Medicine teaching moves online during COVID-19

Within the space of a month, UNSW Medicine shifted its teaching off campus and online. Associate Dean of Education Adrienne Torda shares how new innovative tools helped them do it.

Christina Kingen | 02 Jun 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic spring-boarded UNSW Medicine into using some new 21st century technology-based learning tools and platforms. In March 2020, the Medicine program went off campus and online, a move that necessitated the Faculty and its educators to rethink education delivery.

UNSW Medicine’s Senior Vice Dean (Education) Professor Gary Velan believed the COVID-19 pandemic will cause us to reflect on how we teach and learn.

“Our Faculty and students have done a superb job in transitioning to online teaching and learning in these difficult circumstances, and we are very grateful for the efforts made,” Prof. Velan said.

“The disruption caused by the pandemic has the potential to accelerate the inception of exciting new models of education.  It’s been an opportunity for us all to examine what we are teaching and how we can do it more innovatively and effectively,” he said.

 The campus-based face to face teaching ceased as did group teaching in the hospitals, and even some clinical attachments couldn’t continue.  UNSW Medicine’s Associate Dean of Education A/Prof Adrienne Torda is impressed by flexibility of our students and educators to adapt to the change.

“Both our students and our staff had to rapidly upskill in their use of online platforms so they could engage in teaching activities,” A/Prof. Torda said.

“Not only did we jump into platforms like Blackboard collaborate, Teams and Zoom, but we also looked into using other innovative online platforms that would add to our students’ ability to learn whilst in ‘lockdown’” she added.

These new platforms include case-based tools that are most relevant to our Phase 3 students.  These tools have complemented their clinical learning and addressed any gaps that might have emerged because of the cancellation of some of the clinical teaching.

The flexibility and adaptability of Sophya

The most customised of all the new platforms the Faculty has used for its students is called Sophya. Sophya is a student-centred learning-resource curation platform.  An educator can upload existing teaching and course resources like videos, lectures, online modules into it.  Students can add additional ones, annotate existing resources, create helpful learning tools such as flashcards or chat with other students. Students would then share these resources with their friends and lesson the burden of creating revision materials.

The beauty of Sophya has been its remarkable adaptability and flexibility which has enabled UNSW Medicine’s students to create their own learning journeys.  The Faculty has continued to work closely with the creators from the Harvard Innovation Lab to continue customising it.

For the Faculty’s final year students, Sophya has gone even one step further. In collaboration with the Sophya team and the Dean of Medicine at Monash University, UNSW Medicine has created a Preparation for Practice online curriculum that is mapped to the national graduate competencies.

The Preparation for Practice online curriculum is similar to an online pre-internship (PRINT) term. It explores the knowledge and skills and investigations expected of a graduating medical student.  It includes practical learning sections that help students feel prepared for medical practice. These include topics like common patient calls, how to assess a deteriorating patient, how to make a good referral and how to ace a discharge summary.

This online curriculum has just been released for all final year students in the Medicine program.

“We’re asking all of our final year Medicine students to please try it, poke around and let us know what you think,” said A/Prof Torda.

Other platforms being explored

Another new platform the Faculty has used is eMedici which has allowed students to test their knowledge by working through clinical cases.  eMedici is a purpose-built peer-reviewed question bank and learning platform designed specifically for Australian medical students.

Another tool called Playmed was actually developed by some of our own clinical academics in Paediatrics who developed it with UNSW Business School’s LionsHeart Studios. Playmed offers a unique life-like learning experience for medical students undertaking or revising their clinical rotation in Paediatrics.  It delivers a personalised experience that allows students to make decisions as junior doctors and analyse their medical outcomes. It consists of interactive, simulated scenarios.

The Faculty has also shared free and useful clinical reasoning tools readily available online, like the NEJM COVID treatment silmulations which present students the opportunity to explore how they would manage a presenting case of COVID-19 in a developed country.  

A/Prof. Torda and Medicine’s Education Team are keen to explore other online resources to help our students’ learning, so if you come across anything else useful, please let them know.