When this is the first thing you say to a class of 200+ medical students, it raises a few eyebrows! When you say this to staff, it raises a few eyebrows with them as well…
In the undergraduate medical curriculum, the Student Selected Components (SSCs) programme amounts to 15% of academic credit for the whole medicine programme. The SSC2b is a small window of opportunity in Semester 2 of second year, which is designed to enable our students to do something beyond mainstream medicine, or indeed undertake something very different. All students have skills, interests and talents that are an important component of who they are and will become. The institution supports a huge range of co- and extra-curricular activities, and says we value these, but how can these skills really be rewarded? SSC2b tries to do this for our polymath students, albeit in a small way, by focusing on strengthening different academic and professional approaches, understanding reflective learning, and developing teamwork.
So, when we stand up in front of the class and say “you can do anything you want to”, there are some conditions! Students must work together in groups of 5-8 on a project that they define for themselves; there must be an academic component to their project; and students need to find their own supervisor who is a member of University staff, although they can be in any school, discipline or department.
To cope with this wide spectrum of projects, we use the Student-Led, Individually-Created Courses (SLICCs) reflective framework. This is described in more detail in a previous Teaching Matters article. Students consider their learning opportunities at the outset and define these according to five generic learning outcomes, based on ‘Analysis’, ‘Application’, ‘Skills’, ‘Mindsets’ and ‘Evaluation’. Throughout the experience, they capture evidence of their learning in an e-portfolio, and are assessed on a reflective report which draws on this portfolio of evidence, and is defined by the original learning outcomes. This whole assessment process is simple to manage and assess, with only about 35 reports covering the whole class of 200+ students.
There are some clear advantages to this approach of reflective learning, which is deeply embedded in some disciplinary practice, and more covert in others. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t really matter if the project doesn’t go quite as expected, because challenges and problems are rich learning experiences. We all recognise more familiar assessment paradigms of exams, essays, presentations and project write-ups that require the submission to be ‘correct’. These assessment modalities are very poor at capturing the student’s learning in dealing with challenges, and indeed learning from mistakes – something that as professionals and academics we can strongly relate to as an essential part of successful working life, but struggle to successfully assess.
As an adapted element of the SLICCs assessment framework, in SSC2b students are specifically directed to analyse their teamwork and the effectiveness of their group; they receive a single project mark and there are no individual mark components. However, it is important to manage student expectations – all our medical students are so familiar with getting individual marks which they have full control over, and they are also competitive. This approach highlights to them the importance of teamwork and what can be significant challenges in managing their own team, a fundamental part of their long-term employability and the safety of their patients.
Once they got started, the students have ripped our hands off in taking this opportunity, being highly imaginative and creative – way beyond our expectations. Most projects have some sort of medicine element, although this may be tenuous! Final projects are presented at a showcase event, and also as an open website showcase on the MBChB website to provide a view from outside the programme into the medicine curriculum and our students. Please take a look. Highlights include the collaborative project with a tutor from architecture in ECA to design a dementia ward; a group that developed their interest in using art to inform their understanding of anatomy; the “Equip, Empower, Engage” group that comprehensively addressed the provision of child-centred information resources to patients at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children; the Super Strings Companions (SSC) string sextet; the list goes on. The community engagement and social responsibility aspects help our students in a vocational degree to be aware of the society they are working with, and give them insights into what area of medicine may suit them – both facets further supporting their own development and their employability.
Using the SLICCs framework to integrate experiential learning, reflection and student ownership, the SSC2b students are successfully supported in harnessing their interests and passions and boosting their academic and professional capabilities and, in doing so, their employability. If you could do anything wanted to and be rewarded for it, what would you do? Could you give something of that freedom to your students?