An Integrated Digital Environment Enhancing Medical Education

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1 An Integrated Digital Environment Enhancing Medical Education Tinko Stoyanov, Petya Dicheva Abstract: The paper describes the concept and the work on developing an integrated digital environment for dataflow processing and management for the purpose of medical learning/education. On the basis of converting the learning materials into a unified digital form a better effectiveness is achieved in processing, storage, retrieving, distribution and visualization of the digital learning content (econtent). The digital technology allows easy transition to new perspective learning technologies - elearning. Keywords: elearning, Web-based learning, econtent, Multimedia, Digital libraries, Digital archives. INTRODUCTION Quality of education in medical universities for all specialties, degrees and levels depends to a great extend on the quality of learning materials used in the process. There are a lot of illustration materials in medical education and their quality requirements (color, detail, dynamics) are much higher than in other vocational areas. During their study and qualification undergraduate students, post-graduate students and PhD researchers cannot directly observe the whole diversity of clinical objects. This emptiness is filled with the illustration materials and the related medical documentation. Medical education is impossible without them and their quality determines the quality of education itself. Since ancient times doctors have drawn and described meticulously all medical cases. Keeping a detailed clinical documentation (incl. illustrations, maximally authentic) is compulsory and established practice for each doctor. For that reason with the foundation of all institutions of higher medical education, centers for learning and research documentation are being created simultaneously. The latter register and store medical images and clinical documentation (methods and tools for diagnostics and treatment, visual diagnostics, etc.), as well as visualize the information in the process of education and creation of scientific work/production. The classical technologies utilizing paper and photo films are still predominantly used for the creation, storage and retrieval (access) of the visual information that ensures medical education. But apart from the high price, the storage and access to the necessary information (both textual and pictorial) is complicated and sometimes impossible in the required deadlines. Introducing the appropriate combination of information and communication technologies (ICT) into the medical education, an integrated digital environment can be developed, which would fundamentally change the quality of education through the creation and management of a unified digital dataflow and storage of educational information in electronic form. This would allow fast and easy access to any stored digital object/assets. It would also make it possible to integrate into the digital dataflow not only static visual learning materials (illustrations and photographs), but also dynamic objects such as digital video and animation that illustrate significantly better the medical processes and therefore have greater learning/educational value. The current publication describes the concept and the approaches to developing a corresponding integrated digital environment mostly for the purpose of medical education but it can be successfully implemented into any other educational environment as well. CONCEPT AND STRUCTURE OF THE INTERGRATED DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT Fig. 1 shows the general block scheme of the integrated digital environment with the dataflow of incoming information and the outgoing objects formed as a result of the environment s functioning.

2 The input usually contains static images in the form of graphic materials (conventional and specialized photographs), text and more rarely dynamic objects analog video. This whole dataflow is converted into digital form for the upcoming processing and management for the purpose of medical education. The realization of the conversion of the entire incoming analog optical dataflow into digital one provides opportunity for achieving excellent dataflow management on the basis of the respective programming coverage that ensures further processing, storage, retrieval and transfer of the structured information to the end users. The integrated digital environment based on the corresponding hardware, software and communication infrastructure supplies all the necessary technologies for processing and management of the unified digital dataflow of learning content (econtent). The structure and the technological linkwork giving reality to the processes in the integrated digital environment are indicated on fig. 2. The established dataflow of digital information and its structuring in unified static and dynamic visual objects make possible their easy combining and integration into the needed electronic publications. The digital form of the information s presentation enables the effortless archiving, retrieval and online distribution of the learning content and medical images. If necessary these digital assets (econtent) can be easily transferred on the traditional paper or photo media through the up-to-date technologies for direct digital full-color print.

