Monday, April 5

MedTutor - Learning to Think!

"No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined."
~Harry E. Fosdick

MedTutor is an online tutoring site for medical students and young doctors in Internal Medicine. The mastermind behind the MedTutor is Dr. Vela Menon, MD (Faculty of Medicine, International Medical University, Malaysia).

This project is still very much a work-in-progress, but then again that should not stop us from exploring it and providing some constructive feedback.

The first time I visited the MedTutor site, it was kind of refreshing, because the homepage is light-and-easy, and not overloaded with all sorts of links, text and images. One image, a sizzling quote, latest reflections from Dr. Vela Menon, and of course a site menu with links to other site resources and activities.

MedTutor is built using Wikidot (free and commercial version), which is a decent wiki tool that allows you easily to create web pages and invite others to participate in the development.

If you are thinking of embarking on creating a website together with a group, there are several other tools you might also want to consider, including Google Sites (cool!), Wikispaces, and Wetpaint.

Alright, let's get back to MedTutor and explore some of the site menu links. In the "Materia Non Medica" (Does this mean 'Non-medical material?) section, you will find a small collection of links to sites and articles that explore all sorts of stuff (e.g. The secret of doing a great job. Need that!). My favorite section is the 'Learning Bytes' one, where you will find some short and mind boggling case studies and Q&A activities (check out the Cardiac Arrest activity to get a taste). In the 'Journal Club" section, clinically relevant questions are asked based on publications in journals.

Interestingly, Dr. Vela is using MedTutor to facilitate learning activities (Renal and Diabetes modules) with his students. He invites (not forces!) them to register and participate, and for conducting online quizzes, he is using QuizStar. QuizStar enables you to create online quizzes for your students, disseminate quizzes to students, automatically grade quizzes, and view the quiz results online (here are 12 more free tools to create online quizzes).

In the 'IMU 10 semester' section, Dr. Vela has creatively used
MedTutor (a wiki) for students to submit their case summaries about patients seen in the ward, clinic or during your on-call hours. Also, please check out the Learning Issues area, where he reviews students' submission and provides constructive feedback. If you look carefully, you will notice that he does not use the 'YOU ARE RIGHT/WRONG' approach, but instead triggers relevant questions for the students to reflect deeper on their findings and actions. In short, his approach is inline with MedTutor's slogan: 'LEARNING TO THINK'.

Finally, he has created a MedTutor Facebook Page, which he uses to share, interact, and keep students (and fans) updated with the latest happenings in MedTutor and beyond (96 fans! Oops, 97! Just became one!).

Dr. Vela was not born with an IPhone or IPad in his hand, and is a self-professed digital immigrant. Also, he was not instructed by the top management to develop MedTutor. I suppose his passion for education, and exploring ways to facilitate more effective and convenient learning drove him to conceptualize and build MedTutor. It is a great start, and a remarkable effort taking into consideration his background. Also, it just shows that today's (mostly free) learning tools available online (start here!) can empower anyone to create online learning environments, as long as one is willing to invest some exploration time to make it happen. Yes, he did struggle a lot initially building
MedTutor, but can learning and building online learning environments be exciting without some form of struggle?

Having said that, what could Dr. Vela do to enhance MedTutor further?

Firstly, for case summary submissions and online quizzes, IMU E-Learning Portal (Moodle) could perhaps handle these two learning activities more efficiently. For case summary submissions, Moodle Assignment module could do a pretty good job, although the e-mail notification function might not always work the way we want. One could always post a selection of case summaries (with your comments for learning purposes) in MedTutor later (instead of all), if the students permit. As for online quizzes, Moodle's Quiz module is quite solid, especially in terms of features (e.g. Item analysis). Also, you can create questions quite efficiently using Notepad (add pictures and mathematical jumbo after upload, if any). Moodle is not perfect, but if used wisely it could solve some of our needs to conduct online learning activities in an organized and efficient manner.

Secondly, I would strongly recommend adding a blog to MedTutor to keep students updated with his reflections and things going on in the medical world. While the wiki is excellent for creating web pages and collaborative activities, it might not be the best tool for sharing explorations and discoveries as we learn. Instead, we could perhaps use a blog to provide an space for sharing and exploring experiences, knowledge, skills, ideas and resources with the readers. For such things, blogs are ideal (self-organizing: latest first, tagging, categories, etc.).

If you ask me, I would argue that blogging is one of the best ways to facilitate personal learning and reflection. Also, if we think on a larger scale, blogging when used for educational or learning purposes, is an ideal e-portfolio tool. It provides you with an excellent environment to integrate and reflect what you have discovered, experienced, created and learned. Also, it enables anyone to provide feedback in the comments section (unless disabled) on your own thoughts and reflections (peer-review). And if categories and tagging is used appropriately, one will have little trouble navigating and finding relevant information as the blog evolves.

As for which blogging tool to use, I would personally recommend Blogger, because it is user-friendly and feature rich. WordPress fans are going to disagree, but now that Blogger allows you to create 'Pages', too, why would you want to use WordPress (especially the free version)? Anyway, it is a personal choice, and if you start off with Blogger and then decide to switch to WordPress later, you can always import whatever you have done in Blogger with just a few clicks (So, no worries there!).

Beside a blog, I would also recommend to add a Twitter stream to share your quick thoughts, questions, ideas, and resources as you learn. While you might only have time to blog a few times a month, you could use Twitter more often to connect, update, share, engage and facilitate learning conversations on a more regular basis without too much effort (short 140 character messages). Of course, one could just update using the Facebook page (Wall), but with Twitter you will have many more possibilities to facilitate interactive social learning environments with those micro-messages (Looking for a starting point? Click here).

These are just two examples (or tools) on how one could connect and engage more students to learn and interact with MedTutor on a regular basis. In addition, it would be great if there were more resource links on the site, especially to relevant medical videos found on the web, and (bla,bla,bla)...


Today, educators are empowered with so many possibilities to build online content and activities (where to start?). Besides building content and learning environments, we should not be afraid to use Open Educational Resources to reuse/remix/mash-up/adapt learning content. If the content is already out there and meets most of the learning requirements and is free-to-use (please use me!), we should not hesitate to use it to enhance the learning environment (though, selling the content would be a problem). Instead, we can then focus more on building interactive learning environments, connecting with students, creating content that does not exist (instead of the imaginary paraphrasing of existing content to avoid plagiarism, which strictly speaking is plagiarism!), and having more time to do research. Then again, it takes time to discover gems in this growing galaxy of learning resources (e.g. medical resources).

It is a challenge we all have to face sooner or later. Dr. Vela has managed with MedTutor to blend a bit of both, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves.

If you are interested in contacting Dr. Vela regarding MedTutor, use this e-mail address:

Lets' support and promote MedTutor! Why not build our own website exploring our learning area of interest? Yes, why not! :)

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