How the right technology enhances medical education

Technology can play a greater role in educating medical students, but the technical tools need to align with educational objectives, according to Terrence P. Ma, Ph.D., assistant dean for educational informatics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

The investment in tools like tablet computers or lecture-capture technology is wasted if they're not used in the right way, Ma wrote earlier this month in the college's blog, The Doctor's Tablet. A recent survey showed that 54 percent of medical students use a tablet in school, up 31 percent from 2012.

"In order to train highly skilled future doctors, we need to select the right technologies to meet our educational objectives, not define educational objectives based on the technologies that are available," he wrote.

Students generally don't use iPads to take notes or produce materials, he said, and "often abandon using them in courses that are not image intensive." Meanwhile, the lecture-capture technology intended to help students review lecture material before a test instead is prompting students to skip the live lecture and review it later online, he says, bypassing valuable student-instructor interaction.

The problem is that medical students don't necessarily know how to effectively use tools provided, Ma said.

"Tablets may not be effective tools for writing or producing new materials," he wrote. "But they are incredibly useful for looking up information, demonstrating information to patients in the clinical setting and gaining access to electronic medical records."

And "reusable learning objects," which can be used over and over again during study, can be more helpful to students than lecture capture without enabling student tempted to skip lectures, he said.

"Educational objectives need to be clearly defined and the appropriate tools selected to meet those objectives," Ma said. "Our medical education ought not to be digital simply because it is digital at other institutions. The digital format needs to serve a greater purpose--the goal of helping students develop educational competencies."

One such technology could be mobile Augmented Reality (mAR). A study published recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research suggested that mAR can improve the quality of mobile learning applications for medical students when compared with traditional textbook-based learning.

For more information:
- read Ma's blog post

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