Project: Embedding Critical Thinking into a new STEMM module – Personalised Medicine: Hope or Hype

Personalised Medicine: Hope or Hype, is a new 5-ECTS, level-6, 10-week, I-Explore STEMM module, that is offered to all undergraduates across the College, irrespective of their disciplinary boundaries. The module has been designed in partnership with Studentshapers to embed critical-thinking, multidisciplinary teamwork and identity-formation, in-line with I-Explore objectives. Within the module, the innovations, challenges and limitations of personalised medicine are used to catalyse student discussions and reflection, providing a safe space for students to think aloud and debate if it indeed represents ‘Hope’ or ‘Hype’.

Profile picture of Latha RamakrishnanDr. Latha Ramakrishnan, Module lead and Biomedical Education Transformation Fellow, Faculty of Medicine:

The concept of personalised medicine, that patients can be stratified based on clinical and genetic profiles and that diseases can be prevented/managed differentially depending on individual needs/conditions, excites me, each time I come across a related publication. I wanted to share my enthusiasm and apprehensions about personalised medicine with the students and in-turn learn how they perceived the development of this field. Therefore, I conceived, obtained College funding and approvals to develop this idea into a cross-disciplinary module. Throughout the module, I have employed scenario-based learning through 3 characters, linking core-concepts with disease predispositions, as applicable to personalised medicine. During the sessions, we direct students to explore articles representing both hopes and hypes of the field, prompting them to investigate high-level issues through various stakeholder-lens. We also empower them to critique hyped areas, but in-turn propose multi-disciplinary solutions to convert hypes to hopes, and thus become vigilant consumers of personalised medicine. I ensured that the cognitive load for non-disciplinary students was manageable and therefore designed a spiral curriculum, with only breast-cancer and diabetes as examples across all sessions. Similarly, I have embedded blended-learning as a standard, with students exploring pre-session materials asynchronously and working in engineered cross-disciplinary teams during the synchronous sessions to solve clinically relevant problems.

Three PhD students worked as partners to select appropriate content to ensure inclusivity and engagement from all student backgrounds. The Studentshapers’ creativity led to the birth of Chris, Jane and Alina, the 3 avatars central to the module learning design. The Studentshapers designed these characters on an animation website ‘Powtoon’ but also built-in ethnic and gender diversity to ensure inclusivity. Together we also embedded medical predispositions within the 3 characters, so that the topics of discussion were always relevant and connected to the storyteller avatars, as they crisscrossed the module. The Studentshapers further generated short animations in which the avatars directly address and pose questions to students and urge them to think critically, the varied perspectives.

Chris, Jane and Alina, the 3 avatars central to the module learning design.
Chris, Jane and Alina, the 3 avatars central to the module learning design.

Profile picture of Laura MereweatherLaura Mereweather, PhD Student, Department of Immunology and Inflammation


Reneira Seeamber, PhD Student, Department of Computing:

The Imperial StudentShapers programme has allowed us to work as Profile picture of Reneira Seeamberpartners with the module lead Dr Latha Ramakrishnan and the session leads in order to build the STEMM Module, Personalised Medicine: Hope or Hype. Aside from providing us with an insight into the behind the scene aspects of academic teaching, it also enabled us to develop a range of professional skills. This included practical skills such as proficiency in a number of digital platforms such as Microsoft Sway, Panopto, Mentimeter, Padlet and Powtoon, which are commonly used to produce educational materials. Perhaps more importantly, we were able to improve our information communication skills as well as critical thinking. Critical thinking was a key cornerstone of the module, and we wanted students to assess material and think from different viewpoints about the future of personalised medicine. In order to identify the correct pre-session materials, we had to first develop these skills ourselves, before conveying it to the students.  We refined our own critical thinking skills through working together in an inclusive environment and being able to benefit equally from the different perspectives of each team member, whether staff or student. The fruitful collaboration with students and staff from different academic backgrounds and research interests led to the nurturing of ideas and translation of these into a successful module.

We shortlisted relevant peer-reviewed publications at the right level for students from varied disciplines. Furthermore, the module highlights the impact of media on portrayal of personalised medicine stories. The module enables students to compare media news items to primary research articles, and in doing so, identify gaps or misalignments in information relay. In all, the learning experiences students are exposed to, during the module will hopefully remain important for the rest of their education and career. To ensure the module was inclusive to students across the College, we broke-down the high-level biomedical concepts into lay terms to help students from non-biology disciplines and also created additional resources like biology refresher-guide. To highlight the advantages of multidisciplinary work, we also created a video explaining our PhD research and experiences of working with varied disciplinary researchers to solve our broad research questions.

Session leads’ experience of working with StudentShapers:

The module brings together several experts researching on this field from within and outside the Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Anne Burke-Gaffney from NHLI who leads the session on ‘Drug Development’ commented ‘The Studentshapers input brought my thoughts and ideas to life both figuratively and literally-through animations. They helped me decide, how best to pitch the learning for students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds.’ Dr. Vijesh Bhute from Chemical Engineering who leads the session on Biomarkers said ‘Working with Studentshapers significantly improved the quality of content of the I-Explore STEMM module. I think the idea to include relatable characters was important to make the content more accessible to students. Finally, the organization of content on Microsoft Sway platform by the Studentshapers has made it much more engaging.”

Students from all faculties have shown great levels of engagement with the module sessions until now. Further, an aligned educational research project is underway to explore and evaluate if this module indeed aids in the development of critical thinking and multidisciplinary identity formation within these students.

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