Flipped Classrooms Usher In A New Era Of Medical Education

Stanford School Of Medicine Flipped Classrooms

All students know the feeling: stubbornly dragging yourself across campus to your dreaded lecture classes where you’ll spend the next hour and a half mindlessly taking notes and trying to stay awake. Or if you’re like me, you might just skip the lecture all together and take notes from the text book on your own.

Luckily for medical students at Stanford Medical School, two professors have set out to “flip” this lackluster appeal and unproductive nature of college lecture courses.

Stanford’s interactive new curriculum

Charles G. Prober, senior associate dean of medical education at Stanford University School of Medicine, and Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, have been working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to develop a new method of teaching what they call a “flipped classroom.” The idea is to combat low attendance and overall student satisfaction by doing away with lectures altogether. Students will instead learn the material on their own time via videos and other online resources, so that class time can instead be used for discussion and interactive experiences to better engage students in both the learning process and in implementing the material that they’ve learned.

Referring to his experience in traditional lecture classes, Stanford clinical instructor and leader of the Khan Academy’s medical and science initiatives, Rishi Desai, says,

“Like most med students, I never went to class. It’s so silly that I spent thousands of dollars on tuition and I learned it all myself anyway.”

The “flipped” method addresses this prevalent issue common amongst students by giving them a reason not merely to show up to class, but to want to be in class. It allows students to get interactive and “explore their passions” much earlier in school than they would in a traditional med school curriculum. This is invigorating and beneficial to the learning habits and motivation of medical students, since most get little to no hands-on experience actually working with patients until their third year of schooling when lectures are replaced by clinical clerkships.

Course ratings rocket from “poor” to “excellent”

In an applied biochemistry course at Stanford that implemented a flipped classroom style over the past two years, student surveys have gone from rating the course as mostly poor, to good, to excellent, and attendance transformed from 20 percent to 90.

The online learning aspect is an important aspect at the core of flipped classrooms as well. In the spirit of the recent FOAM movement in medical education, RWJF senior program officer Michael Painter, MD, JD, says, “Technology enables us to spread knowledge for free to anyone who is a curious learner.” Painter stresses the importance of online learning potential across not only all areas of of medicine, but all fields of education in general.

Engagement is increased here as well, as many students are encouraged to create their own peer-reviewed creative educational to contribute to the online community. The Association of American Medical Colleges and Khan Academy have even sponsored national contests aimed at promoting this type of online learning and spread of education.

Even though the flipped classroom model has been for the most part positively received, especially by students, any time change threatens a traditional system set in place there is always bound to be hesitation.

Addressing any professors who might be resistant to a flipped classroom, Prober and Desai say that instructors must accept that their role in the classroom will change. However, they should use that change to their advantage to tailor and adapt the classroom experience, thus making it not only worthwhile but beneficial to students’ interaction and academic performance.

As Rishi Desai says, “These lectures, even as good as they are, I sincerely believe they can be 100 times better.”

Samantha Hendricks
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