Ten years ago, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) was among the first medical institutions to establish a global education community. The university now provides high-quality transnational education across Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia.
In a paper in Medical Teacher, RCSI academics examined the factors that can support success in the delivery of transnational education which provides comparable content and learning experiences for students across multiple locations and cultures. The paper focusses on the delivery of an integrated endocrine, renal and genitorurinary module that was originally developed in Dublin and shared with RCSI Bahrain and then Perdana University in Malaysia.
It took the RCSI team several years to successfully develop a well-coordinated module across three sites. Vital to its success was the building of trust and confidence across campuses through the investment of time and energy in communication and relationship building.
The academic team involved identified the following areas that led to improved outcomes for the delivery and assessment of a shared undergraduate module on transnational campuses:
Determining module content
Across the institutions, the teams shared expertise and resources to establish core module content. Learning Outcomes were re-written so they were appropriate and unambiguous. The result was a greater awareness of international healthcare contexts and the overall improvement of the quality of content, ensuring gaps were addressed and eliminating the potential for content bias.
Producing joint summative asssessments
A common summative exam paper that adhered to a strict set of deadlines was required. For this module, the Dublin team produces a blueprint of the assessment which is then posted to a secure online forum on the common virtual learning platform, where it undergoes a robust review. Although it is a labour-intensive process involving full staff engagement and time commitment, this process was found to result in superior and rigorous final assessments. Leadership and moderation of the forum is critical and staff training on item writing across all sites is required.
Managing consistency and unintended consequences
Fear of loss of freedom and control by staff locally was an unintended result of the standardisation process, sometimes resulting in staff being reluctant to participate and experiment. This was addressed through the establishment of a joint module committee in which open discussion and compromise is encouraged.
Differences between time zones and cultural backgrounds posed specific logistical challenges such as the setting of critical teaching days, exam dates and deadlines. Experienced professional services staff were instrumental in managing these challenges and establishing standardised protocols. Space, resources and staff availability must be considered when recommending learning activity formats and student-staff engagement activities across campuses.
Handling challenges with diverse student cohorts and campus specific adaptations to learner needs
Students from different cultural backgrounds are likely to need support to ensure that they can overcome any pre-university educational differences and language difficulties. To manage this, admissions criteria across the RCSI campuses were standardised, tailored interventions developed and student and staff engagement is encouraged between the campuses.
About the authors
Warren Thomas is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, and Academic Lead in Physiology and Junior Cycle Teaching Director at the School of Medicine, Perdana University – RCSI.
RCSI is committed to achieving a better and more sustainable future through the UN Sustainable Development Goals.