Learning Technologist at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School

     
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by Sarah Marten

Tim Vincent is a Learning Technologist at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), which is a partnership between the University of Brighton, the University of Sussex, and Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust. In 2009 BSMS obtained a 95% overall satisfaction rate in the National Student Survey, the second highest for any Higher Education institution in the UK. BSMS opened in 2003 as one of four new medical schools created as part of the government’s strategy of increasing the number of qualified doctors from the UK working in the NHS. Tim recently talked to Sarah Marten about his role as Learning Technologist at the BSMS.

What does your job involve?

Learning Technologist as a job title is relatively new within Higher Education, and to many people this role is something of a mystery! My job involves supporting the teaching faculty as they deliver the BMBS medical degree by using a variety of different technologies, from standard presentation software to advanced web-based resources. This mostly means internet-based technologies, although it also includes audio and video. My job is very much that of a producer, as it requires me to work at the interface of the teaching content from the clinical tutors and the technology and technical team to deliver something that will enhance learning.

Academic staff are responsible for the delivery of learning points for students and it is my job to help them convey these in an effective way. We have a proportion of external teaching staff (‘visiting lecturers’) at BSMS, so it is important for me to be able to manage varying degrees of IT literacy. I also travel to the multiple campuses and NHS sites to meet teaching staff where they are to save them from being away from their clinical roles.

Teaching can be greatly enhanced using the web-based technologies and can benefit the different ways in which students learn; but it is important to use them in an appropriate way. Here at Brighton we use StudentCentral, a web-based Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which enables us to provide multimedia learning resources, communicate with students, and manage the delivery of the course across all sites.

What other technologies do you use?

MoMEd (Mobile Medical Education) is an innovative programme developed for our third/fourth and fifth students which provides them with access to medical information using a PDA or a smartphone. We work closely with a commercial company, MedHand International, who enable our students to access their software called Doctor Companion, a suite of high-quality medical references including The Oxford Handbook medical textbook series, the BNF, Netter’s atlas of human anatomy, and clinical guidelines. MoMEd has generally been well-received by students and we are now gathering data to evaluate the effectiveness of the project.

MoMEd was developed by a team here at BSMS, including our Director of Medical Education, BSMS IT manager, and BSMS Librarian. Mobile learning is a new and strong area of interest in medical education which is being developed globally including other medical schools in the UK and the US. We are always keeping our eyes open for technological developments that could assist learning, including those offered by the Apple iPad.

I am involved in the development and implementation of several other educational technologies: A bank of more than 500 online clinical scenarios presented in a quiz format to help facilitate students’ understanding of symptom presentation and treatments; Assignments and portfolios now submitted and returned electronically, making the process more accurate, robust, and easy to manage; A popular image-based ‘Question of Anatomy’ quiz that the first year students use to enjoy learning anatomy (produced by Prof Darrell Evans and Dr Stan Stanier); Video ‘screencasts’ of lecturer summaries to reinforce key points; Web-based tutorials with images, audio and video to provide deeper learning on certain topics for students on clinical placements.

Are you involved in staff training?

An important part of my job involves running regular staff training workshops, such as training for clinicians in the use of the wide range of tools in our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). I also provide one-to-one sessions for individual members of staff, including refresher courses and instruction in new or extended features of the VLE or software packages.

What else do you do?

Regular meetings with key curriculum staff in the BSMS are another important aspect of my work. These include quarterly meetings of the Curriculum Management Board and meetings with the Medical Education Unit, whose remit is to support and improve teaching across the medical school. I also sit on the Student Affairs Committee, where we obtain and respond to valuable feedback from students.

Another important aspect is to attend and contribute to relevant conferences around the UK about three or four times a year, such as the Annual Conference of the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT). I also attend meetings and workshops of MEDEV (the Higher Education Academy’s Subject Centre for Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine). They are a UK wide initiative supported by the four HE funding councils whose remit is to enhance the learning experience by sharing good practice in teaching, learning and assessment.

I appreciate the opportunity to develop my interest in education research by contributing to academic papers, posters, and other published research material and will be presenting a poster at the forthcoming AMEE e-learning symposium in September.

Keeping up to date with current developments in learning technology using a variety of methods such as blogs and email alerts is vital. This requires a level of discernment in order to determine what is pertinent and applicable to medical education.

Visiting our Regional Centres who support our final year students during their long clinical placements is another part of my job, which involves regular travel around Sussex and Surrey and the opportunity to encounter a variety of people and environments.

Who do you work with?

I share an office with the IT manager here at BSMS, and this works well as it is important that I am well-informed about any changes to our systems and networks. As part of the BSMS Library Services team, my line manager is the BSMS Librarian, and the Assistant BSMS Librarian is also part of our team. We enjoy working together to keep the focus on student learning (rather than on technology) and the challenge is to develop high quality educational resources to enhance this process within the available resources. I work regularly with the Medical Education Unit here and consider myself to be part of their team.

Close liaison with the school office admin teams is also important as they are highly involved in the logistics of delivering the curriculum and manage many of the VLE tools that we use such as electronic submission of students’ work.

