Innovative teaching method earns prestigious grant for SAHP

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | September 27, 2013

Image with caption: UNMC is one of the national leaders in teaching via virtual microscopy.

UNMC is one of the national leaders in teaching via virtual microscopy.

Traditionally, when cytology is taught, it's done at the microscope.

That means there's only room for a limited number of heads. One instructor and six students gather round, for example, at a seven-head 'scope, and the teacher explains what they're looking at. It's intimate, and an excellent teacher-student ratio. But you can see the limitations.

But thanks to an innovation to that method, a team from UNMC's School of Allied Health Professions was recently selected to receive the American Society of Cytopathology Foundation's Investigator Grant. The grant is prestigious in that there is only one awarded nationally each year. And if no projects are deemed worthy it is not given out.

UNMC is one of the national leaders in teaching via virtual microscopy. With only 30 cytology schools in the U.S., UNMC is one of the national leaders, period. But, with today's technology, "slides" can be stored and displayed digitally, on a computer, rather than a microscope. That means an entire class can follow along with the lesson, with words, annotations, to go with the images. The teacher can be talking while moving the image around. The session can be recorded, and re-played at students' convenience, again and again.

picture disc.
Amber Donnelly, Ph.D.
Up to four images can be shown side by side for comparison -- not only the cytology, but histology, too.

"We've developed an entire teaching system," said Amber Donnelly, Ph.D., program director and associate professor of cytotechnology in the School of Allied Health Professions. "We have thousands of slides digitized and annotated.

"We're at the forefront of using this technology."

As such, Dr. Donnelly, co-investigator Maheswari Shanmugham, Ph.D., assistant professor of cytotechnology, and their team, were awarded the grant to further improve on and implement this system. UNMC will use the grant to fully develop an online cytotechnology program for its distance learning program.

UNMC serves or will serve as the distance learning home for students from the Carle Foundation Hospital (affiliated with the University of Illinois), The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and the UC-Davis Medical Center. International students who come to study cytotechnology at UNMC may in the future utilize the distance learning program as well.

The new program will allow UNMC to standardize its program, so that students at every site will be on the same page.

They'll all be gathered around the same microscope, so to speak.

"We're really the only (academic medical center) to offer a full didactic program via distance," Dr. Donnelly said.

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Joe Norman
September 27, 2013 at 7:45 PM

Congratulations on receiving such a prestigious award. You are definitely a leader in your field. Nicely done!

Howard Liu
September 27, 2013 at 4:58 PM

Congratulations, Amber! You were already a star in our TiES cohort, but I am glad to see that you are gaining national attention as well. Keep up your outstanding work!

Corri Hanson
September 27, 2013 at 9:34 AM

Congratulations! This is a very well-deserved honor!

Michael Huckabee
September 27, 2013 at 7:46 AM

Your demonstrated innovations in education will likely be used as a pattern that many of us will learn from. Thanks.

Patricia Hageman
September 27, 2013 at 7:41 AM

Congratulations Dr. Donnelly - you are clearly a leader in your field!