S. Ramklass

University of Kwazulu-Natal (SOUTH AFRICA)
Technology enhanced learning is recognized as an effective medium to enable and support medical education and training. The Master of Medicine (MMED) coursework programme at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of Kwazulu-Natal admits medical registrars engaged in specialization. Supporting the research component of the programme, is a mandatory semester-based research methodology module. Previously, module content was delivered through face-to-face instruction by invited faculty over two days and repeated 3-4 times a year. The transition to online learning was motivated by the need to provide distance learning opportunities to medical registrars located away from academic centres, to offer flexibility of access to content, to provide an enhanced pedagogical experience, and to provide a structured mechanism for tracking student progress and supervisor feedback. Thus a novel online research methodology module, complemented by discipline specific small group face-to-face discussions, was developed and piloted in July 2013.

A 16-week online learning module was developed on research theory and skill development on the MOODLE platform. The primary outcome of this module is the production of a research protocol. Module content comprises quantitative and qualitative research methods and designs, literature search, database management, biomedical statistics, qualitative analysis and research ethics. Content is presented within discrete learning units either as text, sound, graphics or images. Students undertake the module with prior knowledge of their proposed focus of research. Students engage with the content and respond to end of unit tasks relative to their selected research focus area. Tasks are designed first, to evaluate the application of content to the student’s selected area of research, and second to respond to the requirements for protocol approval. Collectively the task submissions generate the research protocol for the proposed study. Students receive feedback from the module coordinator and the research advisor online and during small group discussions. Submission of the completed protocol to regulatory bodies for approval signifies the completion of the module.

The online module was implemented through a two-staged process. Training was a necessary precursor to the module implementation because for many, this was their first experience of an online learning system. Ninety students participated voluntarily on the module. Students were given access on completion of the training. The module was further promoted to academic departments through scheduled presentations on the module content and the use of the technology.

Thirty students completed all learning tasks and the protocol submission. Students were encouraged to complete the end of module evaluation that assessed module content, learning tasks and the tutorial sessions. A changed learning context, difficulties with technology and student self- regulation have been observed as perceived challenges to the online module.

The design of online research methodology module provides opportunities for self-directed learning whilst encouraging learning that is flexible and personalized. It presents a structured and systematic method that facilitates the production of an ethically and scientifically sound research protocol. Student and faculty feedback are important considerations that will inform the development of the module.