July 23, 2020

RO Corner: Resident as Teacher in the Remote Learning Environment

By Edina Wang, MD, radiation oncology resident at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and ACR RFS RO Representative

Man sitting at desk working on computer with monitor showing multiple meeting attendeesIn the recent years, there has been a growing interest in opportunities to nurture teaching and educational scholarship for healthcare professionals. During my residency, I participated in a teaching certificate program at my institution. Similar certificate programs have followed at other institutions. There are also programs that allow individuals to obtain a master’s degree in medical education. In addition, there are many excellent articles and journals dedicated to topics surrounding the theory and practice of educating in medicine.

Yet, even without having a formal study on pedagogy, we as residents likely have had multiple occasions in which we have taught learners. We have also taught learners through many educational methods that may have included bedside teaching, supervised clinical experiences, case-based learning, problem-based learning, focused discussion, and student-led seminars.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we find that there are necessary changes to make to prioritize the health and safety of our students and ourselves in education. In many medical institutions, we are adapting to using remote methods of teaching to educate medical students or junior peers. Some of us are now using more email, phone, online learning platforms, and video conferencing tools. Most of the previously mentioned learning methods can be applied in a remote teaching environment. However, there can also be challenges for teachers and students alike in adjusting to online instruction.

Here are a few tips that I have found useful in supporting medical students or junior peers when teaching remotely:

  • Start with discussing the objectives of the instruction, the rules of engagement, and the expectations.
  • Prepare purposeful activity in advance. Effective learning is an active process and planning the sequence of a discussion and preparing guiding questions can help keep the instruction on track.
  • Facilitate active engagement by providing opportunities for students to check their understanding. It can be helpful to have frequent assessment while providing prompt feedback to students. Initially asking easier questions, followed by higher-order questions can ease participants into a discussion. If the instruction is to a large group of students, it can also be helpful to divide the group into smaller discussion groups and prepare specific questions for students to consider within their small group.
  • Enable time for questions from students. Designate Q&A times where attendee questions can be answered. If using a video conferencing tool, questions can also be responded to in real-time in the chat feature.
  • Share additional relevant resources that may help improve understanding of specific content.
  • Be sensitive that this can be a difficult time for students, both socially and emotionally. It can also be stressful for those with limited support or resources.
  • Create a safe learning environment to help facilitate understanding of complex ideas and allow for better innovation. A major consideration I learned through my teaching certificate program is the importance of understanding group dynamics. How well do participants know each other and what is their ability to express their thoughts and feelings? What is their comfort level with pre-existing knowledge and openness to criticism/difference in opinions? It is helpful to be aware of gender and cultural expectations bias, which can impact an individual’s learning experience.

Here are some virtual learning resources for medical students and residents in radiation oncology: