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Computer program aims to teach science, communication to students


Atlanta, Ga. - Students' time spent playing Wii or Playstation III might soon be considered preparation for the education model of the future - video games.

ATLANTA, GA. — Students' time spent playing Wii or Playstation III might soon be considered preparation for the education model of the future — video games.

One veterinarian thinks his computer-program idea is key to strengthening not only student interest in anatomy and science, but understanding the veterinary profession and communication skills.

Small-animal practice owner-turned-amateur computer programmer Duffy Jones, DVM in Atlanta, Ga., is working on a prototype of a currently unnamed game that he hopes soon will be ready for presentation to middle-school-age students.

"My original goal was to make this a game for younger kids, elementary-, middle-and high-school level, to help them understand more about our profession," Jones says. "It is still very much in development, and the idea is to have a video game-like program that can be given to veterinarians so they can go into the classrooms and have a good, fun presentation that would explain our profession."

Offering patient case examples, the program highlights not only the DVM role, but also those of other practice staff, including veterinary technicians, administrators and receptionists.

Level 1: the beginning

During his years at Tufts University's School of Veterinary Medicine, Jones realized his passion for teaching and interacting with students. An outreach program geared to help intercity kids better understand anatomy and sciences provided Jones his first opportunity at student interaction.

"I took a hands-on approach. We got them into an anatomy lab, and they got to touch and feel hearts," he recalls. "I really tried to teach it to them in a non-lecture format, and I had a passion for education."

Level II: present day

Several years after graduating and now running his own practice, Jones is rekindling his fire for teaching and helping students. After seeking advice from teacher friends to help understand what students might best respond to, he developed the idea of wanting to create a video-game-formatted presentation that taps into an existing interest shared by many students.

But the educational benefits are not only geared toward children. Providing veterinary colleges with the presentation program will provide students with outreach experience similar to Jones, while increasing their likelihood of success in the profession. "You make the veterinary students be the presenters. It forces them to learn communication skills," he says. "If you can explain an issue to a middle-school student, you can explain it to your clients. It is the art of communication that is really being lost in veterinary schools, and this could help with their skills."

Level III: implementation

With the idea in place, all that is lacking is funding and technical support. Though Jones talks with software programmers and interested industry members, he says many need to see a prototype before they will sign on to the project.

Trying to learn general computer programming in the little spare time he has after completing his duties as a practice owner and father, Jones is working to create a first-draft version that he can test in the classroom. "I'm trying to develop a prototype that I can take into the schools and make sure it works," he says. After gaining students' approval, Jones will present his rough-draft product and hope to attract software engineers and funding that can improve its quality.

Aiming to have the prototype finished by the summer, Jones says total costs will really depend on animation quality — and he wants the best he can get. "My goal is to make it as close to Walt Disney-caliber as I can to really capture these kids," he says.

Starting at the middle-school level, Jones eventually will adapt the program to be applicable to high school students. With three cases in each of several veterinary-medicine areas — large-animal, small-animal, exotic and zoonotic disease analysis — the program will allow students to perform multiple tests and procedures on patients in order to determine their ailments and treatment.

"The kids will have to work through the different potential ideas of what the problem could be," Jones says. "If they get on the wrong track, the program would say that the patient is not doing better to help guide them in the right direction."

In the end, Jones' focus is to interest students in science and the veterinary profession.

"This will give them an idea of what veterinarians do every day, how we do it, and hopefully, it will also get some learning in there," he says.

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