Problem-based learning in clinical bioinformatics education: Does it help to create communities of practice?

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We have now reached the genomics era within medicine; genomics is being used to personalise treatment, make diagnoses, prognoses, and predict adverse outcomes resulting from treatment with certain drugs. Genomic data is now abundant in healthcare, and the newly created profession of clinical bioinformaticians are responsible for its analysis. In the United Kingdom, clinical bioinformaticians are trained within a 3-year programme, integrating a work-based placement with a part-time Master's degree. As this profession is still developing, trainees can feel isolated from their peers whom are located in other hospitals and can find it difficult to gain the mentorship that they require to complete their training. Building strong networks or communities of practice (CoPs) and allowing sharing of knowledge and experiences is one solution to addressing this isolation. Within the Master's delivered at the University of Manchester, we have integrated group-centred problem-based learning (PBL) using real clinical case studies worked on during each course unit. This approach is combined with a flipped style of teaching providing access to online content in our Virtual Learning Environment before the course. The face-to-face teaching is used to focus on the application of the students' knowledge to clinical case studies. In this study, we conducted semistructured interviews with 8 students, spanning 3 cohorts of students. We evaluated the effectiveness of this style of teaching and whether it had contributed to the formation of CoPs between our students. Our findings demonstrated that this style of teaching was preferred by our students to a more traditional lecture-based format and that the problem-based learning approach enabled the formation of CoPs within these cohorts. These CoPs are valuable in the development of this new profession and assist with the production of new guidelines and policies that are helping to professionalise this new group of healthcare scientists.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
PLoS Computational Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2019