It Takes a Village to Teach a Medical Student Online

Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels Photo of student learning online
1 July 2020

When the COVID-19 shutdown occurred, the Medical School (like so many others) was faced with the mammoth task of considering how to turn content that is ordinarily, and ideally, delivered face-to-face into content for online consumption.

Thanks to the dedication, innovation and quick actions of the Teaching and Learning, Phase 1 team – who are responsible for developing the course content for first and second year students of the Doctor of Medicine and Surgery program, and includes over 40 people (listed at the end of this article) – students have enjoyed a relatively smooth transition to online learning during a tumultuous time.

“Luckily, we had a head start. Thanks to the Technology Enhanced Learning and Teaching (TELT) team we had hundreds of online resources already created and being used. And for the additional materials we needed to create, we were fortunate to be able to work with the TELT team, led by Associate Professor Alexandra Webb, to rapidly deploy,” said Associate Dean, Dr Karin Messerle, leader of the Teaching and Learning, Phase 1 team.

“For problem based learning, population health, professionalism and leadership, the move to small group online teaching worked very well. Tutors were able to continue to provide a high quality learning experience,” explained Dr Messerle. “I’m immensely grateful to the professional staff and all our educators – especially our Anatomy, Population Health, Problem Based Learning, and Clinical Skills tutors and coordinators –  who have shown incredible enthusiasm to create an exceptional learning experience for our students in unusual circumstances.”

Some courses, such as anatomy and clinical skills were more challenging to translate given they typically require face-to-face interaction. But the team took all challenges in their stride and found innovative solutions.

“We decided to run ‘history taking sessions’, which involves a volunteer patient, the student and tutor interacting, via zoom. The tutors were able to provide immediate feedback, which was ideal. We also started clinical reasoning scenarios involving discussion in an online forum, which have been very well received by the year 2 students,”  explained Clinical Skills Team leader, Dr Janelle Hamilton.

“The shift to focus on history taking and clinical scenarios rather than trying to teach physical skills virtually, was a good decision by teaching staff,” said Sheraz Majoka, the Year 2 Student Representative on the Teaching and Learning, Phase 1 team.

“The history taking has been thoroughly enjoyed by the first year cohort. We’re grateful to the staff who organised the amazing actors/patients. Without them the experience would have been completely different,” said Charles Lloyd, the Year 1 Student Representative on the Teaching and Learning, Phase 1 team. “The mock patient experience for the Problem Based Learning sessions were also fantastic. Despite the transition to an online format, the staff ensured we could still have contact with medical professionals, helping us develop our medical reasoning skills.”

Associate Professor Krisztina Valter, Anatomy Team leader said, “Introducing online problem solving exercises into the anatomy course and recreating practical demonstrations into short videos ensured the students could experience some involved learning, even if it wasn’t directly hands-on. Anatomy sessions were run as small group demonstrations which allowed flexibility in the way the content was delivered. To alleviate stress for students, we provided materials in advance and encouraged students to attend virtual class early for informal chats, to raise issues or to ask questions.”

A/Professor Valter continued, “I’m thankful to our student anatomy demonstrators who embraced the online learning shift. And it was a big shift. They went from demonstrating with an academic beside them to having to run an online, small group demonstration, on their own. They devised an online forum to discuss issues, and improve the process. They also offered their support in the planning and creation of demonstration videos, online quizzes and material. I’m thankful and proud of their contribution.”

Sheraz Majoka, who attended anatomy sessions run by students said, “I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Year 3 and 4 student demonstrators. It was very useful for learning as they pitched the content at the right level.”

Throughout the online teaching process, the Teaching and Learning team were mindful to solicit critique from students in order to improve. Student representatives Sheraz Majoka, Charles Lloyd and Gabrielle Gross helped enormously in interpreting and communicating constructive feedback.

The appreciation for the staff is reflected in the sentiments of the students, “It’s clear that a huge amount of work has been done by the teaching staff in converting labs and lectures into online learning modules. They’re great resources which will no doubt be used in years to come,” said Charles Lloyd.

Sheraz Majoka concludes, “We’re aware that it’s not just the educators that go above and beyond to help us. Ms Biljana Trajkovic, the Education Support Administrator, has been a regular contact for second year students and does a huge amount of work to make life easier for us. We thank each medical professional, volunteer patient, guest lecturer, clinical skills coordinator and all support staff, who have made our learning experience positive during the lock-down.”


  • Dr Karin Messerle, Associate Dean Phase 1 Teaching & Learning, Chair and Block 1 Co-chair
  • Associate Professor David Kramer, Associate Dean Medical Education & Admissions
  • Associate Professor Richard Callaghan, Research Project and Biochemistry/Chemical Pathology
  • Dr Claudia Slimings, Block 1 Co-chair, Population Health Yr1
  • Associate Professor Girish Talaulikar, Block 2 Co-chair
  • Dr Suzanne Estaphan, Block 2 Co-chair
  • Dr Zan-Min Song, Block 3 Co-chair and Year 2 Student Coordinator
  • Professor Christopher Nolan, Block 3 Co-chair
  • Associate Professor Krisztina Valter, Block 4 Co-Chair; Anatomy and Medical Sciences Theme
  • Professor Kieran Fallon, Block 4 Co-chair
  • Professor Kevin Saliba, Block 5 Co-chair and Physiology
  • Professor Paul Pavli, Block 5 Co-Chair
  • Associate Professor Dipti Talaulikar, Block 6 Co-chair
  • Dr Carolyn Hawkins, Block 7 Co-chair and Immunology
  • Associate Professor Katrina Randall, Block 7 Co-Chair
  • Dr Brett Scholz, Year 1 Student Coordinator
  • Dr Michelle Barrett, Clinical Skills Academic Coordinator Year 1
  • Dr Janelle Hamilton, Clinical Skills Academic Coordinator Year 2
  • Associate Professor Alexandra Webb, TELT Team lead
  • Katherine Esteves, TELT
  • Thao Tran, TELT
  • Professor Christine Phillips, Social Foundations of Medicine Framework
  • Dr Stewart Sutherland, Indigenous Health Framework
  • Amanda Wingett, Indigenous Health Framework
  • Associate Professor Rafat Hussain, Population Health Theme
  • Dr Nathan Emmerich, Professionalism & Leadership Theme
  • Dr Lillian Smyth, Evaluation
  • Dr Alexandra Currie, Anatomical Pathology
  • Dr Denisse Leyton, Microbiology
  • Ms Karlee Johnston, Pharmacology
  • Ms Riemke Aggio-Bruce, Anatomy
  • Ms Hannah Lewis, Anatomy
  • Mr Fran Sanchez, Anatomy
  • Biljana Trajkovic, Secretariat, Timetabling
  • Stephanie Gray, MEU, PBL, Timetabling
  • Clara Ng, MEU, Assessment
  • Dr Wendy Dimond, Education Manager
  • Dr Nicholas Taylor, Associate Dean Phase 2
  • Phase 1 Student Representatives for 2020: Charles Lloyd Year 1 MChD student representative; and Sheraz Majoka Year 2 MChD student representative.
  • Dr Steve Martin – Clinical Skills
  • Lyndall Thorn – Clinical Skills
  • Alastair Walters – Clinical Skills
  • Sladjana Gluhovic – Clinical Skills
  • Valeriia Demianenko – Clinical Skills