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Professor Mike Clarke, shares his teaching experience, having moved the EBHC MSc Systematic Reviews modules online this term.

Mike Clarke using the second camera to show the flip-chart in October 2020. © Mike Clarke
Picture 4: Using the second camera to show the flip-chart in October 2020.
Picture 1: Setting up my teaching space for the first online Systematic Review module in May 2020. Picture 1: Setting up my teaching space for the first online Systematic Review module in May 2020. Mawby, Pickstock, Sadler, Tawney, Stopforth-Metcalfe, and Number 11 conference rooms: you name a Rewley House teaching room, and I have probably taught an EBHC MSc module there. I’ve even been as far away as the seminar rooms in Ewert House and the library at Kellogg College. But, as of May 2020, I can add a bedroom in my home, and probably kitchens in Saudi Arabia, living rooms in Australia, offices in the UK, clinics in Malaysia, and dining rooms in Canada to the list of places I have taught the Systematic Reviews module. Wherever I or the student might be, I’ve been inspired to try to live up to the promise of three words that should ensure that our students benefit from taking our courses: this is Oxford.

Having been an undergraduate and a postgraduate at the University of Oxford, I experienced the ethos that Oxford learning thrives on tutorials and the generation of new ideas. Added to this, when I got to teach about evidence-based medicine alongside Dave Sackett in the mid-1990s, I saw the value of problem-based learning and embedding teaching in the topics that interest and challenge the students, rather than those that come from the teacher. So, when Sue Pearson emailed me on 17 March to say that the Randomised Trials module scheduled for the end of that month had been cancelled and that she would like to discuss the running of the three Systematic Reviews modules scheduled for Trinity Term, I had no hesitation but to start planning to run these live, online. After all, this is Oxford

Picture 2: Introducing the low tech, €3 mini whiteboard in July 2020.

I’ve been leading and teaching the Randomised Trials module for more than 20 years. It’s one of the original modules for the MSc and I added the Systematic Reviews module a couple of years later. In that time, I have counted the runs of the modules, but it might be about 100 with up to 1000 students. I have learned about their research questions and their importance and provided what insights I can to how they might do their trials and reviews. Every module is based firmly on the topics that each student brings to the sessions and even though the structure might be generic, the content of the discussions is not. There is no room for things to be standardised or recorded because the problems on which the learning is based are not standardised. The lifeblood of the modules is the spontaneity of an approach that to some extent mimics the tutorial and draws on the in-person discussions of everyone present, allowing them to experience that this is Oxford.

 

 COVID-19 Pandemic has changed how people teach and learn. We need to adapt our teaching methods to embrace this and to adopt novel ways to cope.

This experience cannot come from sharing pre-recorded, potentially stale, lectures. It means being present as real, live human beings, reflecting on recent news and events, tailoring answers to the questions of the students and their specific topics, engaging in discussions straight away, and conveying our enthusiasm “in the moment”. I have had to get used to delivering the teaching into our camera and the participants have had to get used to receiving the learning out of their screens, no matter how many thousands of miles apart we are. But however far apart we are, this is Oxford

Picture 3: Adding in the monitor, back up devices, two cameras and a ticking clock in October 2020. Picture 3: Adding in the monitor, back up devices, two cameras and a ticking clock in October 2020.

Over the three systematic review modules this last term, and now starting a fourth in late October; I am also gaining experience and equipment to help with my teaching. From a perilous set up of a laptop balanced on books (picture 1), through the introduction of a €3 mini-whiteboard and pen (picture 2) to the addition of back up devices and an extra camera (picture 3) to allows me to cut to the full-size flip-chart that I am using in October (picture 4), I have upgraded the technology with the aim of ensuring that the student experience is as good as it can be; trying to help them see that this is Oxford.

We seem certain to be continuing with the online experience for teachers and learners for some time to come, not just because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated measures but also as we try to do our bit to minimize the impact of travel on climate change. Even when the opportunities for travel resume, I expect that the benefits we have seen from being able to teach remotely will mean that our BAUU (business as unusual) future will include the delivery of some teaching remotely. COVID-19 pandemic has changed how people teach and learn. We need to adapt our teaching methods to embrace this and adopt novel ways to cope. When I think of what’s next, I hope that we can adopt the cook box idea I have used on other courses, where items are posted to the students for them to use during the course, to help connect them even more to an in-person, collective experience. But whatever the next steps are, and wherever we are, there is a driver for our teaching.

This. Is. Oxford.