IME Prize at the Fifth Conference

Written By Jacky Wong


During mid-September 2010, Philip Xiu, Salaj Masand, and myself convened at one of my favourite noodle bars in Cambridge to discuss about a project which could be entered into a national conference.

The conference we had in mind was entitled "Fifth Conference on Medical Ethics and Law - Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Medical Ethics and Law" and was set up by the Institute of Medical Ethics (IME) to encourage students to come and present ideas for innovative methods for teaching. For those of you who don't know, the IME is an important charitable organisation set up to help standardise and improve the integration of teaching medical ethics and law (MEL) to medical students across the UK. Their most ambitious achievement recently was the updated 1998 consensus statement published on January 2010.

Being students of medicine ourselves, we found that MEL resources were very much non-existent on the internet. The vast majority of the resources were either books, or case files handed out to students on the clinical school intranet. Although we thought that some universities had their own intranet resource, there were none which were in the public domain. We also discussed this with more senior figures in the field, and one thing that was mentioned was that lack of facilities by which educators could share resources to each other across the country.

With these issues in mind, and the development of a core learning objectives, we all felt that a website containing a comprehensive online resources for medical ethics was badly needed.

Creating Ministry of Ethics
Project MELON is the project to bring about easily accessible MEL resources to students. As a result of this simple idea, we developed a website called Ministry of Ethics, the logo of which comes from the famous poster "Keep calm and carry on".

We wanted to add an extra dimension to the website. It is now 2011, and internet resources are booming with medias such a videos, podcasts, and ability for users to interact with their websites. We wanted to bring MEL learning into the Web 2.0 era. The production of such a website was not impossibly expensive or out of reach, nor was it bound by the software produced by other companies which, although they can be easy to use and set up, were not necessarily catered towards educating students online.

Luckily for us, I have had many years experience coding using PHP and mySQL, both of which were freely available software which a vast number of programmers use to make almost everything on the internet today. It was well suited to establishing the online community of sharing comments and files for the website.

Creating case videos
Next, we also wanted to bring case scenarios online. Since videos are now easily accessible on the internet, it seemed natural to try and integrate video cases to learning objectives and the topic notes that we were going to create. A recent development in video production came about a year ago, when a company called Xtranormal developed a system by which one could convert your text directly into a film. It used animated characters and computerised voices to act out the script you create. What was more important was that this was made free to use. Given our limited budget as students, this was exactly what we were looking for.

However, we soon realised that, although these videos were rather simple to create, they were limited by the inaccurate voice translations of the text, and the computerised tones of the voice which loses some of the expression of particular emotions which aids the creation of a truly realistic case. We knew that we had to convert this into a real-life action video to make this more realistic. Our first attempts at recording volunteer students were not very impressive, however, after learning from our initial mistakes, we finally managed to create a couple of live-action cases using our personal video cameras and borrowed sound equipments from the colleges.

The content
It had been a very long process of both writing the content and designing and writing the code for the website. The group of 3 met up on many occasions over the course of the 4 months of winter we had to create a fully functioning website with content. Within that time, we managed to produce content covering around 40% of the curriculum. However, we knew that for it to be launched before the presentation we would need extra help. We also knew that we had to have our content fully reviewed for inaccuracies by more senior figures in the field. Philip helped extensively as he had many contacts with the university professors and lecturers. We have also managed to recruit several other students to help writer some of the content on the website, all of which have been edited and proof read by each of us to ensure its integrity.
The conference and the presentation
The presentation of our work at the IME was only part of our goal. We really wanted Project MELON to be a turning point for MEL learning. However, given what we have produced over the 4 months, squeezing it all into a 10 minute presentation was not easy. We decided that the presentation had to be dynamic and concise. With that in mind, we turned to more software, mainly video capturing software so we could demonstrate the usage of the website. It would have also been pointless to switch speakers for such a short presentation. Since Phil has been the main communicator with the more senior figures in MEL education, he naturally volunteered to give the presentation.

Below is the presentation we gave at the conference.

And that is how we won the IME prize for innovations in MEL teaching and learning!

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