Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. Neil Gordon, University of Hull

Osmosis Team
Published on Aug 8, 2014. Updated on Invalid date.

Dr. Neil Gordon is a lecturer in computer science at the University of Hull. His research interests include eHealth and telehealth systems. Dr. Gordon has devoted his life to higher education and and we were thrilled to speak with him about his expertise in the field of education.

How did you decide on a career in medical education, and education as a whole?

My interest in education practice came about from some work on a UK national project that considered the skills of mathematics undergraduates. The Math Skills project enabled me to work with colleagues across the UK on a number of sub-themes that connected to what makes mathematics valuable to employers and society, and how we enable this through Higher Education. This is especially relevant to applications in medical education and practice. Later, I moved to working in Computer Science, and maintained my interest in how we teach in general, how we can use technology in teaching, and how we can improve the technology i.e. applying computer science to education technology development. With modern mobile computing, the role of technology in training health practitioners and patients on managing their conditions is becoming of growing significance.

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD in mathematics?

As an undergraduate, I hadn’t a clear idea about what I wanted to do after university. However, as I developed my deeper understanding of mathematics and computer science – my undergraduate degree was a joint degree between these two disciplines – I became drawn to contributing to the disciplines with novel research. One of my lecturers in mathematics had some problems that needed computer support, and suggested the PhD in mathematics where I could bridge the gap between the two disciplines and work on computing algorithms and mathematical structures to solve his mathematical theories.

eHealth is healthcare supported by technology. How did you become interested in telehealth and eHealth systems?

Given my research background in quite pure mathematics, the opportunity to apply some areas of my expertise to practical and potentially valuable problems such as health and more general education, including sustainable development, appeared of interest. In terms of telehealth and eHealth, I have PhD students now working on a range of topics, both improving telehealth systems themselves (in terms of their reliability and safety) and in how we may design more effective training and support systems.

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I noticed that you do a lot of research in E-learning; what improvements to E-learning do you think would make E-learning more valuable to education and to the medical community?

I recently carried out some work for the UK Higher Education Academy on Flexible Learning, and the ways in which Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) can be applied to this. One of the key areas where E-learning can be improved is in enabling adaptive and flexible approaches to assist in training both practitioners and patients. For both target users, the intention of such systems would be that they can respond to the apparent needs of the users – for example, in identifying what material to teach, in terms of both format and level which Allows for flexibility in when and where the material is accessed. E-Learning can also utilise assessment (implicit or explicit, and formative or summative) to help identify and to encourage certain behaviours. A particular approach that is recognised as having a valuable role in motivating learners is to utilise gamification i.e. to use the techniques and ideas from (computer) games to help encourage the learner to engage with and pursue the material. This may be through a serious game, or may be through offering game mechanics to other forms of learning.

I am interested in how you think mobile technologies support education. What changes do you think need to be made to make students more comfortable with using their mobile devices as learning resources?

Mobile technologies can support education in numerous ways. One clear way – reflecting the prior point about flexibility – is in allowing the learner to work where they want to, when they want to. Furthermore, the familiarity of the device can make the use of it much more natural. In learning environments – whether the lecture theatre or other group environment – mobile devices can also allow learners to interact and to provide feedback in ways that they may not in a class-like environment i.e. many are reluctant to ask a question in front of their peers. They also enable the focus to move from learning facts, to thinking about how to find what you need to determine the best way forward, e.g. locating, identifying and using online knowledge. This type of approach seems particularly relevant to the medical context.