Like most schools around the world, my university was forced to transition to online learning once lockdown was announced. It definitely took a lot of getting used to, especially when I had to use apps I had never heard of before (I’m looking at you, Zoom). Here’s what online learning was like for me, as a medical student.
The case of pre-recorded lectures
Since our professors were doctors, they weren’t able to give us lectures over Zoom. Instead, we were given access to last year’s lecture recordings. It was convenient to keep up with the course at my pace, rather than having to sit through four lectures back-to-back and leave even more lost. However, a major drawback was the quality of the videos. Some lectures didn’t have audio as the lecturer had forgotten to turn the microphone on. Furthermore, there was no one to hold me accountable to actually watch the lectures. There were days when I just wanted to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and reminisce about the good old pre-lockdown days. I also really missed the general atmosphere of a lecture. Sitting in a theatre with a hundred other students who are just as confused as you builds a certain sense of camaraderie and willingness to collaborate.
“I quite looked forward to them because it felt nice to talk to other medical students and catch up with each other”.
Anatomy minus cadavers
Anatomy was an exception to the lectures. Throughout the course, we had a non-recorded anatomy lecture followed by a practical. Once the lockdown started, the anatomy staff produced several videos for us to watch. We were also given an anatomy app to explore to get a grasp of the concepts. Personally, this didn’t work at all for me because the last module we had was the locomotor system, which essentially involves around a million different muscles. Working with cadavers consolidated what had been taught at lectures, and I felt like I was grasping at thin air when working through the content online.
Tutorials: to cancel or not to cancel?
All of our tutorials related to microscopy and pathology were cancelled. The only tutorials that were continued were our problem-based learning (PBL) sessions. In PBL, we are split into groups for the whole semester and are given case studies to analyse, research and discuss. These sessions were held twice a week, as usual, over Zoom with our facilitator. I quite looked forward to them because it felt nice to talk to other medical students and catch up with each other.
One advantage of online learning was the increase in exam-revision tutorials not just organized by the students at the university but organizations outside too. Although I only attended the university-organized tutorials, I’ve heard great things about the others too.
How to stay focu—oh look! A bird!
“In the end, studying gave me something productive to do every day”.
I’ll be brutally honest: I found it incredibly tough to motivate myself to keep working. At times, I wanted to wallow about the state of the world; other times, I was consumed with homesickness and abhorred myself for choosing a course where exams hadn’t been cancelled, and we were still given work to do.
It was tough. I made a schedule for myself, counting down the days before the exam day and spreading work out as evenly as possible. In the end, studying gave me something productive to do every day. I’m one of those people who always feels horrible if I haven’t accomplished something for the day. Being able to watch a lecture, make notes and try to learn the content made me feel good about myself. I wouldn’t let myself do anything, “fun”, until I had gotten that out of the way in the morning. That way, I had the rest of the day to look forward to.
How were exams conducted?
Our exams are multiple-choice questions with some very short answer questions (VSAQs), and they’re done digitally, on computers. The only change this semester was we were given access to the portal on our own laptops or home computers. The exam was open-book, which meant we were allowed to look through our notes or lecture slides. We were, however, not allowed to discuss the question with our peers. (So, we weren’t allowed to organize a call on Houseparty and do the exam together.)
Although some aspects of medical school worked really well online, such as the PBL sessions and the exams (ha, I doubt they’d make the next ones open-book!), I can’t wait until we have in-person sessions once more.
Saloni More is a first-year medical student at the University of Edinburgh. When she’s not stressing over memorising medical conditions and drugs, you can find her curled up with a book or running around the park, away from life’s troubles.
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