Information Technology in Academic Medicine

Hi everyone,

Today, I am reporting live from the 2012 Information Technology in Academic Medicine Conference Sponsored by the AAMC Group on Information Resources (GIR) taking place in Austin, TX.
Event Website:
GIR’s site:
While, I will present here about our recent e-learning development my focus is on learning how medicine is using information technology in education. The GIR “provides a forum for individuals in relevant roles of leadership and responsibility to promote excellence in the application and integration of information resources in academic medicine, including medical education, clinical care, and health sciences research.”

So, what was really interesting? First, I attended today’s plenary session which featured Dr. Thomas Talbot, AFSIM Chief Scientist at the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center whose presentation was titled “Designing Medical Education for Today’s Brain.” His charge was to think about how a medical school should educate students, disregarding the status quo. His intriguing talk started off with outlining what has changed in the recent past: (1) more and better technology is available, (2) our knowledge about how students learn has changed, (3) our students’ expectations have increased when it comes to technology use, and he pointed out that (4) residency training has dramatically changed. Based on that premise he came up with some thought provoking ideas, such as the notion that the problem of teaching in medicine is not about comprehension, because most students are pretty smart and can learn by themselves, but that it is an issue of volume. Thus, we need to ask the question of how can we make education more efficient. Can we teach more through optimization? And, as we have only limited time, can we spend the time with the students meaningful. Lecture time does not count as meaningful in his view.
On a different note, he challenged the usefulness of gatekeeper courses? He claims that organic chemistry is really not necessary to become a successful doctor, but that it is mainly used as a gatekeeper to check the intellectual abilities of students. He suggested that the time might be ripe for pushing useful courses into the undergrad education instead of wasting time with gatekeepers.
He also talked about what he calls the “two sets of books problem.” To illustrate this concept he explained a personal anecdote: When he entered medical school he bought for a course an expensive book and he also purchased notes from previous years. Then, he went to all lectures to figure out which topics form the notes are relevant. At the end, he was able to use the copious primary and his secondary notes to come up with a study plan. At the end he found the book quite helpful from which he mostly studied. However, his test score was significantly lower than that of his friend who just used all the time studying the textbook, never went to any lecture and did not purchased any notes. I am sure something like this can only happen in a medical school, but never in a dental school. ;-)

The second interesting talk today was about 3D visualization delivered by Dr. Charles Goodacre, Dean of Loma Linda University School of Dentistry “The Combined Use of Dynamic 3D and Static 2D Visualization to Enhance Student Learning.”
Dr. Goodacre reported about his work at Loma Linda in collaboration with faculty from Stanford in how we can best enhance student learning through computer visualizations. He demonstrated several programs including products from eHuman which incorporate 3D resources and animations. He also referred to the use of quizzes with reference libraries and games that assess speed and accuracy in 3D environment.

While computer-based visualizations have become increasingly popular in education, they might not always reflect students’ learning preferences. He pointed out that most but not all studies indicate that students prefer to learn using multiple modes rather than a unimodal approach. For instance, one study reported that 56% of students have a preference for multimodal learning, but we still use overwhelmingly lectures in dental education. I was impressed by his command of the current literature in cognitive science and how he explained complex concepts like cognitive load theory by Sweller, specifically how intrinsic and extraneous load play a role in 3D simulations. Or, how concept from Mayer regarding how the learner’s control over the information flow can deepen the understanding of the topic apply to computer-based visualizations.

Here his key thesis from the summary slide:

  • Interactive learning is preferred by most but not all students.
  • Interactivity should include opportunities for feedback and self-assessment.
  • High Visualization Ability (VZ) students benefit by using dynamic 3D visualizations.
  • Low VZ students do better with static visuals than dynamic 3D visualizations.
  • Interactive 3D visualizations needs to be demonstrated by faculty in class to show their effective.
  • Computer programs need to have both static and dynamic 3D visuals to meet the needs of as many students as possible.
  • Visuals and text should appear together.
  • Information should be presented sequentially 
rather than all at once.
  • Visuals should have labels that can be hidden or revealed.
  • Animations should be slow enough for learners to observe changes; there should be interactive controls.

Got interested? The next GIR meeting will be in Vancouver, BC June 5-7, 2013.

Associate Dean, Office of Faculty Development and Information Management
Associate Professor, Dental Public Health, Center for Dental Informatics
School of Dental Medicine, University of Pittsburgh