By Dr Samantha Gallivan, Deputy Academic Lead (Collaborative Partnerships), Imperial College London
Times of crisis often bring about the most innovative solutions. LKCMedicine’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in imaginative use of digital technology and alternative learning opportunities that may change the way we teach and network in the future.
During an outbreak of a droplet-borne viral disease, public health advice includes maintaining good hand hygiene, avoiding contact with symptomatic people and observing sensible social distancing. Medical students are certainly used to keeping their hands clean on the wards. The second two instructions, however, are more difficult for students, educators and administrators to achieve in the middle of a busy teaching year. Aside from teaching in the clinical environment, even classroom-based teaching provides a challenge given the large numbers of students.
In London, we have watched our colleagues at LKCMedicine, many of whom have lived through the 2003 SARS epidemic, working tremendously hard to deliver high-quality teaching. They turned to remote digital solutions and created alternative learning experiences to enable ‘business as usual’ for their students in the midst of this new pandemic.
Almost three months after Singapore witnessed its first COVID-19 cases, we started to see community transmission of the virus in the United Kingdom. The ideas implemented at LKCMedicine are proving influential in Imperial’s planning as we develop our own focussed plan to deliver effective teaching for our medical students in the upcoming months. The situation is still unfolding in London, but we have moved examinations online in March and hope to continue to adapt and react to the challenges of the next few weeks and months.
The true impact of COVID-19 on learning and teaching remains to be seen. We hope that our students in Singapore and London derive some benefit from this period of uncertainty, helping them become more resourceful, adaptable, digitally competent future clinicians.
Beyond the immediate threat of COVID-19, the digital innovations for remote learning at LKCMedicine and Imperial may also shape how medical education transitions to a sustainable, carbon-neutral future. Perhaps we should all look to reduce the amount of non-essential travel we make while working and finding ways in which we can maximise learning using efficient online methods.
In March, LKCMedicine and Imperial had to make the difficult decision to postpone the Transform MedEd 2020 conference, due to concerns around gathering a large group of international medical educators during a pandemic. In the future, some of these online innovations might be used to reduce these risks by linking up delegates from around the world without anyone needing to leave their home country.
Perhaps in this way, methods such as video-conferencing and online hangouts will move from being today’s crisis solution to becoming the teaching and networking mode of tomorrow.