Virtual teaching, real learning

30 Aug 2021

The Medical Faculty’s Summer School focuses on international exchange, despite the restrictions on travel owing to the pandemic. LMU designed a virtual format for the event – and it includes some surprising elements.

In the virtual Escape Room, participants navigate through different rooms, for example the Alzheimer's room, and solve tasks. | © Daniel Schvarcz

Most people know what an escape room is. It’s a place where players attempt to solve various riddles or puzzles within a certain period of time. – An online escape room in which different medical professionals work together is unlikely to be familiar to many people. This part of the international Summer School’s program was the brainchild of a group of fellowship holders in the Medical Faculty‘s Excellence Program for Students, MeCuM StEP.

"When international travel was curtailed on account of the coronavirus pandemic, we felt that it was imperative to at least provide opportunities for interactions and discussions online," says Professor Orsolya Genzel-Boroviczény, the director of the program. The international Summer School offered an especially favorable context for this because – unlike the corresponding Winter School – it focuses less on contacts with patients, and more on lectures and research projects.

The online escape room was very well received by the 23 participants in the group, which included students from Ethiopia, Brazil, Sweden, the US and Germany. LMU medical student Laura Odontides and Mazen Abou Chaar from Lebanon both agreed that “among the three modules, it was an absolute highlight”. As well as calling on one’s qualities as a detective, it demanded good teamwork and communication skills, they added.

Two participants of the Summer School in the Medical Reading Hall: Marie Semmler (left) and Fenja See (right).

© Thomas Bischoff

The Summer School focuses on medical research findings and their translation into the clinical setting. This is a two-way process – hence the term “bench to bedside and back again” (fans of J.R.R Tolkien will recall a related book title). The course also features discussions, workshops, and lectures on topics such as forensic medicine and statistical significance. In addition to fostering professional collaborations, the Summer School's organizers have always placed much emphasis on social and cultural interactions, such as tours of Munich and bread-making sessions. This year, these activities also were restricted to the online sphere.

“One can learn so much from the perspectives adopted by other people,” says Amir Kucharski from the USA. Naturally, he would have preferred a more personal format – from which to learn more about his favorite topic (forensic biomechanics). For Linnea Jönsson from Sweden the virtual formats were very practical. She too would have liked to become personally acquainted with the other participants, she says. But even under normal circumstances, meetings are often impossible during the summer, because her fellow students are either working or studying.

Professor Frida Eek teaches at Lund University – one of the Summer School’s partner institutions (together with Washington University in St. Louis). For her, exchanges between students from very different countries are of great importance. “Critical thinking and a readiness to question propositions are basic constituents of science – as is the ability to handle academic feedback,” she says. In order to benefit from it, students must understand this instructive feedback system.

Professor Genzel-Boroviczény sees positive aspects in both the conventional and the digital model. She emphasizes that “face-to-face conversations between people from different countries are an essential component of medical education”. But many students around the world and at LMU simply do not have the opportunity to travel widely, either for financial or familial reasons. That‘s why the digital model will have an important part to play in our study program long after the pandemic has ended.

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