The latest rapidly expanding trend in online education is MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses). These courses provide a forum for excellent lecturers to teach a large number of students simultaneously.
The same virtual class can have thousands or even hundreds of thousands of students.
MOOCs generally rely on lectures and frequent assessments. While MOOCs do encourage communities of students to participate and work with each other to learn the materials, most do not require such interactivity to complete the course. And, significantly, the objectives are those set and assessed by the instructors.
In other words, MOOCS are a new way to reach a lot of people so that we can do what we’ve always done.
Another trend in many medical schools is to provide iPads to students when they arrive on campus. While the practice may be effective at recruiting students and attracting media attention, a closer look reveals that students tend not to use the iPads to take notes or produce materials, and often abandon using them in courses that are not image intensive.
One might ask why someone who is seemingly so negative about new technologies is leading the educational informatics effort at a medical school.
Without question, I believe that new technologies are critical and essential elements of contemporary medical education. However, the technologies should not define the education we provide students; they should help the learning take place.
These are tools—important tools that will help us educate future generations of physicians who must be digitally literate—but still, tools only.
Tablets may not be effective tools for writing or producing new materials. But they are incredibly useful for looking up information, demonstrating information to patients in the clinical setting and gaining access to electronic medical records. Medical students across the country often complain that they do not know how to use these tools effectively; addressing that need ought to be one of our educational objectives.
Technology must be used to provide support for effective education. Educational objectives need to be clearly defined and the appropriate tools selected to meet those objectives. Our medical education ought not to be digital simply because it is digital at other institutions. The digital format needs to serve a greater purpose—the goal of helping students develop educational competencies.