3 FORMATION OF THE INCOMING DATAFLOW There are ordinarily very high requirements for the quality of the incoming originals photographs, roentgenograms, mammograms and other medical information media. To the specialists any variation in the color or the halftone of an image is usually evidence of deviation from the standards. Therefore the quality requirements to the technologies for conversion of optical analogue data into digital one at the entrance of the digital environment are considerably greater compared to those for other industrial or home needs. Scanning technologies from new generation, utilizing High Definition CCD (HD- CCD ) specialized in digitization of medical images are used for the purpose. The fast development of high-quality technologies for direct digital registration of static and dynamic medical objects (digital photography and video) and their integration into the technological linkwork allow reducing the expenses and the time for the initial image or video clips digitization at the entrance of the digital environment. Special color-correcting and calibrating technologies for high-fidelity color transfer (Hi-Fi color) of the medical originals have been incorporated in the data transfer to the digital environment and the succeeding processing and editing of the digitized images (fig. 3). During the processing of the digital data, corresponding to the incoming originals and on the basis of the assigned tasks two workflows are formed a series of digital images of the medical objects (static and dynamic) and completed learning materials in digital form. There has been created a system for classifying, indexing and metadata formation of the images series, which serves the purpose of their further storage, search and fast retrieval from the digital archive. The learning content (text, images and video) being input into the digital environment is converted into digital form and processed in a multifunctional authoring environment through which the respective electronic educational materials (including multimedia) are created. After entering the developed digital library, the educational content becomes the basis of the realization of the processes of electronic distance/online learning (elearning).

4 ARCHIVING AND ACCESS TO INFORMATION Fig. 4 shows the environment for storage and retrieval of digital images and educational content as digital assets and provision of network access to users.

5 The environment for storage of digital information is set up on the basis of optical jukebox, specialized software for database collection from images and other multimedia objects and the corresponding servers and network equipment for service of users access to the necessary digital content (econtent). This system provides all necessary environment for elearning as well. elearning SYSTEM The block scheme of the system for electronic learning (elearning), which is a compound functional part of the integrated digital environment, is shown on fig. 5. The technology of Microsoft ClassServer [2] has been used in the system for realization of the processes of distance Internet/web-based learning. This technology is flexible and allows automation of the processes of creation and delivery of educational content and tests in digital form to the end users (students), as well as automatic processing of the results from the carried out tests, which increases the effectiveness of the process. The relevant communication technologies and devices for protection from unauthorized access to the digital content are integrated in the system as well. There is provision for the quick integration of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology for protection of the digital content itself (econtent) from unlicensed copying and distribution. CONCLUSIONS The concept of setting up an integrated digital environment in order to improve the medical education and its realization will lead to the following results for all the participants in the process (teachers, lecturers, students and university administration):

6 1. Improvement of the education quality through offering fast and easy access to a huge database of electronic learning materials/resources and digitized medical images. 2. Provision of conditions for education that is independent of time and place. 3. Enhancement of the interaction between all the participants in the process. 4. Creation of conditions for setting up virtual departments and universities. 5. Creation of conditions for improved management of the processes and development of integrated university information systems. 6. Reduction of the educational expenses. 7. Attraction of additional online students from Bulgaria and abroad. 8. Provision of conditions for integration of the Bulgarian medical education into the European educational system. The above-described concept is realized as a project titled MedStudy.net, which is currently being implemented in the Medical University Plovdiv with the financial support of the Center for Competitive Teaching and Management System ( at the Ministry of Education and Science. The deadline for the final realization of the project is in the beginning of REFERENCES [1] Tinko Stoyanov, A New Distance Learning Model Using Internet, Intelligent Digital Libraries and AI-based Personal Learning Assistants, Proceedings of the 24th International Conference Information and Communication Technologies and Programming 99 - Plovdiv, Bulgaria. [2] Microsoft Encarta Class Server, The Educator s Guide to a Web-Managed Curriculum, see [3] Canto Cumulus, Digital Asset Management, see ABOUT THE AUTHORS Assist. prof. Tinko Bozhanov Stoyanov, M.Sc., Department Computer Systems, Technical University Sofia, branch Plovdiv, Phone: Petya Vasileva Dicheva, B.Sc., Department Computer Systems, Technical University Sofia, branch Plovdiv, Phone:

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