What is student engagement?

Students are engaged when they are physically present in class, but they are eager to learn and collaborate with fellow students. They generally show a positive attitude towards the studying activities. Studies found that students’ active involvement and engagement strongly contribute to their academic success. So when it comes to medical education, engagement might be key to help medical students become good physicians.

Three Interconnected Dimensions: Behavioral Engagement, Cognitive Engagement, and Relational Engagement (Source: Davis et al., 2012)

Scholars argue that engagement has multiple dimensions. Based on the book of Davis at al., engagement has three encompassing interconnected dimensions:

Behavioral: Students are behaviorally engaged when they work hard, follow instructions, show effort, and participation. Even if they are active and complete their tasks, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they learn.

Cognitive: Cognitively engaged students are eager to learn; they can immerse in the topic and feel positive about their studies. Compared to only behaviorally engaged students, they can manage their learning.

Relational: Relational or emotional engagement is about how students interact with their educators and their fellow students. Sciarra and Seirup (2008) defined emotional engagement as a kind-of sense of belonging to their school community.

Why is it even more relevant in the pandemic era?

The pandemic has put great pressure on medical faculties to continue delivering clinical training. Faculties switched virtual classes, paused clinical rotations, and many medical students couldn’t be exposed to real patients due to safety reasons.

Under these circumstances, it’s more challenging to preserve the students’ engagement and satisfaction with education quality. 

The role of medical simulation scenarios in students’ engagement

Studies show that medical simulation scenarios are excellent to foster students’ engagement. McCoy et al. (2016) proved that virtual patient simulations (VPS) contributed to an increased engagement level in three facets. The use of virtual patients provided a flow experience for the students, it increased their interest, and VPS was relevant for their real clinical practice and exams.

Virtual patient simulation cases provide a hands-on experience, which makes the learning process more efficient. The safety of the virtual environment empowers medical students to make their own mistakes and learn from them. 

Emotional and stress factors can make the simulation even more realistic, therefore, more engaging. Students can even practice how to cope with time pressure or how to manage death scenarios, for instance.

7 medical student engagement tips with simulated virtual patient cases

Now let’s see the 7 strategies to overcome the challenges and increase your students’ engagement with the virtual patient scenarios.

1. Communicate your expectations clearly and set measurable goals

Do you know how many patients and diseases your students should see in practice to gain sufficient clinical practice? Implementing virtual patients in your curriculum makes it easier to measure and track how students progress compared to a defined standard. So when you set this goal clearly for them, they will be more likely to keep their motivation for practicing on clinical cases.

2. Provide continuous data-driven feedback

Establishing a good feedback system is key in keeping your students engaged. Of course, helping and supporting their progress on an individual level is a time-consuming activity for the educators. Most of the virtual patient platforms provide direct automated feedback to the students on their own performance. This way, students understand why their decision was correct or incorrect.

At InSimu, our goal is to help students learn and practice the evidence-based clinical diagnostic pathways. On the educator portal of InSimu, instructors can check all steps of students on a patient level and gain valuable insights from the group analytics. It helps you organize data-driven debriefing sessions for your students.

3. Customize the academic content you deliver

When the faculty has access to a pool of virtual patient scenarios, you can select the most relevant cases for each of your groups.

The InSimu University virtual patient platform, for example, offers more than 7000+ clinical scenarios. Educators can easily find the perfect ones by filtering the age, gender, symptoms, and diseases of the patients.

With the custom configuration options, it’s easy to adjust the courses to your students’ different segments. You can use the scenarios as class works or homework assignments.

4. Facilitate PBL sessions in small groups

With a virtual patient platform, you don’t need to craft your own cases anymore, just select the virtual clinical cases for your class. You can test them in advance, then let your group solve them together. Facilitate your students’ complex diagnostic thinking with your questions.

5. Peer and collaborative learning

Diagnostic Workshop at EXPLO Summer school

Foster engagement through facilitating teamwork and collaboration in your medical student groups. Ask your students to select some virtual patients, discuss and solve them together in a small working group. Every student can input their ideas about the next right step and make the clinical decisions together, just like in real life.

6. Motivate your students with gamification elements

Gamification is trending in all fields of education. Especially in these challenging times, students appreciate all activities which are not only educational but also fun, help them unite and awakens the spirit of the competition.

The InSimu Diagnostic competition is an engaging educational event for the students. Students work on the same clinical scenarios in a limited time-frame during the competition, while they can follow their performance on a real-time online leaderboard. You can launch online competitions in individual or team format at any faculty.

7. Independent learning – let them get immersed in their interest

Beyond the curriculum, probably all students have their unique interests and passion in medicine. After completing the compulsory assignments, empower your students to gain extra practice and knowledge in the topics they are into. By providing them with access to a virtual patient pool, you can ask them to complete a certain number of cases in their favorite topic. The InSimu Patient application makes it possible for the students to practice by symptoms or specializations on their own. During the first wave of coronavirus pandemic, InSimu provided more than 420,000 virtual patient encounters for students in quarantine so they could continue their clinical training at home.