What is the BEST network?
The BEST Network is a new community of medical schools and peak professional bodies in medicine and nursing embracing the potential of online teaching and learning by developing lessons to use and share. The catch on the home page of the newly-launched website states ‘We are a community of biomedical experts who share a vision: that every student and every teacher, whenever they are, will have access to the best healthcare education.’ Among the founding members are the University of New South Wales, the University of Melbourne, James Cook University, the University of Queensland, the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia, the Australian College of Nursing and the Australian Orthopaedic Association. The project began at the University of NSW and member institutions joined if they had particular connection to the project and availability to become involved in early lesson development rather than through specific invitation.
Membership of the BEST community includes Smart Sparrow membership (see previous post) and the opportunity to author lessons. Lessons to be published on the BEST portal must undergo a still-developing peer review process but all lessons developed can be used by students and shared with chosen colleagues through Smart Sparrow.
Why establish BEST?
The BEST website gives six reasons for the network’s existence including sharing of knowledge, next generation educational content and cutting edge technologies. Developing quality resources is time-consuming and expensive and it sharing seems extremely logical in these days of straitened funding at universities.
What does BEST provide?
The three central features of BEST are:
Courseware – the resources built with Smart Sparrow software, available for all BEST member educators, regardless of whether they work for a member or non-member institution, to use as developed or to modify to suit their needs. Each course has ‘Teach with it’ button, which adds the course to the user’s personal workspace and allows them to alter and deploy it.
Slice – a cloud-based high resolution biomedical image bank sourced from medical school collections. The website states that it adheres to legal standards of acquisition, privacy, ownership and publishing. Images allow zooming and can be annotated to aid student identification of key features. Images cannot be embedded directly into other programs at this stage eg Powerpoint – only a link can be provided – but can be included into lessons built with Smart Sparrow.
Community – the intention is to provide a platform for educators to network. This section of the site is still under development, awaiting feedback as to how potential users would like it to function.
How is the network funded?
The BEST network received $4.5 million of government funding to become established. This funding runs out in July 2014, giving the network 9 months from launch to find a sustainable funding model. Clearly this is critical issue; it was raised in the panel discussion at the launch and there is currently no clear answer.
In the week leading up to the launch there were two articles about the upcoming event, an opinion piece in the Higher Education section of The Australian by Professor Peter Smith, dean of UNSW Medicine, the lead faculty in the BEST Network and Dr Dror Ben-Naim, chief executive of Smart Sparrow and an article from Dr Dror Ben-Naim in the Education section of the Financial Review.
There were over 150 people at the event, including representatives from both member and non-member institutions and health care organisations as well as journalists (an interesting choice for moderator of the panel discussion was Tim Dodd, education editor of the Financial Review). Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the introductory session, which included overviews of different aspects of the network, but I attended the panel discussion on BEST and the future of medical education and enjoyed the excellent lunch provided and the chance to chat to other attendees, a number of whom had come from non-member institutions interstate at their own expense. The afternoon session was a ‘speed dating showcase’, a series of seven stations set up which we rotated through every ten minutes. Although this was a bit rushed at times it was a good way to have a closer look at some of the courseware developed and at Slice in use. There were some excellent examples but two that I particularly liked were the forearm and hand anatomy (used as a review between lectures and a practical class) and the virtual oxygen electrode used as a practical class exercise.
The BEST network is a great step forward in the collaboration and sharing of teaching resources and, given the strains on university funding and the improvements in technology it makes perfect sense. As expected with such a collaborative effort inevitably some questions were raised about intellectual property but hopefully institutions can see that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. I sincerely hope sustainable funding can be found and the biomedical community teaches and learns through the BEST network for many years to come.