Otis – the virtual Patient – Experiences at Aston University, Birmingham, England, June 2007
In October 2003, we started a new BSc course in Audiology in the School of Life and Health Sciences at Aston University. An important part of the programme is to prepare students for their placements in collaborating teaching hospitals where they are guided by clinical supervisors and practice their clinical skills. Accordingly, we train our students at the university in our “skills lab”, where routine audiological assessments are taught. While searching for good educational software to support our student’s learning, a colleague recommended Otis – the virtual Patient as an excellent training tool, and I was delighted when Christoph Wille, the man behind Otis, was interested to develop an English version which would comply with the standards set by the British Society for Audiology.
After a year of close cooperation, we started to work with the training program in our skills labs for the first time last year and are delighted with the results. Wahid Zaman, who is a clinical audiologist and teaches in the skills labs has used Otis – the virtual Patient across the different years of study, and is full of praise for the options it gives him to present students at d ifferent levels with tasks to practice their skills. He has devised a workbook for the students with Otis tasks, which is marked and contributes towards their grade for this module. The students can work through these tasks in small groups at their own pace during their weekly “drop-in” sessions, after they have been instructed in the larger group (about 15 students at the time) by Wahid. This makes the skills lab manageable for one clinical teacher, with very good learning outcomes for the students.
Previously, we had to find several audiologists to help on a part-time basis with the skills lab, and since we do not run a clinic at the university, we could only teach the basic practical skills on volunteers with normal hearing, i.e. the students tested each other, and had to rely on the clinical placements to provide practice with hearing impaired patients. With the time-pressure on clinical departments to clear their waiting lists, this was far from ideal, and put extra pressure on the clinical supervisors. We are confident that now, after extensive training with Otis – the virtual Patient, our students are much better prepared for their clinical placements, and can start to test patients more confidently. This will give both the students and their clinical supervisors more time to develop advanced clinical skills, and will help the students to pass their initial clinical assessments at an earlier time.
Our students commented how much they like to work with Otis, and appreciate in particular the instantaneous feedback. This follows best practice for learning by doing, and is of immense benefit. With so much to learn, it is nice that the program also has a good sense of humor: the snoring patient who had to wait too long for the next stimulus put in the occasional light relief, much to the amusement of the whole class! Although the workbook tasks are graded, students can train in small groups or on their own until they are competent to pass the workbook tasks. This has resulted in good student engagement and a much higher learning outcome with better grades for the skills lab modules both for our first and second year students. We have also used this audiomentry training program for 3 rd year students who could not gain sufficient placement practice, and helped them to pass their practical assessments by providing a flexible training tool. Otis – the virtual Patient has been so popular that several students have asked for a student licence to put the program on their personal computer, so that they could train at home – so far, copies are only installed on computers in the skills lab at the University. Some clinical supervisors are interested in obtaining a copy for their hospitals, to help further training of audiologists in practice, and commented on the fact that many audiologists would appreciate more practice on non-standard cases, and that they also like to see with an objective method that they get their audiograms right!
In summary, Otis – the virtual Patient has been a great success story for us, and we are grateful for all the hard work which went into the programme to make it such an excellent teaching and learning tool!“