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My first experiences of Case Based Learning….

19 January 2015

Last week I completed the first full cycle of facilitation of Case Based Learning. Case Based Learning represents a significant change in the delivery of the Medical Curriculum in the School of Medicine at Cardiff University. A high level of student participation in their learning is a key element of new course. I was recently recruited to help facilitate in the 2nd year of the Medical Degree.

My first impression was of a different style of student interaction. Rather than being the expert in my topic or even an experienced practitioner, I joined a group of ten students in a style of tuition in which they were more experienced than I. I found this a little uncomfortable in some ways but liberating in others.

This case focussed on mental health. Particularly that of a student attending university for the first time. He’s not coping well and shows a variety of symptoms that imply the onset of mental illness. There were some video diaries of the student which made the material more interactive.

The first session was over far more quickly than I expected. The students identified the problem and set out learning objectives for themselves,  They worked through the key steps in less than 90 minutes. I was a little worried. However, when I found that many of the other facilitators had the same experience so my concern lessened.

The second session was the longest at nearly three hours. The students reviewed what they had learned over the week. Then, they received more information about the case – the student’s symptoms had become more severe. Another cycle of identifying learning objectives was pursued. In this session, the students shared their experiences of their clinical placement where they met a wide variety of patients – some with some significant mental illness.

Finally, during the third session, about two hours long, this second set of learning objectives is discussed. There is also a Case Wrap Up and a third video diary was released. The student has undergone effective treatment and is through to second year!

I was very impressed to see the students do some differential diagnosis during the Case. They discussed the symptoms of different types of mental illness including depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and anxiety.

One of the key aims of these Cases is to use them as a way to ground an understanding of basic biology as well as pathology. In the case of mental health, this included understanding anatomy of the brain and how the regions, the cells and the molecules affect sleep, appetite and other mental processes. When discussing this with a colleague, he mentioned how mood, and emotion also have a molecular and cellular basis. He mentioned that some of the students were amazed by this. Here’s a blog about the neurobiology of love from a Cardiff researcher…

When one teaches, one also learns. In this case, I really enjoyed the TED talks that were part of the Resources for the module. Most of them are covered by a Playlist entitled “The struggle of mental health”. From these, I learned a bit about depression, about schizophrenia and about suicide. As with most TED talks, they were personal witness statements about these conditions – powerful moving stories.

I enjoy watching and helping students develop. During the Case Based facilitation, I saw this group of student learn, discuss and debate. It brought back memories of my time as an undergraduate when we would discuss lectures in the coffee shop. That was inspiring. The second case starts tomorrow. It about a patient with a ‘racing, fluttering heart’ ….