Tuesday, 8 February 2011

3 key tasks for e-tutors in medicine

Link research to practice, show value of learning in each other, and shape the learning ecology.

I've been an e-tutor in medicine for about 15 years principally with an online exam-preparation / assessment website (onexamination.com) and a postgraduate diploma course in diabetes (diabetesdiploma.com). I now work with BMJ Learning.

Recently I've been considering the training requirements for tutors and want to put forward the following three key tasks for 'e-tutors' involved in the distance learning through new technologies of postgraduate medical education. I want to build on these tasks over time and use them to provide perspectives for those wanting to take on the role of an e-tutor. Please feel free to comment.

There have been a number of influences on these ideas including Etienne Wenger's Communities of Practice, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White & John Smith's Digital Habitats, George Siemens and Stephen Downes's Connectivism, Dave Cormier's rhizomatic learning, Vladis Krebs' Orgnet and Lee & McLoughlin's Web 2.0 E-Learning. In fact the thinking is all theirs - this is just my particular perspective on what it might mean to support an e-tutor in their role.

Linking research to practice

Being a tutor in an academic environment, expecially one such as postgraduate medical education, will involve being a guide to the published literature. Linking research to the workplace practice of medicine involves identifying those areas where there is clear evidence.

Asking students to discuss their workplace, the cases that they have seen, the issues that they find challenging enables the e-tutor to then direct them to the relevant studies. After looking at the existing evidence there can then be a discussion on how that evidence can be translated into practice.

Show value in learning from each other

Learning complex tasks such as the practice of medicine means negotiating your identity as a practitioner and exploring the meaning of your practice with others from your same profession and allied professions.

The e-tutor should identify opportunities for demonstrating the value of learning from others and stress its importance for working effectively in healthcare teams.

Shape the learning ecology

Where and how the learning takes place is under some control of the the e-tutor. The learning space is not neutral - it shapes and provides affordances for learning. The e-tutor should act as a digital steward creatively rearranging and choosing the learning ecology as they would rearrange the furniture in a tutorial room. They need to consider suggesting, shaping, developing different orientations and perspectives for the learners. This requires spending time experimenting with new technologies as they become available and having an objective view of how the tools of technology act to support the learning.

The learning ecology has two parts. The first is the current course that is being 'tutored' but the second part is that the connections between the learners should be encouraged and weaved by the e-tutor so that they can be useful outside the course.

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