American Univesity of Beirut

Medical and Biomedical Education in Light of COVID-19: Alternative Learning Paths

​​​​​​In these unprecedented times and with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical education around the globe has been disrupted immensely, and this called for an intense and prompt attention from medical educators. As the need to prepare future physicians has never been as essential as it is now in the setting of this global emergency, the medical education teams at AUB have been working assiduously, round the clock, to set clear plans that ensure medical students still attained the highest standards of education amidst this crisis.  

To guarantee the achievement of the best education possible while safeguarding its students’ safety, the Faculty of Medicine has actively worked on addressing the many challenges and facilitating the learning process while employing the same student-centered approach. 

An obvious and immediate necessity was the replacement of in-person classes with online equivalents and technology-assisted classes. This resulted in the broad cancelling of face-to-face medical classes and requesting students to attend recorded lectures or live-stream sessions instead. In line with that, Med I and II students’ educational activities were moved to an online format while didactic lectures were either recorded and posted as presentations using Voiceover PowerPoint on Moodle or were set as live via WebEx. Interactive activities, such as Team Based Learning sessions, were delivered via WebEx as well.

As to the grading system for Med III and Med IV students during the last clerkship rotation, the faculty has made available a pass/no-pass alternative to traditional numeric or letter grading, which was devised by the expanded Council of Associate Deans (eCAD). Employing the same student-centered approach, eCAD focused on ensuring the fair testing and evaluation of course learning without resorting to traditional, in-person final exams. 

With online classes came the need for trusted online proctoring measures. The use of a third-party remote proctoring tool, Respondus software was introduced for Med I and Med II students for that purpose. Respondus is a secure system safeguarding against privacy invasion that simulates in-person exams online by verifying identities and detecting unusual activity via video analysis and by securing exam takers’ web browsers. Yet, Med III and Med IV in person exams were kept while maintaining physical distancing since they are all high-stake exams. Aside from proctored online examinations, other highly effective alternatives such as virtual in-class presentations, group assignments, non-proctored Moodle exams, and discussion forums were introduced.

For practical skills that Med students needed to demonstrate, students were asked to video-tape themselves while performing these skills and they submitted the videos to the Course Director. Students were also provided with an online module and they were asked to solve some clinical cases pertaining to that module.  

As infection rates increased and based on the recommendations of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), which left the door open for colleges and medical schools to choose options that suit their programs, the Faculty of Medicine at AUB suspended clinical rotations. Hence, clinical clerkships were run with a minimal number of students and on a rotational basis in an effort to prevent crowding in the clinical areas. 

Graduate students faced another challenge: the closure of all research labs within DTS. As such, MS degree seeking students fell into two categories based on the research work they have completed to date, the difficulty of their thesis topic, and the methodology they employed in their work. The first category included students who attained 65 to 75% of their lab work, could wrap up their accomplishment, and write a clear thesis with a lengthy introduction, a comprehensive discussion of the research work finalized, limitations, and future studies. Students in this category will graduate on time. The other category includes students who still needed to complete enough lab work that allows them to write their thesis. These will not be able to graduate on time.   

With the COVID-19 pandemic representing an enduring and inevitable transformation change in the current approach to medical education and with the Faculty of Medicine adopting alternative learning paths, AUB FM once more proves its commitment to providing and delivering educational and training programs responsive to the globally evolving needs in academic medicine and patient care. 

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