Focus on Research March 2014

Using Tablet Computers to Increase Student Engagement with fmCASES

By Ryan Palmer, EdD; Fran Biagioli, MD; and Patty Carney, PhD
Ryan Palmer
  Ryan Palmer, EdD
Fran Biagioli
   Fran Biagioli, MD
Patty Carney
   Patty Carney, PhD

The landscape of medical education is changing rapidly. New models of teaching and assessment once confined to the space of regular higher education, such as “flipped classrooms,” “e-portfolios” and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are now entering the domain of medical education. These new models are evident in the competency-based education initiatives in both the GME milestones and at OHSUs UME curriculum transformation. As enthusiasm builds for these innovative instructional strategies, rigorous educational research is needed to help discern effective innovations from passing educational fads. Our current study proposal from the Family Medicine Medical Education Research sections seeks to do just this by exploring the nascent field of mobile learning.

Mobile learning had been defined as a point where mobile learning and computing intersect to create anytime/anywhere learning opportunities. Mobile learning is on the rise in medical education, with many medical schools now issuing tablet computers to both students and faculty. Though mobile learning appears to support personalized, collaborative learning, relatively little is known about the impact these devices have on student outcomes. The literature on mobile learning initiatives is primarily descriptive, with limited quantitative measures linking mobile learning initiatives to improved educational outcomes.

We propose using a case-based learning system (MedU’s fmCASES platform) in the OHSU Family Medicine clerkship to measure the impact of mobile learning on learner outcomes. A randomized controlled study design will be used to determine whether clerkship students who are assigned a tablet computer are more engaged with their cases, and perform better on their fmCASES final exam, compared to those students assigned to a control group who will access the fmCASES on a device of their choosing. As increased engagement with the fmCASES has been linked to better performance on the fmCASES final exam, we will determine the extent to which students in each study group interact with the fmCASES so we can account for this variable in the analyses. We will also record the learning device choices among students assigned to the control group so we can characterize their modalities, though we will use an intent to treat analysis for primary study outcomes. Lastly, qualitative data will be collected on experimental group students to further explore their experience using the tablets for fmCASES coursework.