Why did you choose this work?

Having been brought up in a medical family – my father a doctor/educator and my mother a physiotherapist – I have always had an interest in the miracle of the human body. I am therefore very interested in medicine and how people learn, and the ways in which technologies can improve learning. For me, both the technical and the creative aspects of learning technology support appeal, making this the perfect job for me!

When I started this job three years ago, e-learning was a vague concept and still is to some extent. Jobs for learning technologists were few and far between, and so when I saw this post advertised in Brighton it seemed ideal, especially as I had grown up in this area. BSMS is a relatively small medical school with a friendly team and the job did not seem daunting as I knew it would be easy to get to know people. I still live in London, but find the daily commute to Brighton quite manageable, and travelling by main-line train is far preferable to long tube journeys.

What are the hours/working conditions?

I work a 37 ½ week, which equates to a standard 9.00am to 5.30pm day, and I am careful not to take work home. Because I live in London, I have three hours of travelling time each day on top of this and, although this time is put to good use (sometimes by sleeping!), it does make the day a bit longer.

The facilities here are excellent as I can use the services offered at both the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex. There are a variety of social activities and the staff support and training are also very good. I work in a lovely new building surrounded by an attractive, green environment of the South Downs. Being situated in Falmer, just outside Brighton, there are lots of opportunities for pleasant lunch-time walks close to BSMS.

Which of your qualifications have proved most useful?

I have a BSc degree in physiology and pharmacology and this scientific and medical background has been beneficial during my career. Last year my employer generously supported me to take the Postgraduate Certificate in E-Learning Design on a part-time basis at the University of Sussex. This course was exceptionally helpful and relevant, providing an ideal balance of educational theory with practical experience of key technologies. Project management was also covered, which I also found useful, as much of what I do now is project-based. I was very pleased to be awarded the “Top Student Award” during this course.

Is there any on-the-job training?

I have fortunately been able to participate in various workshops and conferences offered by the Universities of Sussex and Brighton in both technical and educational topics. BSMS has also sent me on various training courses including ones run by Netskills, a provider of training in new technologies for those working in the Higher Education sector. There is great support for training in this job.

What skills and personal qualities are important?

Good communication skills are very important, and you need to understand how people think about and approach technologies. You need to be encouraging and supportive, and have good listening skills. Sensitivity is also important, as our academics are very busy people with varying degrees of technical competency. Creativity is also vital as I am seeking to novel opportunities afforded by existing and new technologies.

An outgoing and friendly approach is essential as this job involves meeting so many different people, from students to senior academic and NHS staff. Excellent organisational skills are needed and you need to be someone who can multi-task and manage several projects at once.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I like working with people to develop ideas into something concrete that aids learning. This job is so varied and days are rarely the same. I believe education, including in medicine, is a crucial goal for society and I appreciate the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to the education sector. Ultimately, we are helping to make better doctors and maintain high standards of medical education, and I am extremely pleased to be a part of this.

Any dislikes?

My job can get very busy at times, with differing demands competing for my time. With so many projects on the go at once it can sometimes seem like a juggling act. Also, the ever-changing world of technology leaves little room to keep up. Finding time to contribute to research output is always a challenge.

What prospects are there and what ambitions do you have?

There is a large commercial e-learning sector which is responding to the growing demand for online training but I have no plans to move in that direction in the foreseeable future. It seems to me that the work would be more pressurised with less variety and potentially higher salaries would not tempt me.

There are lots of possibilities for the future, such as a move into a more technical role involving computer programming. I could also move into video production for clinical training, or even leave medical education and use my skills within another faculty or subject area. Moving into lecturing could be a possibility if I undertook further training. However, I have no plans to change as I love my job and the way it combines my interests in education, medicine and computer technology.

What advice have you got for people interested in this career?

Explore the possibilities within web-based technologies as opportunities are developing all the time. Your primary goal needs to be improving learning (whatever the subject area), whilst understanding the general needs and requirements of both teaching and computer technologies. A background in medical education, even in an administrative role, will give you an appreciation of the courses and help you to both establish credibility with the clinicians and understand their needs.

If you weren’t in this job what do you think you would be doing?

I would either be running medical education courses or delivering IT skills training. Other jobs that might interest me are film production or web design and usability testing.

Biography

Tim Vincent holds a BSc degree in Physiology and Pharmacology from King’s College London. After graduating he obtained his first job as an educational course administrator at the Royal College of Physicians via jobs.ac.uk. Although Tim really enjoyed science and medicine, he was not keen to pursue a lab-based career within either physiology or pharmacology after graduating, and his first role combined his interest in medicine and education. After four years, Tim had a brief stint at Imperial College London (using jobs.ac.uk again) as an Executive Assistant in the Undergraduate School of Medicine, which gave good experience of undergraduate medicine. He then moved to the position of Programme Administrator at the Institute of Postgraduate Medicine at BSMS, a job which involved course design and delivery. Tim then successfully applied for the post of Learning Technologist at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, where he has worked for three years. Tim is a member of the Association of Learning Technologists, the professional body for Learning Technologists.

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