A student partnership project to enhance curriculum development in medical education

Photo credit: pixabay, stevepb, CC0

In this blog, Dr Jeni Harden, from the Usher Institute, and Dr Sam Fawkner, from the Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences, outline a staff-student partnership project through which they developed a flipped teaching session for first year medical students to facilitate learning on physical activity for health…

Despite the importance of physical activity promotion for both disease prevention and treatment, we were aware that it was not being taught routinely in the Edinburgh medical curriculum. We identified space in the year 1 curriculum that would allow for a formal teaching and learning opportunity on physical activity for health. We were keen to work with students as pedagogical co-creators – developing the learning strategy and resources – and hoped that this kind of partnership would enhance the process and the outcomes of the curriculum design by introducing new and potentially different perspectives and experiences.

We recruited six medical students via an announcement on Learn. Those interested submitted a one page note of interest and, from this, we selected six students representing each of the years. We met on several occasions as a whole team to decide on specific issues and to review progress but most of the work was done by the students in sub-groups.

We were keen to develop a flipped classroom approach, and the students were enthusiastic about this when we discussed it with them at the initial team meeting. The students were integral to the project team in all stages of the project: developing the flipped learning resources; creating an introduction to flipped learning; and evaluating the session.

    • Developing learning resources: The students reviewed and selected existing online resources; developed bespoke cases for in-class discussion; and created expert interviews (conducted the interviews, filmed and edited the videos). You can see one video example here:
    • Introducing flipped learning: The students felt that an introduction to flipped learning would help students to engage with the need to do work in advance of the lecture. They chose to develop an animation to make this potentially dry introduction more engaging:

  • Evaluation: The students conducted a focus group interview to contribute to the survey evaluation of the flipped learning session. The evaluation highlighted that the flipped learning session was popular and has improved students’ understanding of physical activity and health.

Some reflections

The students involved in this project said that it had been a positive experience for them in a number of ways: it gave them an “invaluable insight into ‘what goes on behind the scenes’”; that working with staff in this way “enables one to develop relationships with staff whom may act as educational/academic role models” and; it “facilitates skill development”. Interestingly, they said that it also gave them an insight into some of the challenges lecturers face, for example, when recruiting for the evaluation focus group one said “ I was personally surprised by lack of student engagement”.

We also found that working with the students in this way is both an enjoyable and valuable experience but would suggest a few points to consider for others engaging in similar staff-student curriculum development partnerships:

  1. Create an opportunity at the start to discuss expectations and be prepared to review this regularly during the project. In doing this, try to ensure that the students feel able to state their expectations and to raise concerns if these are not being met.
  2. Don’t underestimate how much time the work may take – the students (and staff) may need support and training to develop resources that are of a suitable standard to be used.
  3. Try to find ways to reduce potential existing power dynamics that may exist between staff and students. This is quite a different way of working and it may be useful to consider where meetings are held, who leads the meetings, and the platform for communication.
  4. Consider how you ‘recruit’ students, and be mindful of whose voices it is you are hearing and whether there are any groups of students who it would be important to hear from but who are not represented.

Acknowledgements: We would like to acknowledge the work of the students and staff involved in this project: Alice Harper, Louise Lynch, Nikola Wasag, Chaoyang Wang, Emma Sharland, Scott Mckinnon, Paul Kelly, Danijela Gasevic, Chris Oliver and Andrew Murray. We would also like to thank the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme for funding the project.

Jeni Harden

Dr Jeni Harden is Director of Education in the Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics. She is responsible for the development of, and teaches on, the Year 1 module Health, Ethics and Society, and is joint theme lead for ‘Social Science and Public Health’ in the Edinburgh medical curriculum. She has interests in promoting the integration of social science in medical curricula and works with colleagues both in the UK and internationally, including the development of a core curriculum for sociology in medical education.

Sam Fawkner

Dr Sam Fawkner is Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity (PA) for Health in the PA for Health Research Centre and is deputy head of the Institute of Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences. Sam is a Senior Fellow of the HEA and co-directs the MSc PA for Health. She was integral in developing the UK’s first intercalated degree in PA for Health (BMedSci PA for Health) and teaches on these programmes and other programmes across the Institute.

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