University in times of pandemic: Digital instruction at the MHB

Alicia Assem, 22, 8th-semester medical student at the Brandenburg Medical School. Photo: private

Brandenburg an der Havel, 4 December 2020

The MHB has relied on digital instruction right from the start. Online lectures have gained in importance during the Corona crisis. A visit to the virtual A guest feature by Feliks Todtmann, Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung
Wednesday afternoon, shortly before 1 pm. One by one, students arrive for a lecture at the Brandenburg Medical School (MHB). They see each other in small windows at the bottom of their screens. 21 future physicians are distributed all over Brandenburg: Brandenburg an der Havel, Neuruppin, Potsdam Lauchhammer Bad Saarow or Rüdersdorf. The seminar is a digital event, a video conference. Some participants follow the event from home, others from one of the fully equipped video facilities at the university.

Today’s interdisciplinary seminar on “the first seven days of a newborn child” is part of the regular curriculum and explores how the small body of a baby adjusts to life outside the womb. Medical student Alicia Assem is sitting in a video seminar room at the Immanuel Klinik Rüdersdorf. The 22-year-old MHB medical student listens as paediatrician Meike Wetzling describes what happens in the body of neonates in the first days after birth.

Digital seminars and lectures exclusively

Assem’s day started this morning at the department of child and adolescent psychiatry in Rüdersdorf and included morning meeting, group therapy and sessions with young patients. Currently in her 8th semester, she is completing the practical parts of her training at hospitals in Bernau and Rüdersdorf. The majority of encounters with fellow students is virtual only. She is pleased to be able to attend lectures and seminars despite the Corona pandemic.

Many MHB locations offer fully equipped facilities for video meetings. Photo: Feliks Todtmann

Over the last months, digital instruction formats have gained key importance for student education. After an exclusively virtual summer term, the MHB started the winter semester with a comprehensive hygiene concept and risked a restart with classroom attendance. But all events for larger groups remain online.

Modern digital infrastructure at all MHB locations

“The transformation from fetal to postnatal circulation is a key moment in a baby’s development. What must happen to make the transformation work?” so Meike Wetzing’s question directed at one of the moving cameras on the wall. Seminar rooms at the MHB are equipped with the latest technology. Cameras are mounted below large flat-panel screens and follow movements and voices in the room. Highly sensitive microphones on the ceiling capture voice signals from all corners. Persons speaking are displayed on large screens.

Many MHB locations have such ultramodern video conference rooms. Even before Corona, the university was well equipped for instruction via internet. Lectures in the clinical part of the medical curriculum from the 8th semester are already organized in online format exclusively, and early investments into digital infrastructure are now paying off.

Cameras follow movements and sounds in conference rooms. Source: Feliks Todtmann

Jenny Engelmann (31) from the scientific staff of the MHB Institute of Biochemistry assists her colleague Meike Wetzling in today’s instruction. She explains the biochemical processes taking place in the bodies of newborns. Among her other research interests are innovative and improved teaching methods, specifically in digital formats.

“Online formats: greater reluctance to play an active part”

She observes a greater reluctance in students to play an active part in online formats, and therefore wants to motivate participants to speak up and ask questions. Another disadvantage compared to classroom attendance is the lack of interaction, of gestures and facial expressions. This is why Engelmann uses various digital applications to improve interaction in seminars, such as survey and quiz tools, virtual group work or tutorial videos. Lectures and seminars are now recorded so that students can watch them at a later time.

Alicia Assem perceives these video lectures as a big plus of digital studies in times of Corona: “You are far more flexible if you are ill or have an appointment.” She profited from the new format in summer when she volunteered in a Corona test station and watched her scheduled lectures after her shift.