College of American Pathologists
Printable Version

  An e-learning course for cytoprep staff





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September 2006
PAP/NGC Programs Review

Sue Zaleski, MA, HT(ASCP), SCT

The ASCT released a new Web based e-learning course—Introduction to the Cytopreparation Lab—using the Blackboard (Bb) Learning System. Bb is a software application used to present instruction and facilitate communication with other learners. Bb also has the capability to employ self-assessment exercises and track grades to evaluate learning.

The course was developed to meet the expressed needs of the ASCT members who requested assistance in training cytopreparatory personnel. The target audience is individuals with no previous laboratory experience and who are being trained to do cytopreparation. This material can be incorporated into new employee training or used by experienced cytopreparation technologists who wish to enhance their knowledge of the theory and practice of cytopreparation and improve their problem-solving skills. This course also lends itself well to the training of cytotechnology students.

The course consists of an introduction and seven chapters on the following topics: specimen receipt, specimen preparation, staining theory and purpose, equipment orientation, troubleshooting common problems, quality control documentation, and safety in the prep laboratory.

The introduction provides an overview of the information and definitions of terms that may be unfamiliar. The chapters are well written and in the style of a written page or book; this style results in about 75 percent of the computer screen as text. The material is presented in a logical manner using “blocking” of concepts, and the concepts are presented or segmented using spacing or ‘white space’ on the screen to enhance learner usability. Page layout is consistent, and the material is clear and easy to navigate. The text is 10-point sans serif; 11- or 12-point might have been better.

Several chapters were checked for readability. A readability level no higher than grade 10 for post-secondary audiences and grade eight for general audiences is recommended for effective e-learning. Readability checks are based on the use of the passive voice, number of syllables per word, number of words per sentence, number of sentences per 100 words, and complex sentence structure. The readability check for chapters three and four reflected grade levels 11 and 12. Bb also supports a “discussion board,” which learners could use to develop a network or community of users who use the board to share best practices and seek solutions to cytopreparatory problems. Staff members who perform cytopreparation have few opportunities to belong to a professional group, making the opportunity to communicate with others and to ask questions an added benefit of this course. The ASCT does not plan to monitor the discussion board. Other features include a cytology terminology dictionary.

The course includes a self-assessment exercise at the end of each chapter. An evaluation of the exercise for chapters one and two showed that all test items were addressed in the course content. Each test item allowed for the answer to be corrected before the response was accepted. The learner can leave the exercise, return to it later, and have the previous responses maintained. The learner receives immediate feedback after submitting the exercises. No minimum score is required, nor are passing grades defined; however, laboratories may monitor the tests and set pass/fail requirements. The self-assessment exercise can be completed just once. Those who complete the course can request a certificate of completion from the ASCT.

The ASCT has the reputation of creating and publishing practical references for the laboratory. Introduction to the Cytopreparation Lab is its first venture into e-learning. This course, like other ASCT references, will become a hit with learners and practitioners alike. As these well-respected authors become fluent with e-learning and explore the robust Bb capabilities, we can expect more use of color, photos, and links. For example, in chapter two, the terms ‘nuclear’ detail and ‘cytoplasm’ were used but not defined. Learners can use a link to the terminology dictionary to find the definition. An alternative is to use color to highlight the word and to create a hyperlink such that a new window would open with the definition. This window would be smaller and not hide the original page from the reader. Similarly, introducing thumbnails, such as side-by-side pictures of a well-prepared monolayer and a too-thick preparation, would aid learning. Greater use of pictures, such as a photo of water-contaminated xylene or pictures of instruments, would serve as valuable instructive aids.

In conclusion, Introduction to the Cytopreparation Lab is an easy-to-use resource and provides a thorough coverage of the subject. An annual subscription is $95/person, with discounts for multiple registrations per single laboratory. A fixed price of $100 per cytotechnology training program is available for cytotechnology schools or other educational programs. All subscriptions run for 12 months from the date of registration, and access to the course and its resources are available for the entire 12-month period.

To subscribe to Introduction to the Cytopreparation Lab, contact or call Beth Denny, ASCT executive director, at 800-948-3947.

Sue Zaleski, a consultant to the CAP Cytopathology Committee, is laboratory manager, Department of Pathology, University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Iowa City.