Feb 03

A new way of producing ‘face to face’ patient teaching sessions:

In my blog last October (‘Using technology to go beyond ‘face to face’ patient/student sessions’) I mentioned using technology as an alternative to ‘face to face’ teaching sessions with patients and students. There may be many reasons why this is preferable to an actual ‘face to face’ session. Perhaps the person has a physical disability that may make attending in person difficult, or even a mental health problem that means meeting large groups of students a psychological problem. Distance could be a factor also, especially if the session is quite short and travel time is therefore potentially much longer than the session!

In the blog I mentioned above I talked about Skyping an expert patient into a meeting as they were unable to attend the meeting itself. This went smoothly, although there were only 6 people in the room, the camera and microphone within the laptop used proved adequate. This person later reflected that they felt fully part of the meeting. Taking this further then, I decided to explore the potential of Skyping a patient into a teaching session to a group of over 30 students. This person actually lived 50 miles plus away from the university so asking them to attend a 30 min session was really impractical. However, Skyping on a large lecture screen takes some planning, so I decided to try out the feasibility. I was confident the person I was to Skype had a good bandwidth having previously Skyped with them several times. The main technical issue was always going to be the lecture room. I decided to try a test with a colleague using equipment I already had, a usb PC webcam and a small usb microphone which had a conference mode. In this case a Samson Go Mic I normally used to record audio podcasts proved more than ideal. First, you need to install Skype onto the lecture room PC. This proved easy as it was a university approved application. The mike is an easy ‘plug and play’ installation, as is the usb webcam. My Colleague used a tablet with Skype to locate in an adjacent room and be the other end of the call. Using this very basic equipment, the test call worked smoothly, even when testing the sound at the back of the room. Amazing that a mike just a couple of inches high can be so sensitive! The video even when blown up onto a large screen did not pix-elate or break up. I was surprised that only using such basic equipment brought such high-quality results. Now for the real thing!

The day of the session arrived. My plan was to cover knowledge/theoretical issues for an hour and Skype in my ‘expert patient’ for the last half hour. They were to address the group for about 15 minutes and then have a Q & A session. I had previously given the students some ‘pre-work’ a week before which consisted of reading selected blog entries on the sessions theme published on the patients personal blog site, also asking the students to think of a question  they would ask the person if they had the opportunity. This worked well in reality and the students really engaged with the first part of the session. I admit to some nervousness when the time cam to ‘ring’ the person on Skype, although I had previously made contact via text to check all was well before I started the session. The Skype was extremely successful so I needn’t have worried. The students really engaged with the person and listened intently with their presentation. Some excellent questions were asked and I received some instant, positive feedback. Success, but what have I learnt about the pros and cons of using this approach?

Firstly, as with all technology approaches to teaching and learning, prep is everything. Trying out the Skype connections both with the person you are Skyping and the equipment was essential both to ensure smoothness of operation, to identify any issues and lastly (and probably most importantly!) to reduce my anxieties of equipment failure.  Good prep with the person you are Skyping in to the session is also essential. Briefing them regarding who the students are and the theme of the session is crucial. I am not however in favour of ‘telling’ the person what I want them to say. I am inviting a person to comment on their thoughts regarding the sessions theme, in this case regarding their thoughts about expert patient from an individual and health services perspective. This may or may not reflect my own specific views but that is less important that exposing the student to differing viewpoints within their learning experience. Having asked the student to pre-read the ‘expert patients’ blog entries around the chosen theme enabled the students to formulate questions to ask during the Q & A session based on the patients own views and writings. Potential disadvantages of using this approach included the possibility of technology failure, although in my view we have reached a point now when broadband access is reliable enough for this not to be a realistic issue. The equipment required for this exercise as described previously is pretty basic, although some academics may still not have the confidence to give this kind of session a try. To me it offers flexibility of combining a more traditional presentation that may cover more theoretical elements in depth that is joined with an interactive element where the students can fully engage with a person in which they have previously accessed that persons written work in a way that would be prohibited due to distance previously. Whilst I would not want to fully replace all live face to face sessions in which the person physically attends the venue, this approach can offer potentially more opportunities to expose the students to the lived experience than just relying on physical appearances can ever do.


1 comment

  1. James

    This is great news and this example should give some heart to those who are self admittedly fearful of technology. The positives certainly outweigh any negatives. Using this method means that you have the opportunity to incorporate a speaker for a specified time in a session as it would seem odd or even rude to ask them to leave if you had booked them in person for the whole session?

    I am looking forward to the future blog entry on using ‘Google hangouts’ in the classroom 🙂

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