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New IT platform for medical learning management debuts

Jan. 23, 2014, 9:53 AM

Recent sweeping changes to undergraduate medical education at Vanderbilt are intended to produce physicians who are better attuned to teamwork and more accustomed to leading teams to improve clinical outcomes, quality and patient safety.

Among other changes, the School of Medicine has begun exposing students to clinical work much earlier, to deepen their understanding of the health care delivery system and their comprehension of the basic science material taught in the classroom during the first two years of medical school. The rebuild, called Curriculum 2.0, is also intended as a launch pad for career-long learning.

Toufeeq Ahmed, Ph.D., M.S.

“The idea of Curriculum 2.0 is to enable self-directed life-long learners and create physician leaders who can rapidly translate discovery into practice. We want to teach doctors how they can teach themselves throughout their lives,” said Toufeeq Ahmed, Ph.D., M.S., assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics and director of education informatics.

With the new curriculum, information science in the form of education informatics is assuming a greater role at the school. VStar, the school’s new IT platform for learning management, was unveiled last July. Some applications were built from scratch and others are based on open-source software.

The components include course management — including online lectures, demonstrations, discussions, assignments and testing — grading, competency assessment for things like student interactions with patients and teams, personalized learning plans, intramural social networking (à la Facebook), a help desk, curriculum management and a School of Medicine outcomes database.

Instructors have begun putting video lectures and demonstrations on VStar, freeing class time for discussion and group activities. VStar applications afford teachers and students greater ease in posting learning activities and assessments, conducting online discussions and formally defining and tracking progress toward personalized goals.

Learning activities and assessments delivered through VStar can be mapped in detail to the set of competencies that define the curriculum. Students can view their performance against the class and against their own prior performance.

Anderson Spickard III, M.D., M.S.

“If we have easily derived data points that are fair and contextualized to the setting, we start to see the nuances of which areas a student excels in and which areas may need greater attention. It makes for economical use of a student’s time and focus, so they can complete required competencies sooner,” said Anderson Spickard III, M.D., M.S., associate professor of Medicine, assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics and assistant dean for Educational Informatics and Technology.

“Then, because we track the student’s emerging talents and inclinations, it puts us in a better position to discuss options and steer the student toward specific immersion components of training in the latter years of medical school.”

The VStar platform was created in six months.

“Every click the student does, every video the student watches, every quiz the student takes, every response the student submits — we have the data,” Ahmed said. “We would like to develop new learning technologies based on natural language processing, adaptive hypermedia and data mining. With the vast data we collect, we’ll soon be in a position to help individual students chart their personalized learning routes, like a ‘curriculum GPS.’”

Data captured from VStar is also used for ongoing evaluation of courses, teachers and the entire academic program.

“This is an invaluable tool,” said one faculty user, Neil Osheroff, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry. “This curriculum has a far greater number of moving parts that all have to interact, and we had to have the platform that could support it. The IT team, Anderson and Toufeeq have provided us with a computer tool that has made life great.”

First-year VUSM student Annie Pally said students in her class use VStar applications throughout the day.

“In general, we feel that there are many aspects that could be improved, such as organization and structure, but overall students find it useful and reliable.”

She adds that, for online discussion and collaboration, students in her class are more accustomed to using Facebook and Google Docs, and they continue to favor those tools over their VStar counterparts.

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