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KYCO recipient of innovative technology award

November 07, 2016 12:00 AM
Pikeville, Ky.
The Kentucky College of Optometry (KYCO) and the University of Pikeville information technology department were announced as the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s winners of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities (AIKCU) Innovational Educational Technology Award for KYCO’s “Interactive 3-D Virtual Science Initiative.”

Professors at KYCO are no longer limited to using two-dimensional illustrations to teach three-dimensional concepts. Students utilize interactive 3-D technology to learn about complex concepts, including the most delicate intricacies of the eye and neurologic structures.

Donnie Akers, O.D., assistant clinical professor, is working with ViziTech, a national leader in the field of virtual reality education, to create an immersive, virtual environment to deliver content in KYCO’s classrooms and laboratories.

“Students don specially designed 3-D polarized glasses in class and see the words and illustrations in 3-D,” said Akers. “This is especially important when teaching subjects like gross, ocular and neuro anatomy as the material involves three-dimensional structures and their relationships to surrounding structures. This is not just 3-D but interactive 3-D, so if a student has a specific question the professor can interact and manipulate the images to better answer the questions.”

UPIKE’s optometry students are already using interactive 3-D computers in the gross anatomy lab. Traditional lab settings can be limiting and do not allow students to be engaged equally. In KYCO’s virtual reality lab, Akers noted that every student has their own station.

“Each student can perform virtual dissection at the pace and style that best suits their preferred learning style,” said Akers. “They can either dissect and save their progress on a flash drive for viewing at home or they can dissect the same part of the body over and over again.”

The gross anatomy software provides for entire systems to be toggled on and off allowing students to learn the complexity of the nervous and circulatory systems. Once systems are studied individually, all can be reviewed together for final structure relationship studies.

“Dr. Akers’ incredible futuristic design of gross anatomy dissection, anatomy lecture presentation and classroom presentations of ocular anatomy will present life-like 3-D human spatial realities for the students to work on,” said Andrew Buzzelli, O.D., M.S., vice president for optometric education and founding dean of KYCO. “Dr. Akers’ creation of the cutting-edge virtual curriculum puts us in the league of the leading medical colleges in the United States. Harvard University, Cornell University, The University of Chicago, University of Iowa and Arizona State University have all switched to virtual reality pedagogies in their medical school’s basic science programs.”

The AIKCU 2016 awards recognize innovative and successful new campus initiatives in the areas of applications, student online services, technology infrastructure projects and most innovative use of technology for instructional purposes.

“This award for Dr. Akers and UPIKE Information Technology recognizes that the Kentucky College of Optometry is differentiated clearly not only by the optometry curriculum of the future but also the educational technology of the future,” said Buzzelli.

Additional projects are in development that will immerse students in a 3-D learning environment.

Virtual training is used throughout a variety of industries including medicine, transportation, manufacturing and engineering. Advantages of 3-D learning environments include faster recognition, decreased errors, increased effectiveness in learning and attentiveness, and increased test scores.

The Kentucky College of Optometry is the fourth college under the University of Pikeville banner and reflects the institution’s mission of service and strategic initiatives. The American Council for Optometric Education has granted the Kentucky College of Optometry the pre-accreditation classification of “Preliminary Approval.” The University of Pikeville is the 22nd school in the country to have a college of optometry. Construction is under way on a new educational facility to house the Kentucky College of Optometry. Sixty students will be admitted per class for a total of 240. The university expects to provide for the underserved in Central Appalachia and other rural areas of the country.

Kentucky College of Optometry students use interactive 3-D computers in the virtual reality lab on campus.

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