Posts Tagged medicine

Second Life and the future of education Fabiana Kubke Dec 07

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The 2009 conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (#ASCILITE09) is currently taking place in Auckland New Zealand.

Scott Diener, from the University of Auckland IT services delivered a great Keynote address centered around Second Life.

A guided tour through the long white cloud island

Diener took us through a tour of the Long White Cloud Island (the English translation for Aotearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand). The lecture hall he showed us is literally inside a mountain that can be reached by navigating through dense native vegetation, the projection screen placed against an imposing cliff face. He then walked us to the University building where we reached an emergency room, fitted with an exam table and vital sign monitors. The ambulance parked at the bay can be actually driven, and driving off in it and hiding it from the eyes of the ’Professor’ seems to have become a regular prank.

It is not about procedural skills

…but about developing critical thinking and group interaction skills in emergency situations. The readings in the monitor can be controlled to create all kinds of simulated medical emergencies where students can learn to communicate in an efficient manner to, as a group, solve the situation. I cannot imagine a medical team being able to efficiently operate without a good development of these skills.

Second Life is not a game

People that interact in Second Life will tell you that it mirrors the rules of social engagement that we have on our ‘real lives’. I have heard also about how the experiences of one’s avatar (positive or negative) transfer to the ‘real’ person behind it. Diener argued that perhaps this transfer between both lives may be similar to the real emotions we feel when we watch movies, and suggests that it may be related to the mirror neuron system. It is an interesting concept. But whether mirror neurons are involved or not in the relationship between avatars and their real life counterparts, one thing that cannot be argued is that Second Life provide the equivalent of a ’real life experience’.

Limitations to the concept of teaching in Second Life

One may argue ‘why do it in Second Life when it can be done in real life?’ The answer is in the ’when’ in that sentence. I am not sure I see an advantage (other than the amusement factor) when it can be done in real life.

But it cannot always be done in real life. Diener suggested that given the rate of population increase in the world it will not be possible to scale educational ’structures’ to accommodate the increasing student population. One solution is not to educate an equal proportion of people, the other is to build resources, like those that Diener is building in Second Life, that are scalable and will therefore be able to accommodate the increased number of students.

But at this time, the limitations are not in what can be done in Second Life, but more on how it can be accessed. The internet and technology needed to make Second Life accessible are not globally available, and they are even less available in areas that could benefit the most from this technology. (For example, he said that even at the University student computers are not able to run Second Life.)

So what’s next?

If I interpret Diener correctly, he had two clear messages around the usability of Second Life. First, here is a scalable system that can overcome the edificial limitations of educational institutions in the future (and accessibility in the present), but that requires more coordinated global strategies around building internet infrastructure that will enable it to be used in its full scale. Second, that those resources which are built in Second Life should be left open for others to use, take advantage of and build upon.

There is a great warning message hidden in here somewhere:

Is it possible that in becoming so keen on developing these types of educational technologies we may end up, in the absence of a parallel affordable infrastructure strategy, limiting education access to a relatively small elite able to afford it?

[Open] Science Sunday — 11.10.09 Fabiana Kubke Oct 11

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This week’s science reading list brought to you through the magic of the internet, bloggers and Open Access.

There’s been a lot going on this week, starting with the Nobel Prizes, and of course, NASA’s quest for a watering hole. That of course, does not mean that other interesting things did not pop up on my reading list.

The Nobel Prize in Physics was jointly awarded to Charles K Kao for his work on the use of fibre optics for communication and to Willard Boyle and George Smith for the invention of the CCD sensor (charge-coupled device) , which can convert light signals into electronic signals. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, Thomas A Steitz and Ada E Yonath  for their work on the ribosomes. And the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Elizabeth H Blackburn, Carol W Greider and Jack W Szostak for their work in chromosomes, and the enzyme telomerase. I particularly liked the emphasis placed by Carol Greider on the importance of ‘curiosity-driven” research (read about it here).

There were another few fun things this week. There was the 3D description of the human genome (great post by Brandon Keim on Wired Science), the image gallery from the Nikon Small World competition are absolutely amazing, and lastly a nice article got published in PLoS One about the growth of Archaeopteryx, which is nicely discussed by Michael Ryan on his blog.

And this tweet just really made me laugh!

Gluckman, Darwin and Medicine Fabiana Kubke Sep 18

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When I started teaching a few years ago, a colleague of mine suggested I should steer away from mentioning evolution in my lectures. So it was with great delight to see that the Liggin’s Institute had organized a series of lectures on Darwin’s Legacy to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the ’On the Origin of Species’. Last night, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman gave a lecture on ’Darwin and Medicine’.

Professor Sir Peter Gluckman began his talk by answering the question: What is Evolution? He described how evolution was removed from the medical curriculum towards the end of the 19th century, when it was thought to have no relevance or practical value to justify taking time away from an increasingly crowded content within the medical curriculum. Although the basic concepts of evolution remain mainly absent from medical education, it is becoming increasingly clear that they can inform many aspects of medicine. This year, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Association of American Medical Colleges included the understanding of evolution as a fundamental aspect of medical education (see report). Another meeting on Evolution in Health and Medicine which was held on April this year and sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine also supported the inclusion of evolutionary concepts in the medical curriculum (E Pennisi, Evolutionary Medicine. Darwin Applies to Medical School. Science 10 April 2009: Vol. 324. no. 5924, pp. 162 — 163).

One example provided in the lecture was the persistence of the sickle cell anaemia gene mutation in the human population. Sickle cell anemia results from a mutation in the gene for hemoglobin, the molecule that transports oxygen in the blood cells. The mutated gene is most commonly found in tropical and subtropical regions, with a similar geographic distribution to that of malaria. While the disease is quite severe, individuals carrying a single copy of the gene (heterozygous) show a better resistance to malaria, and thus there is an advantage to maintaining the mutation in tropical and subtropical populations.

Sir Peter Gluckman also discussed how the increases in life span, that are the result of advances in medicine and are happening at a pace so fast, are uncovering the age-dependent limits of the repair systems of the human body. Similarly, we are rapidly evolving different niches in which we grow up and raise our children, environments for which we did not evolve, and this can also have significant effects in our health.

I am currently waiting for the delivery of my copy of  ’Principles of Evolutionary Medicine’ by Peter Gluckman, Alan Beedle and Mark Hanson. Peter Ellison, who reviewed the book  in Science 4 September 2009: Vol. 325. no. 5945, p. 1207,  states that this book:

“brings students to a point where they can meaningfully engage in debates on the issues at a very sophisticated level.”

It is refreshing to hear someone of Gluckman’s caliber voicing the need to consider evolutionary theory in medicine, especially at a time when anti-evolution views continue to raise their voices. (The latest controversy has surrounded the release of the British film ’Creation’ about the life of Darwin, and you can read about that here. An interesting discussion on Reconciling Religion and Science can be seen here.) I am confident that as his book becomes popular among medical students and educators, we will be able to engage in fruitful discussions about the relationship between evolution and human physiology and to form a new generation of medics that are better equipped to tackle human health and disease.

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