Medical students are skilled at understanding and learning concepts and facts. However, they lack experience responding to new pressure situations. Andrew Lovell-Simons, an educational developer from UNSW Medicine, has been working on a project that aims to give students experience in virtual scenarios, where they can test their responses without irreversible consequences.

Andrew has been designing online educational resources and applications in universities for over twenty years, firstly at the University of Sydney, then Macquarie University and now at UNSW Sydney. Here he discusses one of his recent projects.

Stephanie: Andrew and I first met when he had a question regarding developing branching for a tutorial and a quick look through his resource revealed an engaging and well thought out module. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Andrew. Can you tell us about the project you’ve been working on?

Andrew: This recent project involves using Smart Sparrow to design and build three scenarios for children suffering from asthma and three for children suffering seizures. The scenarios range from mild to severe. The participants (trainee doctors) are required to assess, then treat the patients, monitor their progress and choose an ongoing treatment plan. The participants are given a series of options to recommend and automated individualised feedback is given based on the choices they make.

Figure 1: Sample screens from the asthma and seizure modules

S: Why were the tutorials created?

A: To help students develop a level of situational awareness. To put the information, they were gathering into a context, and the knowledge they were acquiring to practice. It gives students experience in responding to a realistic and pressured scenario.

In this case the tutorials are also acting as a benchmark. This is part of a larger project headed by Dr Penny Uther, Paediatrics Education Fellow from Sydney Children’s Hospital. The project involves a double-blind experiment with three equal sized student groups who access similar content in three different media forms: 1 - text based medical guidelines, 2 - problem-based scenarios in Smart Sparrow, and 3 - game-based learning with PlayMed.

S: What process did you go through to create the tutorials?

A: Together with Dr Penny Uther we created storyboards to ensure there were Asthma and Seizures scenarios of varying levels of severity and with children of varied age. We also ensured the information was clearly and accurately presented with a range of responses with suitable distractors to choose from.

S:  What was the most challenging part of developing the tutorials?

A: To ensure the students’ interaction with the scenarios and their decision making was as seamless as possible and the technology was inobtrusive and relatively transparent – which I think we achieved.

Also, creating two-part, multiple-choice questions! The video guides available through the BEST Network YouTube channel were a great help though.

Watch our video on creating two-part multiple-choice questions.

S: You’ve clearly put a lot of effort into your tutorials. What is your favourite feature? Is there anything special you’ve done?

A: As a designer, I loved the ease of using the rollover buttons and pop-up windows on an image. There was a wide range of colours and styles making communication and clear annotation easy.

I also like the freedom of having each screen length independent, allowing you to carefully layout content in the most appropriate and engaging way, without forced breaks and cramping.

One of the special things I did was creating progress bars manually, this can be done much quicker automatically by Smart Sparrow, but I did this because I wanted the progress bars to be specific and colour coded to each case.

Figure 2: Example of the handmade progress bar

N.B. A similar result can be achieved using CSS for each slide. Tutorial to come.

S: Sounds like a very interesting project. How is learning being evaluated?

A: Learning is evaluated by students engaging with realistic computerized child mannequins in the hospital’s SIMlab. They are assessed on how they respond to simulated emergencies. The results will be analysed to determine if there is a correlation between their performance in the simulated emergency and the three different methods that were used to learn how to respond to similar emergencies.

S: Are you planning to build more?

A: I think we have created a robust template. I plan to use this template for other projects with scenario-based learning and as a basis for 12 pre-learning modules for the SIMlab at Liverpool Hospital.

Andrew would like to acknowledge Dr Penny Uther who initiated the project and for providing content and honest, uncompromising feedback.

Thanks for sharing your project with us, Andrew.