Reflections from Online Education

Author: Nikki Abela / Editor: Charlotte Davies / Codes: CC23, SLO9 / Published: 28/07/2020

A review of current practise and reflections from DFTB Illness and Injuries 2020

Like it or not, virtual learning is here for longer than anticipated. While many of us in the education realm are still finding our feet, COVID-19 has pushed us into exploring new boundaries with regards to online teaching. There may be courses booked and cancelled, conferences forgone, but for those out there embracing this new challenge, online platforms have opened gates to new ways of teaching, which previously had not been used to their full potential.

I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only person who was asked to follow the DFTB Illness and Injuries Course to feedback to faculty on the pros and cons on applying this sort of learning for future education sessions. The DFTB team were probably the first to take this brave step in these uncertain times and hats off to them for taking it. They were probably the first to enter these uncharted waters, and were pretty brave to do so. We have nothing similar to compare it to, yet, and nor did they when they were producing it, which must have made it that bit more difficult to organise.

The course was split into two days: Illness on Day One and Injuries on Day Two. There were 16 themes over two days with a maximum of 5 sessions per topic, each followed by a quiz of 3-4 MCQ style questions – so 54 questions over the two days.

The “live” course was over two organised days, which I did not get to watch, but the recorded content was available about one week later (presumably to allow for editing), and available to the user for one month. They had individual sales of tickets (100GBP for both courses, 50GBP for one, and half price if you book a group of 10 or more). The live course was hosted via Webinarjam and users were sent links to the sessions to log on. Due to the real issue of lockdown at the time, I suspect much of the course was recorded on laptops at the speakers’ houses and there were some comments about the backgrounds of some of the speakers in the live sessions as they made it look less polished than what we are used to from these producers (but no real effect on educational element), which didn’t come through to the recorded sessions as I suspect these were professionally edited with really cool user profiles for the speakers and course logos etc. The software they used for the recorded sessions was excellent as it moved from one topic to another seamlessly without the need to go back and forth to find what you should do next. If hosting something particularly large, it would also be important to ensure all speakers have good wifi access to make sure there aren’t any real jams in the day. The audio content was good, I suspect the speakers had separate microphones. The visual content was also very good with small windows for the speakers next to the presentations, which were mainly pictures and no death by power point or lists. This comes as no surprise for DFTB who generally have excellent speaker support and feedback with any of their conferences.

No matter how amazing the producers and the content, I couldn’t help but feel a little lonely while tuning in to this course, where instant feedback and interactive learning are forgone in this form of teaching. Now I have to point out that I did not watch the live sessions, but I do believe that even with all the zoom windows and chats in the world, it is quite difficult to have that social interaction from the comfort of my sofa, alone in my living room. The team did have panel discussions on the day too. Granted, there is a plus side to this in that there are less distractions for the educator and the learners, but for many, it can be quite difficult to remain focused in these types of sessions.

The shorter (5-10 minute) presentations were certainly easier to follow, and the 3-4 question quizzes (generally MCQs) at the end did help to keep me engaged and switched on. It also helped with space repetition, especially when there were practical summaries of the topics at the end of some themes. The need to complete the quiz and gain marks is an especially important point as some users will click their way through to obtain certification without actually gaining any learning, and the quizzes helped to overcome this.

For the recorded content, the lack of socio-constructive type of learning is a real problem, but there are ways to curb this like asking questions via zoom to direct people in the recorded sessions, or asking learners to work together (even remotely) to prepare an infographic or gamify their learning (EM3 have examples on their website about how to do this).

There are of course a number of advantages to this sort of learning. For me, the ability to catch up with the course even though I was on nights when it was hosted was a massive bonus. This is especially important for departments or deaneries where the course or conference is especially popular and everybody wants to go but we can’t have hospitals “brain-drained” for that length of time – this would be a huge relief to rota coordinators who usually need to fit in large requests for study leave for the same number of days as they now can space these over a longer period of time.

Even though I love socialising and networking at courses and conferences, being able to do this from the comfort of my own home was far more efficient as a learner. As an educator, the initial setting up of the course may take a bit longer especially when doing something like this for the first time, but the material can then be used again and again and so can be more efficient in the long run. It also means that it can be available to people in a wider geographical area and also that educators can dip into other online resources (without needing to re-invent the wheel) to present as part of their session. DFTB had a tab alongside every topic with references or further learning material, and many found this really helpful.

For people with a short attention span, like myself, if I missed a crucial point I was able to scroll back and start again without wondering what I missed when my mind wondered off. Lots of people I know tuned in to the course and liked the shorter presentations. DFTB also made sure there was something interesting for everyone, be it nurses, students and doctors of all levels and varying interests in paediatrics. It takes some skill to pitch it at the right level for a range of people.

Of course, the unspoken bonus is that all of us were able to do this at a time when we are social distancing and therefore reducing the risk of spreading the pandemic. We would hope that this period does not last forever but should be able to take advantage of the advantages of these types of sessions in the future, without sacrificing the social element of face-to face teaching. A potential middle-ground could be a flipped classroom type of teaching, where learners have some of the teaching day learning online, at the comfort of their own computers prior to the face to face teaching where they meet up for shorter periods of time with their peers for learning. This would especially be important for practical procedures and simulation style teaching, which would be extremely difficult to teach remotely.

As far as course content goes, DFTB lived up to their reputation of delivering high standard medical knowledge, linked with evidence based medicine and practical advice to make it relevant to those on the shop floor. They took a leap being one of the first (if not the first) medical groups to deliver a previously planned face to face course solely online and they should be applauded for pulling it off successfully and in style. I’ll certainly be booking myself in for their upcoming DFTB Live + Connected Conference on the 26th August.

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