Auckland Medical School is soon to launch a pilot project to provide distance learning through videoconferencing technology.
The project is likely to get under way in about three weeks, and involves surgery teaching to undergraduate students simultaneously at different hospital sites.
The participating hospitals are Auckland Hospital, North Shore Hospital (Waitemata Health) and Middlemore Hospital (South Auckland Health).
South Auckland Health academic head Professor John Collins says it is the first time such technology will be used by the medical school to teach undergraduates at different sites.
He says one reason for the move is that it is no longer easy for students to get to the
city centre from each of the hospitals, because of increased traffic.
Dr Martin Orr, of Waitemata Health, says the aim is to make it easier for students to access quality education.
“With a speed of 384Kbit/s the picture quality and sound are very good, and problems such as robotic movements, echo and sound delays that accompany a speed of 128Kbit/s are gone.”
Collins says distance learning by videoconferencing means the teaching load can be shared, and the best teachers at every site can be used. He believes it is also advantageous for the students to learn about videoconferencing equipment, because it is already used in medicine and will be used even more in the future.
According to Orr, there is potential to spread the technology into post-graduate work. “You’re a medical student for six years, but you’re a doctor for 40 years or so. Medicine is changing so quickly, it’s a matter of getting the new information out from the major centres. Specialists in the regions could also use videoconferencing to share their knowledge.”
He says the only downside of the technology is the absence of the “sense of togetherness”, but believes people are sometimes more attentive with videoconferencing than they are with more traditional teaching.
“You’ve got a big screen and this really grabs people’s attention.”
He emphasises, however, that distance learning will not replace traditional teaching altogether.