Academic Medicine

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Using electronic mail for a small-group curriculum in ethical and social issues.

Coulehan, J L; Williams, P C; Naser, C

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PURPOSE. To initiate an electronic mail (e-mail) program as a supplement to a medical humanities curriculum focusing on ethical and social issues. METHOD. In 1991-92 an e-mail track (called NET) was established for second-year students participating in Medicine in Contemporary Society, a four-year curriculum in medical humanities at the State University of New York at Stony Brook School of Medicine. In 1991-92 ten students volunteered to form a NET group; in 1992-93 22 students, forming two groups, were randomly selected from a volunteer pool of 76 students (from a class of 100). In both study years, the NET students analyzed and discussed electronically a series of cases posted sequentially through the academic year. Faculty tutors reviewed the students' responses, interacting with the groups and with individual students by e-mail. NET was evaluated in two ways: at the end of the course, the students completed e-mail questionnaires that included quantitative and qualitative assessments; and throughout the course, the tutors assessed the students' participation, quality of case analysis and discussion, and quality of writing. RESULTS. The students' assessments indicated that they considered NET to be more educational than the lectures, "live" group discussions, problem-based learning exercises, and formal papers in the medical humanities curriculum; that they made gains in computer literacy; and that NET enhanced their abilities to think about ethical and social issues. The tutors judged that the students had improved their written self-expression as the course progressed. CONCLUSION. NET adequately accomplished the goals set for it as an adjunct to the small-group sessions and other components of the medical humanities curriculum.

(C) 1995 Association of American Medical Colleges


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