The nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the learning ecosystem in higher education institutions. Timely support by technology start-ups has enabled uninterrupted and structured online learning in as many as 757 health sciences institutions affiliated to Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS) in Bengaluru.
In April 2020, the RGUHS roped in tech startups to implement Learning Management Systems (LMS) to continue the lectures online. While the tech companies offered the software and learning apps free of cost to the university, the institutions with nearly two lakh students and medical teachers got trained to adapt to the online education system.
AMCI, a Bengaluru-based start up owned by doctor couple—Dr Amit Verma and Dr Swapna Singh—launched 'Medwhiz LMS' (software) in 2019.
"RGUHS showed interest in our software, and we built content with a panel of expert medical teachers and IT professionals. The stereoscopic 3D video lectures, interactive 3D models and many more features were added to digitalise the classroom," explains Dr Swapna Singh, adding that AMCI had earlier launched its PG training module as an alternative to expensive coaching centres.
During the COVID crisis, the startup volunteered to develop Medwhiz, a learning platform for medical, dental and paramedical education and develop content prescribed by the Medical Council of India. The varsity decided to have mandatory online teaching to engage the students during the crisis.
Says Dr Pushpa Sarkar, director of RGUHS, "We encouraged our colleges to adopt online teaching through Google classes, Zoom and Cisco webex. When the lockdown was announced on March 24, the students did not expect it to be a long break and did not carry their books home. But each student was given access to e-books and digital library. However, we needed to do something more to sustain students' interest in learning. when technology companies came forward to offer free content and software to conduct interactive lecture sessions, the varsity lapped up the idea."
"Medical education is a hands-on discipline and many were skeptic about the effectiveness of virtual classroom teaching. But the online experience has been fulfilling to both students and the teachers," admits Dr Sarkar.
"Every day is important for a medical student and the learning has to be uninterrupted, structured and aligned. So, we came up with a software that could record the classroom sessions. We also developed exhaustive content—3D video lectures and interactive 3D models based on the curriculum. In April, a team of 15 developed the platform and also trained at least 1.5 lakh users—medical teachers and students from across the state," explains Dr Singh.
"Online lectures were being held between 9 am and 4 pm. The lectures were recorded and uploaded for the benefit of students, who could not login due to the network issues. For rural students, we mailed the notes as they had no access to network," says Dr Sarkar.
Live sessions are conducted in the colleges and the software installed in the classroom helps record each live session in the classroom. The recording is made accessible to the students. The software also allows assignment submission and helps build a clinical knowledge database too.
"Every doctor in a teaching hospital is asked to maintain a log book to record the special cases he is treating and the patient history so that he can discuss the same with his students later. It enhances the clinical knowledge of students and also helps in research studies," says Dr Singh.
A viva feature is also enabled so that the professor can allot time for oral test, communicate with each student individually and also assess the student. The lectures can be accessed from the archives while preparing for their PG entrance exams too.
The digital platform has instilled discipline too, say college managements.
"We are now able to collect data on both the students and teachers, track the number of lectures held and the student's level of engagement. We started the online classes in April. We trained students and teachers to adapt to self learning tool like Medimagic, too," says Dr Sarkar, adding that online teaching is an effective alternative to classroom teaching but not a substitute.
MediMagic is a learning app created by Vinformax, a company that develops curriculum-based medical education content. The app has 3D animated content for pre-clinical and para clinical lessons, which is being offered free of cost to students of RGUHS.
“With a little government support, technology driven education in the state can take giant strides. But there is a need to upgrade the skills and have an open mindset to embrace this change," feels Dr Swapna.