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Updated 4:00 PM May 15, 2008




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University receives grant to provide
online health educational materials

The University has launched an ambitious pilot project to make comprehensive pre-clinical health curricula available worldwide via the Internet.

The project, made possible by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, addresses the education of health care providers in developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. It also enhances the access for health science schools around the world to materials that can be used to help educate health professionals.

The Medical School is leading this project and working with U-M health science schools and partner institutions in Africa — the University of Cape Town and the University of Ghana. A key part of this effort will be converting existing educational materials into Open Educational Resources (OER), which will be available online. The Medical School and the School of Public Health and School of Dentistry will provide materials for the pilot. Other U-M health science schools and the School of Information also are supporting the OER program.

"This is an exciting opportunity for our University," says Dr. James Woolliscroft, dean of the Medical School. "As we participate in this effort to help improve medical education in developing countries, we are transforming our health curriculum to provide students with richer learning experiences and strengthening their ability to practice in a global health context."

Cathy Casserly, director of OER at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, says the Michigan project is a valuable experiment in learning how to make educational materials relevant to a specific target population. "Michigan's pilot project is smart in that it works back from the population they want to help — in this case, health care workers in the developing world — to ensure the content is designed to meet demand. We're excited to see how it unfolds."

Additional financial support for this project comes from U-M, the Open Society Institute, and the Foundation for Advancement of International Medical Education and Research.

"We believe this important grant will help us respond to an imperative global need to help train health care providers, particularly in Africa where they are desperately needed," says Dr. David Stern, director of UMHS Global REACH. "At U-M, we train health care providers — nurses, doctors, pharmacists, dentists, public health professionals and public health workers. That's what we do best. With this grant, we will be using, adapting and co-creating educational materials with partner universities in Africa, to help them collaboratively solve their human resource crisis."

Several top universities have undertaken OER projects, but usually at considerable expense. The U-M project is unique for its use of dScribe, a low-cost, scalable and sustainable method developed by the School of Information to convert educational materials into OER. The dScribe method involves a close working relationship between students, faculty and staff to assess the quality of materials and clear the intellectual property in course materials. U-M also is developing software tools to aid the faculty in quickly choosing materials to be posted to the OER site.

Health OER will be developed for the pilot program with participation from many parts of the University. A larger, future OER effort is expected to include educational materials beyond the health sciences as well.

"This is the University's first major step into OER, but it is only the beginning of much more exciting things to come," says John King, vice provost for academic information.

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