The Eye Tracking way: a new training and assessment method

“Many traditional assessment strategies in medical education rely on tabulating learners’ scores in order to obtain grades,” says Dr. Szulewski (Queen’s University Professor, Emergency Medicine). “In the real world, medical learners are faced with the need to make many decisions in a short time period, which increases their cognitive load and puts a strain on working memory. We have shown that we can now measure cognitive load in an unobtrusive way during medical assessments.”

There has been increasing interest in using alternative methods to teach and assess medical students and young doctors. Is there a better way to show medical students what exactly they need to look out for when diagnosing a patient or conducting a surgery other than diagrams and auditory listening? Written and practical examinations also have its shortfalls, especially since the actual working environment these future doctors will work in are high-pressured and the decision-making process differs when they are in a high-pressured setting versus an examination laboratory in a university.

Already there are some educators looking towards eye tracking as a tool to help teach medical subjects and assess students with. How is that done?

Visual learning

Educators are able to easily show visually by way of videos that contain eye tracking gaze data what students are supposed to see and do. Students can observe, mimic, and adapt what their educators do much more easily this way than compared to educators describing their techniques by finger-pointing.

Novice versus Experienced

Assessment is a major component in any form of learning. Eye tracking metrics can be used to assess who is a novice practitioner and who is more experienced. In the University of Arizona, Krupinski et al. (2006) have tried using eye tracking on light microscopy for diagnostic pathology and found differences between fully trained pathologists and medical students/residents. Others have also tested the usage of eye tracking to assess surgical skills (e.g. Lee et al., 2010; Zheng, Jiang & Atkins, 2015), abnormalities search on radiographs (e.g. Turgeon & Lam, 2016), ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia (UGRA) (e.g., Harrison et al., 2016) and even optic disc examinations (e.g. O’Neill et al., 2011). As research progresses, algorithms can be developed to assess medical students’ performance in their diagnostic and even surgical tasks. Having a quantifiable tool to assess expertise can be a useful in comparing educational interventions, which can potentially improve the rate at which students developed expertise.

The potential of eye tracking being established as a valid and reliable method of teaching and assessment grows as more research is being done in this area. With products like the Tobii Pro Glasses 2, this method becomes increasingly accessible in a natural environment.
The future of education is here.