I was lucky enough to be invited as a guest Faculty member for the FAIMER Brazil residential sessions in Beberibe (near Fortaleza, Brazil) from 23 February – 6 March. FAIMER is an international programme aimed at developing capacity in medical education and research around the world, and includes an institute in South Africa (SAFRI), where I am a Faculty member. One of the most interesting aspects of FAIMER (IMO) is the emphasis they place on the cross pollination of ideas and experiences between Faculty members from different regional institutes. I thought that since I’ve been here for a few days, it was time to post about my initial thoughts.
The most immediate challenge was the language barrier (see an upcoming post on using Google Translate in preparation for coming here). While most of the Brazilian Faculty members can speak English quite well, the sessions are obviously conducted in Portuguese. The few of us here who only speak English have been quite ably assisted by local Faculty members who helped us get a basic understanding of the context of presentations. However, today was the first day that the translator was back. He’d been given a few days break since the first group had already been working for a week before I got here, and as soon as the day began I realised how much I’d been missing. Having all of the sessions translated in real time makes an enormous difference and I can’t thank the organisers enough for this consideration.
The other thing that I noticed almost immediately was the cultural difference between the Brazilian group and African Fellows. While we’re quite conservative in how we conduct ourselves, both professionally and socially, the Brazilians are incredibly social. Every evening that Faculty and Fellows can be found relaxing by the pool after the daily sessions have ended. It makes me think that we’re quite a boring lot at SAFRI, since we tend to retire to our rooms after the day’s progress.
Today we had some feedback from the 2012 Fellows experiences in the distance learning modules. Each group takes it in turn to create and run a distance learning module on some aspect of teaching and learning, and the rest of the Fellows are the “students” who learn as part of the module. I made a few notes since this is an area that’s close to me, and it was interesting to note that many of these challenges are similar to those we face with our students.
- There were significant challenges with using a wiki for collaborative work.
- Careful planning among group members can’t be emphasised enough.
- Almost all groups had a tendency to increase the complexity of their projects, mainly because everyone is really enthusiastic and they want to implement all of their ideas.
- Real time conversation with Skype was essential to projects’ success. Email is great but for the more detailed planning, real time is essential. I noted that this group is way more sophisticated in their use of online tools for planning and implementing distance learning modules, compared to our SAFRI groups.
- They emphasised the importance of agreeing on a universal “language” – ways of explaining and understanding topics, since often different people in the group had a different way of thinking about the content. They needed to ensure that everyone on the team was on the same page.
- They noted different levels of technological skills within the “teaching” group, as well as the “student” groups. They suggested that designers pay attention to this to avoid leaving collaborators behind.
- There was some discussion about who takes ownership of the the module, and the impact that has on implementation, leadership, and participation.
- There was a concern about addressing non-participation among both “teachers” and “students” in the different groups?
So, those are a few notes on my initial impressions after the first few days here in Fortaleza. I expect that I’ll have more to add once I’m more involved in the projects of the second years, who only arrived yesterday. Here are a few pictures from my time here in Fortaleza.