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A learner's perspective
by Beverley Panto

The last five years have witnessed major changes in the way that e-learning has been used to enhance veterinary education. As a recent veterinary student, I have experienced first hand the impact of many of these developments during the course of my studies at the Royal Veterinary College. This article attempts to demonstrate one way in which veterinary students have really started to influence and benefit from these new opportunities through the creation of WikiVet.
On my first day at College, I was given a printed timetable, a library card and a set of notes. The only glimmer on the technological horizon was my new e-mail address! As a new generation of increasingly computer literate students, we fast identified this traditional approach of face-to-face lectures, practical dissection classes and textbooks, as inadequate. Fortunately, before the end of our first year, we were introduced to the brand new virtual learning environment (VLE) which revolutionised our learning experience by enabling remote access to teaching materials.

The VLE was followed by access to an abundance of innovative, interactive learning materials to complement and supplement our veterinary education: from lecture podcasts and video streaming, to interactive quizzes, online gradebooks and comprehensive web-based resources. We quickly recognised that we could develop these materials to further enhance our learning and started to adopt a facilitative role in encouraging academics to create more student friendly teaching resources.               

The shift to web based resources has also created problems for students trying to find relevant, current and reliable online resources in the midst of a plethora of questionable sites. Free collaborative wikis, such as the ubiquitous Wikipedia are now widely used by students as a reference source. However, despite its undoubted value, there are obvious concerns regarding its use in veterinary education.  It is not intended as an educational reference work, has limited veterinary specific content and is open to entries and revision by the general public.

In 2007 a number of UK veterinary schools began to explore the possibility of creating a common veterinary wiki. WikiVet was born out of the vision of developing a peer reviewed, comprehensive curriculum wiki to enhance the teaching of veterinary medicine. The intention has been to create a high quality resource, which can be used as a reliable reference work by students anywhere in the world. The initiative now involves staff and students at four UK veterinary schools with support from the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).  

One of the inspiring things about WikiVet for me is that the collaborative approach has allowed us to draw upon the wealth of skills, experience and enthusiasm that students have to offer. Veterinary students are invariably very opinionated regarding teaching methods, and are prepared to take an active role in conceiving and developing new solutions. As developers, we have been able to harness this enthusiasm in order to steer the evolution of WikiVet in the right direction and feel confident that we are creating a site that will fulfill the real needs of students and young graduates in the future.

The first section of the WikiVet to be developed was called WikiPath which was worked on by over 10 students from different veterinary schools. This has been followed by WikiAnatomy, WikiBugs, WikiDrugs, WikiNormals and WikiPublic Health. New sections currently in development include WikiClinical, a clinical based section, and WikiWild, a section on wild animals and conservation. Certain areas of the veterinary curriculum such as anatomy, histology and microbiology demand visual skills including recognition and identification, so in addition to the text content, there are also thousands of images and videos to further enhance the value of the site.

Assessment drives veterinary education and so we have now started work on an exciting new section called WikiTest. This is a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Trust funded initiative to provide students with a quality assured, self directed learning and assessment resource within the site. I have taken on the role of WikiTest Project Coordinator and am working with students and academics from four UK veterinary schools to develop a bank of multiple choice questions based on the entire veterinary curriculum, with comprehensive positive and negative feedback, including links back into the relevant WikiVet pages. This will act both as a tool for students, to help them prepare for exams throughout the veterinary course and as a refresher for graduates.

WikiVet homepage

Figure 1: WikiVet homepage

Whilst the site is still very much in its infancy, the number of WikiVet registrations has grown rapidly since its launch in October 2008, and to date there are over 3,000 members worldwide. The majority of these at present are UK users, but there are also a large number of members from overseas including from North America, Europe and Asia. Significantly, we also have a growing membership in the developing world where WikiVet provides a valuable and up to date substitute for textbooks and other teaching materials, which are less widely available.

WikiVet has demonstrated to me that students do have an important role to play in helping develop learning resources for the 21st Century. I feel proud to have contributed to starting this process in veterinary education and am sure that many of the next generation of students will also be up for the challenge.

Beverley Panto
Royal Veterinary College 2009 graduate

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