interested in when we make personality diagnoses," Dr. Hyler says. "People can educate themselves and see what items are required for, say, paranoid or obsessive-compulsive personality."

Other computer-based prototypes dealing with psychiatry are in various levels of development. One project uses scenes from the 1976 movie "Taxi Driver" starring Robert De Niro to teach medical students how to perform and record a complete mental status examination. The program uses full motion video and a sophisticated text reader that can analyze and give feedback to complicated text responses written by students.

"A lot of this is in its infancy now," Dr. Hyler says of such projects. "I can foresee a time in the not-so-distant future when we have more of an interaction between the computer and the individual through voice recognition. We might even be able to code somebody's facial appearance and responses through sophisticated equipment."

In another endeavor, Dr. Andrew Wit, professor of pharmacology, is working with the Curriculum Design Studio staff at the Center for Academic Information Technology to design a tutorial for his clinical pharmacology course. He pictures a self-contained program that monitors and tests students' progress, provides feedback, and controls their path through the material.

"I don't want it to be a textbook on the computer. I want it to be fun and exciting," Dr. Wit says. "We'd put in some animation so that students might be looking at monitors on the screen that would provide information about patients, which would be the same kind of visual display that they would see on an intensive care unit or a coronary care unit."


copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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