Using the web to empower agents of change: Presentation at The Network – TUFH conference

These are the slides from the presentation I gave at The Network: Towards Unity for Health conference in Fortaleza, Brazil (2014).

The talk looked at how we’re trying to prepare health professional students for an increasingly complex health system, but we’re still using teaching methods that originated centuries ago. I ask questions about how we can change teaching practices to take into account the characteristics we expect of our graduates. I discussed the importance of taking a critical stance towards the implementation of technological solutions, and to be careful of making assumptions about the use of technology to solve all problems.

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Faculty member on FAIMER Brazil (2014)


I’m spending a week in Fortaleza, Brazil as part of the FAIMER-Brazil programme for 2014. FAIMER is an international programme aimed at developing capacity in medical education and research, especially in developing countries. There are regional institutes in South Africa, Brazil, India and China, and the main organisation in Philadelphia. I was here in 2013 and found the experience both professionally and personally rewarding. I’m not by nature a very sociable person or emotionally expressive…so being in Brazil is definitely an “opportunity for growth” for me, because they are SOCIAL! and EXPRESSIVE!

As part of my time here in Fortaleza, I’ll be assisting with a session on distance and technology-mediated teaching and learning, as well as helping the programme participants with their research projects. During that session I’ll be sharing the results of the open online module on professional ethics that we ran last year, using that project as an example to illustrate some general principles of distance and online learning.

On a side note, a few days ago one of the other faculty members approached me and started chatting. I’d realised that he looked familiar but couldn’t place him until he introduced himself as Roberto Esteves. I immediately recognised him as a physician and teacher who I’d become aware of through his posts on Google+, and who blogs at Educação Médica.

We ended up having a great conversation about medical education in general, as well as the possibilities for collaborative research projects between our institutions. For me, this was a wonderful example of how connecting with people online can strengthen the interactions and relationships you experience in the “real world”. This hasn’t happened to me very often (I don’t travel enough) but when it does it’s really powerful.

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FAIMER Brazil: Initial thoughts

IMG_20130224_170315I 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.

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