INTRODUCTION AND RESULTS: The MUSC medical microbiology and immunology course is an 11 credit hour, integrated, second-year course that in the 2007-2008 academic year included 36 contact hours of small group learning exercises. This represented a 20% increase in small group contact hours from 2001-2002. Small group exercises included both Patient Oriented Problem Solving (POPS) and Clinical Correlation Exercises (CCE), the increase in contact hours being entirely made up by new POPS.
Over the same period, the percentage of students who strongly agreed that small group exercises were more effective than lectures in improving retention of material increased from 59% to 77% (a 30% increase). The largest increases in student satisfaction appeared to correlate with the addition of post-tests to CCE exercises in 2006-2007, a modification suggested by students in past evaluations. Post-tests were previously only given after POPS exercises.
POPS and CCE are open-book learning exercises administered to groups of four students. The POPS format splits the information into four different packages, so that students have to share information during the activity. The CCE exercises are a derivative of POPS, originated at MUSC, which emphasize differential diagnosis and laboratory tests. Students receive identical information, including a detailed faculty-generated discussion of each case.
METHODS: From 2001-2008 approximately 35 groups of 4 students met for 15 (2001-2004) or 18 (2005-2008) two hour small group sessions over the 15 week course. Fourteen faculty in 7 classrooms facilitated student groups and administered post-tests. Students were allowed to form groups of their choosing, but student groups and faculty facilitators were constant for the duration of the course. Attendance was mandatory. Post-tests were 10-14 question computer-graded quizzes. Students were provided with explanatory answer keys immediately after each quiz. Quiz grades were recorded, but were mostly used for student self-assessment. Student assessment of the course was by PACE or E-value web-based course evaluation (response rate >90%).
CONCLUSIONS: The data suggest a general increase in satisfaction with group learning techniques among second-year medical students over the past 6 years, which may have been enhanced by addition of post-tests with immediate feedback at the end of all exercises.