For me, one major learning outcome from the ONL course was the realization that so much pedagogy, strategies and online tools have already been thought out, planned, executed and analyzed, that my colleagues and I certainly don´ t have to invent the wheel again. I´ m wholly convinced now of the value of collaborative learning, not least for acquiring the factual argumentative skills that are vital in the sciences. And while I´ m enthusiastically thinking that yes, it all works! it can be done!  – the interesting challenge now is to figure out how to actually apply it all. I keep coming back to being between a rock and a hard place: at least at my university we are required to take on huge student groups and provide individual feedback and to stay within budget and promote group work and to grade students only based on individual performance. It is difficult to come up with a collaborative course design for a two-week course that does not exceed 40 hours study time per week for 170 students and 4 teachers who have other jobs to take care of and little time to follow activity blogs, give feedback, monitor discussions and seminars, grade written reports and evaluate the individual contributions, and then also offer alternative or extra examination to students who were sick or otherwise unable to do the exam. Of course, having most of the course on-line does helps keep costs down, as we don ´t have to rent lecture halls and study rooms for group work.

Another important realization was how the COI presences work, and that the emotional presence is a key factor. Perhaps there is, at least within the “hard” sciences, a lingering idea that emotions have nothing to do with the subject or the teaching thereof, and that on the contrary, the impassive face and the monotonous voice convey the proper seriousness. Yet we all probably have fond school memories of one or two enthusiastic and expressive teachers who seemed able to make almost any subject interesting.

Or were they just acting? Maybe this was just a way of coping with a boring subject and a boring life? Hard to tell… but it gave me the idea of perhaps asking a good actor to teach us about the small nuances, the tiny gestures, the voice inflections that convey emotions and states of mind. And not just for applying to our teaching style, but also for detecting and interpreting emotions and moods among the students, and in turn helping them interpret the same. Indeed, this is to some extent already standard procedure in health care education, where students practice patient interaction in simulations with actors. Moreover, in support of a more complex use of emotions in learning, drama appears to be an established concept in primary education, as exemplified by Theatre in Education (TIE), where “the teacher in the TIE setting can become a conceptual artist who moulds knowledge, feelings, thoughts, sensations and experience into an active and activating educational process” and “the student himself takes the initiative and responsibility” (quotes from

A third insight which has been accentuated by the current Covid-19 situation is that medical education already does involve a lot of collaborative learning, and, for instance in the interprofessional teams of expertise that are now more or less standard at hospitals, has done so for many years. The professional life totally depends on teamwork, and it involves life-long learning. My insight is that this should be stressed as well as practiced early on in medical school, and that there are interesting and clever ways of doing that – even online.

A fourth insight has to do with what one might call the scientific discussion, which is the essence of scientific activity in that it constitutes the central arena of proposing and testing ideas and results, and of questions and doubts as well as a slow acceptance of ideas that actually hold. It is so interesting to follow the public discourse(s) on Covid-19, in that scientists (myself included) take the back-and-forth volleys of models and questions and studies totally for granted as a necessary process in the common quest for knowledge, while many non-scientists are shocked by one scientist saying one thing and another scientist the opposite. The international scientific discussion – whether on Covid-19 or cancer or climate – is a superb example of collaborative learning, and how we question and assess millions of observations from many different angles and contexts to build knowledge to act upon – until there is again reason to doubt it. In addition, the Covid-19 discussion involves so many different kinds of expertise, from epidemiologists to social scientists and economists, and they can all have important points of view to put on the table. The whole situation now is even such that not only can the general public watch how the Covid-19 discussion unfolds, but they can also participate in some aspects of it, by acting on their own conclusions and discussions, for instance on whether or not to visit grandmother, or wear a mask, or throng in restaurants.

So, in the above sense, the situation now is a great illustration of how science works and develops, and one I will use as a teacher to motivate students to assess and discuss observations from many angles – and to dismiss the notion that knowledge is static and can be acquired in its entirety by just reading a set number of books. It also illustrates how fast information can be disseminated (online/digitally, of course) for discussion – including misconstrued and emotionally distorted information, e.g., the case of hydroxychloroquine.

All in all, this indicates that scientific discussion is a perfect topic for online networked and collaborative learning in medical school, and that collaborative learning is the way to go for the whole world.

Topic 5 – Lessons Learnt: Go collaborative!