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Data fit for doctors

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The General Medical Council (GMC) regulates medical degrees in the UK and requires medical schools to demonstrate that all their graduates are fit to practise. This may sound obvious — a case of proving they are teaching and examining the national medical curriculum. But when the actual content of every tutorial, lecture, practical and piece of homework is ultimately decided by an independent-minded medical professional, it’s much more difficult than it sounds.

Imperial College School of Medicine decided to approach this challenge using a technique called ‘curriculum mapping’. This sets out a series of ‘learning objectives’ and maps all the ‘learning events’ (tutorials, lectures and so on) on to them. As a result, you can see which objectives are being covered by which events — and fill the gaps if necessary.

Off-the-shelf or bespoke?

At first Imperial tried off-the-shelf curriculum mapping software, but found it focused too heavily on the administrators and not enough on the student experience. They wanted something that would go beyond this and provide real benefits to students. For example, they wanted students to be able to see how a lecture last month was connected to today’s laboratory session. They wanted them to be able to choose a subject to revise and immediately see all the events that had covered it. That’s where we came in.

Providing real benefits to students

We went through the curriculum mapping process with the team at Imperial and designed and developed an application that gives students something really valuable. The responsive design means the application renders beautifully on both administrators’ desktop computers and students’ phones and tablets. And by implementing it as a single-page application and applying some cunning browser caching techniques, we were able to make navigating the large data-set extremely fast, with hardly any loading times.

However, to be honest, the technology doesn’t really matter. We could have written it in just about anything. The important bit was to understand the complexity and interdependence of a lot of information.

Technologies: React and Django
Duration: 1 year
Team size: 3 devs
Hosted: AWS

To be honest, the technology doesn’t really matter. The important bit was to understand the complexity and interdependence of a lot of information.

For example, there are around 7,000 objectives in the Imperial curriculum, all of them linked together in many different ways. Changes ripple continually across the course from many different — and sometimes conflicting — contributors. Of course the software must reflect this, but it’s not as simple as updating one set of information. Everything depends on context. For example, if the content of a year 1 lecture changes, year 2 and older students must still see the year 1 lecture they actually attended, not the new one.

A two-way street

To make the tool even more useful, we turned it into a two-way street. As well as showing students how different subjects fit together, it encourages them to feed back on the quality of education they are receiving. This helps fill unexpected gaps in knowledge, especially when students are on rotation in hospital, when the school has no control over the cases they see. By making the software more relevant to students, they actively comment in real time, so Imperial knows what they have experienced and what they haven’t. In one term, we might expect 60,000 notes from students, which are immediately attached to the curriculum on an anonymous basis.

The application has now been rolled out to all six years of the medical course at Imperial. Its interactive approach and clear visualisation are popular with both students and administrators.

See more of our work