Swansea’s Clinical School Embraces Technology

The Clinical School at Swansea UniversityWales’ first accelerated Graduate Entry Course in Medicine (MB BCh) has been launched by the Clinical School at Swansea University, and is set to produce a new breed of doctors. The fast track graduate entry programme takes best practice from medical courses around the world, and uses innovative teaching methods and state of the art technology to promote flexible learning.

Sali Earls met up with Dr Jonathan Mullins, Lecturer in Medical Biochemistry, and Dr Sam Webster, Lecturer in Anatomy, who along with their colleague, Dr Steve Allen, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Paediatrics, have spearheaded the technology enabling the University to be the first to offer this new approach.

What prompted the Clinical School to offer this new course?
JM: There is a well-documented shortage of doctors in the UK, and particularly in Wales, and we wanted to encourage an increase. Prior to the development of this course, Wales only had one university medical training centre, so we are delighted to be able to extend that.

How does the course differ from others in the UK?
JM: The curriculum has been cherry picked from courses in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. The twist is that we have solely graduate entry – these students are professionals and have a great approach to studying, so we can extend the amount of self-study.
SW: Graduates have already learnt how to learn, which makes them adapt quickly to this new style course. It’s a 4-year course, rather than 5, so the first 3 years of traditional courses has to be compressed into 2 years, without losing any of the content. The tutors have changed their teaching style, embracing technology to allow this to happen.
JM: Our unique selling point is that from day one, students get hands on clinical experience and practice via Learning Opportunities in Clinical Settings, or LOCS. This provides a clinical basis to the academic learning from the outset, and we have found that the clinical scenarios, together with the scientific side and e-learning really compliment each other to provide a well rounded and thorough learning experience.

How have your new computer systems changed the way you are able to offer courses?
JM: E-learning has had a great impact on courses. Students have increased flexibility to study at evenings and weekends, and have more time available to develop clinical experience. Learning has been enriched with constant reinforcement through lectures, clinical work and e-learning – you could say it’s reinforcement on tap.
SW: Students are constantly busy with full weeks of lectures, clinical practice and visits, and this technology helps us to assist them by allowing them to access e-learning whenever and wherever they can. We’ve worked closely with the medical illustrators at Singleton and Morriston Hospitals in Swansea to create interactive teaching materials, and they also helped us design our style sheets and layouts to create a standard look and feel for the system, making it easier for tutors to use and students to navigate.
JM: The learning pattern fostered by this system is consistent with the constant learning of a career in medicine, and the use of animations and movies really help to reinforce the learning. I also think the fact that we are a body of young, IT literate staff has been a great help in driving this forward.

Can you tell me something about the technology you use?
SW: Like most universities, we use the Blackboard Content System. We have developed course materials to take advantage of the flexibilities this system offers us; we use Dreamweaver and PowerPoint to present information in the most effective way. Students access the system over the internet, or via a workstation in our high tech Anatomy Suite. They can access not only course materials by learning week or module, but also library materials, journals and other academic information. The flexibility of the system offers students different ways of learning to suit them – some people can easily visualise from reading books, while many benefit from the intricate interactive graphics accompanying course texts available on our system.
JM: Tutors design their own Self Directed Learning units, but we can bring them together using Blackboard, and integrate them with web applications without the need for a deep understanding of complex web technologies.

As you continue to develop your e-learning programme, are you looking to collaborate with local providers?
JM: We are having preliminary discussions with Technium based companies to develop our 3D visualisation systems further.
SW: We would also be interested in possible collaborations with local providers, if made aware of what they were able to offer.

What is the next technological step?
SW: Our next step is to develop additional forms of content with more videos, 3D and virtual reality modelling. Our e-learning system is an ever evolving resource for students, and advances in technology are really helping to push this forward.

Dr Jonathan Mullins, Lecturer in Medical Biochemistry Dr Sam Webster, Lecturer in Anatomy

The Blackboard Content System from Blackboard Inc., enables academic institutions to collect, share and manage articles, presentations and multimedia files in a collaborative, web based learning environment.

The Graduate Entry Course offered by the Clinical School at the Swansea University, is run in partnership with Cardiff University. The curriculum is delivered in two extended 45-week academic years, followed by two years in the All-Wales Clinical Training Scheme. From the first week of the course, students are taught using innovative methods mixing real-life case studies with practicing doctors, with high tech laboratories for anatomy, physiology and clinical skills, using technology to promote flexible learning.

The first intake sees graduates from diverse backgrounds in arts, science, commerce and IT, taking the fast track to a career in medicine. Standards are extremely high, with only 35 selected from the original 500 applicants, but this is set to double next year.

Further information about the Clinical School can be found at www.medicine.swan.ac.uk