For those not familiar with SSCs these are student selected components also known as special study modules, which are a common feature in undergraduate medical degrees. Alongside the core undergraduate medical curriculum students get to select specialties and topics that they would like to study. They can choose from formally organised SSCs run by teaching staff across a wide range of topics and in different healthcare settings. There is also the option to self-propose an SSC (SPSSC) and this is a particularly popular option with our 3rd year students, who want to explore and gain experience in a particular area of interest and they are responsible for arranging 2-4 week project and a supervisor.
I’ve supervised a number of these self-proposing students over the past few years who’ve wanted to develop an online learning resource to help them prepare for their future role of doctor as teacher and to develop their IT skills. I like to have these students linked up with a clinical co-supervisor too so they can also get some clinical experience and so that we have a subject matter expert to review the resource that’s developed. I’ve had 4-5 students at a time doing these SPSSCs with me over the last three SSC blocks and whilst they’re all doing slightly different projects as well as individual sessions with them I I like to bring them all together to introduce them to some prinicples in developing online learning, usability and accessibility, issues around copyright and the reuse of clinical recordings, different tools and software they could use and also give them tips for organising their project and managing information and resources. Meeting up together also lets the students share their ideas and storyboards and get feedback from their peers, they also share things they’ve learned each week and put their resource through some uasbility testing. As they’re doing an SPSCC they have to keep a daily log of what they’ve done each day. Typically students complete this as Word document but last year I suggested that each student do this as a blog and share with the rest of the group so that we could give feedback and comment. This has resullted in some really excellent reflection and analysis and allowed me to give quick and just-in-time feedback.
This year there are 5 quite different projects and during our kick off meeting I wondered whether it might be worth while having a go at using Google+ to support communication and sharing of resources over the 4 weeks of the SSC. I’ve been using G+ pretty much from the off, but it’s taken me a while to get the hang of it. The penny has been dropping over the past few months and it was particualrly helpful in planning and organising a pre-conference workshop I co-ran at AMEE last year. I was thinking that rather than responding to individual emails from the students they could post a query in G+ and then they would all see my response and links to any useful resources I might share. It would also allow them to respond to each other’s queries and share things they discovered too. All of the students had a Google account and whilst they hadn’t used G+ before they were all game for giving it a go so I created a private community.
So how did the first week go?
Setting up the community – First off they all emailed me their gmail email details and I tried to add them to a circle but as many of them didn’t have a G+ account I couldn’t add them. I’d assumed that if you had a gmail account you automatically had a G+ account so I had to email them all and ask them to set up on G+. Once they’d all done this we were up and running.
Using Google Drive – Whilst one student set up a blog, another shared their daily updates in G+. Another student was keeping their log in a Word doc but then uploaded this to Googledocs and then shared this with everyone in the community. Another student wanted to run a quick survey and asked for advice on survey tools, here again we made use of GDocs and Google forms. By the end of the week one or two others were thinking of using Google forms to get some quick feedback from their year group on the sort of learning resource that would be helpful to their peers. None of the students were aware of GDocs or GDrive and the respective mobile apps for smartphones and tablets, which once again confirmed to me that we shouldn’t make assumptions about students’ awareness of technologies.
Scheduling events – I scheduled a follow-up meeting and set up an event. However with the delay in getting everyone into the group I still had to send an email later in the week to confirm the arrangements. Now that everyone is a member this should hopefully work better this week as we schedule follow up meetings.
Hangouts – We haven’t used this yet but we’ll perhaps try this before the SSC finishes. I’ve introduced the group to what a Hangout is and explained that they can collaboratively work on a document and share their desktop etc and that this might be handy if they are working on group projects at anytime.
Sharing resources – I’ve found using G+ a much easier of way of sharing and signposting resources to students. G+ sharing buttons on our departmental Vimeo channel has made it easy to share screencasts and similarly it’s very easy to share YouTube videos.
G+ app – This has been handy both on the phone and iPad particualrly given the recent upgrades which have made it much more user friendly and made it easy for me to post stuff and respond to the student posts.
What the students think – So far the students have been quite positive about using G+. Previous institutional surveys and my own conversations with students have highlighted that not all students are keen to see the University and Medical School using Facebook to support learning as they see this as their private and social space. The students on the SSC all held this view but felt that G+ maybe had the potential to be used to support learning given the additional features. We’ll see what they think at the end of the 4 weeks.
I’ve found using G+ a positive experience so far, I also think it’s saving me time. If it continues to be then I’ll be making use of it again when the next SSC block runs in May and I might consider using it with a 5th year SSC on prescribing that’s running next month. I’ll post an update when this 4 week block is over and perhaps mention a few other tools that the students have been introduced to including Dropbox, Skitch and Pinterest.