Student's perceptions of a virtual PBL experience

Carol Kamin, Robin Deterding, May Lowry
Academic Medicine 2002, 77 (11): 1161-2

OBJECTIVE: Our purpose is to present findings regarding student attitudes towards a virtual PBL program used to standardize their pediatric clinical experience.

DESCRIPTION: With funding provided by the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, we developed Project LIVE (Learning through Interactive Video Education), a CD-ROM/Web hybrid program that uses digital video cases to conduct "virtual" problem-based learning groups with students doing a clinical rotation in a remote setting. Cases were progressively disclosed by videos of patient/physician encounters on a CD-ROM. Groups of five students and a faculty facilitator collaborated, teaching each other within the discussion section of the program. We conducted a multifaceted evaluation of Project LIVE to study the impact of case modality or distance on student learning and attitudes. We placed students in one of three groups (1) a face-to-face group with a paper case (FFT), (2) a face-to-face group with a video case (FFV), and (3) a virtual group (VG) with the digital video case. We then studied student attitudes about the three teaching formats. Over a six-month period three education specialists, who were not a part of the development team, conducted eight focus groups lasting one hour to assess student attitudes about Project LIVE. No one from the project team was present during these groups, and an independent evaluator analyzed the notes taken by each focus group leader.

DISCUSSION: Trends across the groups included the following: (1) Authenticity (video)-Students reported that the authenticity of the case was a critical feature and that, "seeing (videos) made learning more memorable." Virtual and FFV groups reported more confidence in their ability to recognize abnormal findings in their patients. "You can't expect to teach clinical exam skills with a piece of paper." (2) Use of time-Students from all groups believed the cases were a good use of their time and improved their ability to solve clinical problems. They said it gave them an opportunity to "get away from just doing and focus on learning." However, the virtual groups complained of the lack of "a barometer for how much is too much" time. Some students reported spending an average of eight to ten hours per case over the period of a week. (In contrast, face-to-face groups met for three hours.) (3) Modeling clinical reasoning-Students believed the cases were valuable in structuring their knowledge, conceptualizing how to handle difficult situations, distinguishing abnormal from normal physical examination findings, and collaborating with their peers and their mentor to develop critical thinking. "It forced us to be logical" and ". how to think through the process-it mimics the real setting." (4) Technical support-The responsiveness of the Project LIVE staff was essential in assisting students in troubleshooting problems. (5) Distance component-Students preferred to work through the cases in face-to-face groups but agreed that the virtual experience is "good if you are in the middle of nowhere." This program was enjoyed by students and gave us an approach to standardizing experiences across multiple clinical sites.

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