Jul 07, 2020

Collaborative learning in times of social distancing

Teaching & Learning 3 min read

In highly specialized training environments like healthcare education, live classroom teaching has always been the norm. But the educational landscape is changing. Driven by societal and technological changes, collaborative and real-time distance learning through advanced virtual classrooms becomes the alternative for the future.

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The training of medical professionals has a direct impact on the quality of patient lives. Which is why the stakes are high when it comes to educating doctors and scientists. Healthcare training has always been a mix of different teaching formats, including formal lectures and live case presentations, but also case discussions, debate, practice-based learning, and interaction between trainers and student-practitioners. 

High-end education is changing

Healthcare organizations find it increasingly difficult to connect with students in a way that meets their high teaching standards. Because of several recent trends, traditional live, classroom-based teaching is under pressure.

Only recently, worldwide social distancing measures have made it more difficult for universities and organizations to set up classes where large groups of students are gathered in a single space. Even more, the world’s current health crisis forces organizations to think twice when it comes to travel. More than ever, they are aware of the cost of travel, both from an economical and an environmental standpoint.

Real-time distance learning in healthcare

Many institutes are already organizing online learning as a complement to their physical classroom curriculum. Although this can be a valuable addition to live classes, online learning has never been a full-fledged replacement for the real deal. Students can use online learning to process training packages at their own pace and according to a flexible schedule. However, many online learning programs lack the real-time interaction that can truly motivate and engage students.  

The answer to more student engagement lies in real-time distance learning, a method of learning that happens virtually, but in real time. In a real-time distance learning environment, students and trainers interact in a specific virtual place and at a specific time. By enabling direct interaction between student and trainer, participation and student-teacher engagement improve significantly.

In these demanding teaching environments, collaboration and interaction is essential. That is why real-time distance learning through Barco’s weConnect virtual classroom is a great solution. Barco weConnect provides a near real-life teaching experience for both teachers and students, boosting engagement to new heights.

One of the prestigious institutes that has chosen Barco’s weConnect solution for part of its continuing professional development medical curriculum is University College London (UCL), a leading multidisciplinary university, with more than 13,000 staff and 42,000 students from 150 different countries.

Professor John Kelly, consultant urological surgeon specializing in robotic surgery for bladder and prostate cancer at UCL says that weConnect offers advantages that cannot be found with other technologies: “Barco’s virtual classroom offers an obvious two-way engagement between the educator and the virtual classroom, which allows us to do an awful lot more with participation. We can have open-line discussions in a way that is moderated, controlled and meaningful.”

Stimulating debate

Barco’s weConnect virtual classroom can also be instrumental for collaborative scientific research. The so-called Delphi process, where key experts and opinion leaders in the medical sector discuss and try to come to a consensus, is another application where the Barco virtual classroom is ideal for. With Barco weConnect, medical experts can go through the sequential rounds of a typical Delphi process much faster and more efficiently, and as a result reduce the cycle time.

The first accelerated Delphi Process at UCL took place early May 2020 with the contribution of 24 delegates. The whole process which normally takes months was completed in 48 hours. “We believe the virtual classroom is excellent for these sorts of international committees,” says Professor John Kelly. “We are early adopters, but we see this as growing in terms of its capabilities and use cases.”

Increased engagement 

Teaching with a virtual classroom solution like Barco weConnect influences the speed and dynamics of teaching. The interaction between student and trainer that is made possible by this platform can lead to ideas being explored more quickly and in unexpected directions. In addition, the close interaction makes it possible to directly evaluate students on the acquired learnings, detect knowledge blind spots more quickly and as a result move faster through the subject matter.

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