Stanford Med Profs Mash Up Socratic Method, Online Learning

Andrew Patterson, MD, associate professor of anesthesia at the Stanford School of Medicine, believes that online education could revolutionize the process of how the US trains aspiring doctors. According to the Stanford Medical School blog, Patterson has called for the traditional instructional paradigm in which the professor stands in front of classroom of students and lectures to be abandoned — and to facilitate that switch, Patterson has partnered with other Stanford professors, technology experts and advisers from the Khan Academy to design an online education program geared specifically to medical students.

The blog describes the project – titled the Stanford Medicine Interactive Learning Initiative – as an attempt to combine the successful teaching tools of the future with those whose origins date to antiquity: the Socratic method. Charles Prober, MD, the senior associate dean for medical education at the university, is heading up the project. He first explored ideas about introducing an online education component into the study of medicine with his highly touted "Lecture halls without lecture: a proposal for medical education," published this spring in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Prober believes that meaning derives from interaction, and that flipping classrooms — using videos to impart basic knowledge and reserving class time for more engaging activities — is the first step.

"The videos are not the endgame; they're a way of creating a product that's useful for students," he said. "We're packaging knowledge, but that's not the real learning part. Pushing facts at people isn't learning. The learning is the embedding of the facts to create rich, interactive sessions."

Prober advocates a gradual approach. First, the technology staff will design interactive materials online for professors to use in their lectures. The goal is to make their use so seamless as to overcome the initial faculty reluctance — strong enough to be considered a concern. While some instructors expressed enthusiasm about experimenting with online education in their courses, some have reservations about the effectiveness and quality.

According to the Stanford article, materials for two sections of the Human Health and Disease course, one covering endocrinology and the other on women's health, are scheduled to be rolled out this year. These two topics will be taught using a flipped-classroom environment, meaning that students will view lecture videos prior to coming to class and use the actual class time to engage with their professor on the material they have learned.

"That's what an on-site culture can't do," he said. "Unprepared students zone out or don't even come to class." But now, using the online pilots, when they come to class they will meet with patients (live or on video), debate with their peers and do immersive group exercises, putting into practice what they've learned beforehand.

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