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HomemiequipmentTeaching Moves to a New Level Online

Teaching Moves to a New Level Online

A new interactive online eyewear resource will provide educators and students in developed and developing nations with the most up-to-date resources for teaching optical dispensing.

For most of us, digital communication is pretty much constant. In fact, half of the Australian population admits to using their phone while trying to nod off to sleep!1

However, in developing communities it’s very different. Optometric education continues to be primarily delivered through traditional hard-copy materials. For the past 15 years, a significant proportion of those materials – those with a focus on lens education – have been provided by the Varilux Academy Education Initiative (VAEI), and sponsored by Essilor. Indeed, over that time, more than 70 schools across Asia Pacific, South Africa and parts of the Middle East have benefited from this resource.

Leaping into the World of Online

In April this year lens education moved online. Working in partnership through the VAEI program, Essilor AMMERA (Asia-Pacific, Mediterranean – CIS, Middle East, Russia and Africa) and the Brien Holden Vision Institute (the Institute) launched Vision Link (www.visionlinkeducation.com), an online resource that can be accessed by both teachers and students. It provides them with new and updated educational resources and learning tools.

..Vision Link is an online resource that (provides teachers and students)… with new and updated educational resources and the very best learning tools…

One of the tools available to them is the new Virtual Refractor software – one of the first interactive and computer assisted teaching tools to be used in optometric education. Virtual Refractor software simulates a complete refractive examination and equips students with high-level refraction skills before they’re given the opportunity to test patients. The ‘patient’ is the computer itself. The patient looks through a phoropter at a selection of test charts and responds to questions regarding the effects of lens combinations introduced by the examiner. Virtual patient responses are based on physiological optics and psychophysics.

The Virtual Refractor software enables a complete subjective refractive routine to be performed using the most basic techniques, including astigmatic analysis with a fan chart, the crossed cylinder and the duochrome.

A Flexible Learning Device

Virtual Refractor software was developed as a teaching aid for lectures, small group demonstrations and for individual practice and assessment. Its flexibility ensures its use across a wide range of students – because the characteristics of the ‘patient’ can be manipulated to provide various levels of difficulty, it is especially suitable as an introduction to subjective refraction for students. However, it also provides a useful ‘workshop’ for the more experienced student or optometrist to try out new techniques and refresh themselves in both the theory and practice of optometry.

Having been tried and tested in schools across the Asia-Pacific region for over 10 years, the software has been re-written as part of the VAEI program to enable online delivery, an improved user experience, and a new interface and design.

32-week Ophthalmic Lens Curriculum

Another resource now available online via Vision Link is the 32-week ophthalmic lens curriculum, which has long been used by ophthalmic institutions in their teaching practice. The University of New South Wales, for instance, has incorporated the curricula into their teaching of dispensing and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry in India has included the 32 week curriculum as part of the Common Minimum Optometric Curriculum for all of its four-year degrees programs.

Vision Link provides access to an enhanced version of the curriculum, which was written by Dr. David Wilson of the Brien Holden Vision Institute and reviewed by Professor Mo Jalie, Visiting Professor in Optometry at the University of Ulster, UK, and to the Essilor Academy Europe (Paris). The online version incorporates information about the newest advances in lens technology, using innovative techniques to maximise student interaction.

Interactive Tutorials

Vision Link provides access to 12 interactive tutorials that deliver a step-by-step process of refraction through learning activities, animations and videos, providing feedback to students each step of the way. Focusing on the more challenging aspects of refraction, each learning activity has been identified as a topic or process that students find difficult to learn or practice. Those topics include predicting prescriptions from visual acuity, age and symptoms, controlling accommodation, the +1 test and binocular balance.

The online animations allow students to visualise what happens to the eye during the process of refraction; and in doing so, provide them with an invaluable insight into the workings of the eye – all from the comfort of their computer.

A handbook covering the process of refraction is also available for students to read online or download. Designed to complement the tutorials and assist student learning, the manual reinforces the concepts and can be used as additional reading if a student has difficulty understanding the theories. Additionally, access to realistic case studies can assist in developing student understanding of what may happen with real patients and all modules include questions for the students to demonstrate their understanding of the topic.

Together, these tools aim to build the students’ confidence before they begin to practice in a clinical setting.

Ideal for Distance Students

In Australia, it is anticipated that Vision Link will be used to support the education of distance students studying optical dispensing. Donna Cashman, Course Co-ordinator and Lecturer at the Central Institute of Technology, said the Institute has been using VAEI materials for the past four years in its Certificate IV in Optical Dispensing course. She said that by providing the resources online, Vision Link will be a valuable resource in “being able to provide students with flexible learning facilities and [improve] communication with distance students”.

At the Lotus College of Optometry in Mumbai, India, students have also had access to VAEI materials for some time. The College Principle, Prema K Chande said the launch of VAEI materials online will greatly assist teachers by ensuring topics being taught are always up-to-date.

“The resources, particularly the progressive [lens] trouble shooting kit are an extremely useful resource to train undergraduates,” said Ms. Chande. “Online resources would be an invaluable way to keep us informed of the latest progressive designs, and access to videos and other interactive tools will be important teaching tools. Having the resources online increases the ease of access dramatically both to students and to younger faculty.”

Ms. Chande’s comments regarding access to the resources have been echoed by many others, who appreciate both the benefit of providing students and new educators with direct access to resources.

Dr. John Ang, Vice President of Customer Development at Essilor AMMERA said ensuring the resources are constantly updated is a priority.

“The technology in lenses has grown exponentially over recent years and will continue to do so. Providing access to continually updated materials online ensures that educators will always be teaching the latest technology to their students. No longer will new teachers have to share hard copies of the materials with others – they can rely on securely-stored, up-to-date information at the touch of a button,” said Dr. Ang.

Expanding Skills in Developing Nations

Professor Brien Holden at the Brien Holden Vision Institute said he hopes Vision Link’s expanded reach to teaching institutions across Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Russia and Africa, will contribute significantly to the growth of optometry skills in developing communities.

“Essilor and the Institute are both passionate about enhancing optometry skills around the world. In a world where uncorrected refractive error is responsible for 640 million people being blind and vision impaired, the training of thousands of new optometrists is imperative,” said Professor Holden. “Vision Link provides easy access to essential resources in countries where optometry teaching materials are limited. We hope Vision
Link enables ophthalmic teachers to provide the very best education to the new generation of optometrists.”

University lecturers and tutors can find more information and register for Vision Link at www.visionlinkeducation.com or contact Helen Venturato, Essilor Professional Services Manager, Australia and New Zealand at [email protected]

Jo de Bry (née Humphries) is a freelance communications specialist who primarily works within the eye care community. Passionate about eye health in developing communities, she has worked with the Brien Holden Institute, the International Agency for Blindness Prevention and as the Global Communications Manager for Optometry Giving Sight.


1 http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/survey-shows-strange-mobile-phone-habits-20090119-7k1m.html