The Limited Level of Digital Skills and Competencies of Optometry Students
Digital health is increasingly being utilized in clinical practice given its ease of accessibility, but it lacks emphasis from universities and accreditation bodies. This study attempted to better understand the digital capabilities of optometry students.
With technological advancements transforming the Australian workforce and healthcare, there is a growing demand for digitally competent graduates. This study investigated digital perceptions and preferences of optometry students relating to their studies and readiness for work in healthcare.
Current optometry students participated in an anonymous online survey. Questions were designed to evaluate their understanding and awareness of digital skills and competencies for learning whilst at university, and for use in the health sector workforce. Results were analyzed to underscore key trends and answers to open-ended questions underwent inductive thematic analysis to generate themes for discussion.
Optometry educators can bridge the gap in digital practices between students and the workplace by obtaining a baseline of their capabilities and incorporating specific activities within the curriculum to increase student awareness and support their understanding and development in this aspect.
Most students were confident in using daily technologies for learning. Reference management software was perceived to be most important and useful skill to attain. While students were less confident in creating applications, they were keen to learn even though it seemed peripheral to their career and professional development. 70% of the students knew how to manage their online privacy and security. Of the students, 92% highlighted that attaining competency in digital skills would enhance their career and professional development, but only 54% believed they possessed the relevant skills for entering the workforce. Only 19% of the students reported having sufficient university support.
Digital capabilities of learners do need to be taught explicitly and should not be assumed. To improve student learning outcomes, digital skills and competencies need to be embedded throughout the curriculum and addressed through learning objectives.
More work needs to be done in implementing digital training and services at a subject, course, and institutional level. Some international benchmarking of optometry curricula and optometry research would clarify the need for digital education, to educators and students alike.
Currently, there is a lack of recognition of digital health by accrediting bodies, thus preventing digital competency from being a priority in the curriculum of schools. There is a further need to establish dialogue between universities, employers, and accrediting bodies to set consistent and realistic expectations of digital skills and competencies.
Future studies should consider having larger sample sizes to observe similarities and differences in digital capabilities between year levels. Student focus groups and interviews can be performed to better understand the rationale behind the desire and interest to learn digital technologies that seemed irrelevant to optometry.