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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Computer-Assisted Group Study for Learning / Teaching about History of Public Health to Pre-clinical Medical Students

Author(s): S.B. Rotti, B. Sudhir, G. Viranjini, K.A. Narayan

Vol. 29, No. 3 (2004-07 - 2004-09)


Objectives: To increase the awareness and interest in the topic; to test the knowledge in the history of public health; and to enhance student participation in acquiring the knowledge. Study design : Descriptive study. Settings : Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, JIPMER, Pondicherry. Participants : MBBS students studying in the pre-clinical semesters. Results: Pre-test and post-test results showed that there was a statistically significant gain in the knowledge. Feedback from student revealed that objectives were clear to 42 out of 43 students. Facilitating factors included photographs (22), group discussion (18), students' presentation (14), handouts (14), and ensured active participation of students (10). Factors which hindered learning included boring topic (10), afternoon session (9) and dates not suitable (1). Some student suggested that more copies of the handouts may be given; short break in between; and blackboard to be used. Conclusion : Materials including text and photographs available in the electronic media were used successfully to teach history of public health. This method served as an effective alternative method as judged by the students' performance and feedback.

Key words: Group study, Computer, Public health, Medical education


Study of biographies of eminent individuals is an important part of history of medicine. Their discoveries apart, it helps to learn important events in their lives, which lead them to new discoveries and to profound new theories; to take important decisions contributing to the growth of medicine. It also throws light on the social and cultural background in which they worked. It may inspire the younger generations to develop keen observational skills; to challenge the existing practices; and to arrive at new discoveries and theories.

`History of Medicine' as a topic is included in the curriculum of pre-clinical phase of MBBS course. It was decided in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine of JIPMER, Pondicherry to undertake formal teaching of this topic in the already existing programme of teaching to pre-clinical students during the year 2000-2001. It was also decided to employ `group study' as the method using computer and television set, and that materials available in the Internet web-sites would also be used for this purpose. This active method was thought of keeping in mind the guidelines given by the Medical Council of India in its Revised Regulations on Graduate Medical Education-19971, which has pointed out the inadequacies of lecture as a method of teaching; and has suggested the use of active methods. The teaching/ learning objectives were; that at the end of the class, the students should be able to mention the discoveries and contributions of some of the scientists; to enumerate some of the important events in their life which influenced their achievements; and to list the honours and distinctions conferred on them.


The method employed was group study. Audio-visual aids were the handouts of biographies of twelve scientists, viz. Paracelsus, Chadwick, John Snow, Virchow, Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister, Goethe, Robert Koch, Isaac Semmelweis, Worren, Edgar Sydensricker and Charles Winslow. Photographs of these scientists were also obtained. The materials were obtained through internet.

The whole class was divided into two batches. Two classes were conducted, one for each batch. In each class a brief introduction was given to the historical development in Public Health, which included disease control phase (1880-1920), health promotional phase (1920-1960), social engineering phase (1960-1980) and health for all phase (1981-2000). Each batch was further divided into four small groups, each consisting of 4-5 students. Each small group was allotted three scientists for group study. A one-page handout about each of the scientist was supplied to them. They studied their biographies in a group for about 25-30 minutes. Three students from each group presented the salient features of the scientists to the whole batch in a plenary session. During the presentation, the photograph of the said scientist was projected from the computer on to a T.V. Screen.


A brief pre-test and a post-test was conducted to find out the gain in the knowledge. The students were graded according to the scores. Table I shows the results. There was a statistically significant increase in the marks scored in the post-test. Feedback was also obtained from all the students who participated as shown in table II.

Table I. Results of Pre-test and Post-test

Marks No. of students
scored Pre-test (n=43) Post-test (n=43)
10 0 31
08 0 03
07 0 06
05 0 03
02 13 0
00 30 0

Table II. Feedback From the Students

  Question No
1. Objectives
a) Clear 42
b) Not Clear 01
2. Factors facilitating learning
a) Photographs 22
b) Group discussion 18
c) Students' presentation 14
d) Handouts 14
e) Ensured active participation of students 10
3. Factors hindering learning
a) Afternoon session 09
b) Boring topic 10
c) Date not suitable 01
4. Suggestions to improve sessions
a) More copies of the handouts 06
b) Wanted a break in between 06
c) Blackboard to be used 02
d) Reduction of length of the class 04


History of medicine finds a place in the curriculum of pre-clinical course of MBBS in the Revised Regulations on Graduate Medical Education, 1997. We had the options of teaching this topic by lectures or visit to various busts and painting in the hospital premises followed by discussion. We had tried these methods earlier and found the students were not taking the desired interest. There is scope for trying innovative approaches, especially in institutions like ours, where intake of students is 75 per year and staff-student ratio is good. It is already reported that group discussions have been employed successfully to teach majority of the topics in Community Medicine in the pre-clinical years2. Some topics are taught using modern audio-visuals such as television, video-cassette recorder, slide projector with tape recorder in para-clinical years3; and for some years small student research projects have been used as tools to teach epidemiology4. Hence, the present method of group study was employed. Since subject of whole of history of medicine is so vast we decided to restrict our subject to history of public health. We were facilitated by the large amount of data available in the various Internet web-sites. We found that the handouts and the pictures could hold the attention and interest of the students.


Computer-assisted group study served as a valuable alternative, innovative and interesting tool to teach and learn. This method ensured maximum participation by the students.


  1. Regulations on graduate medical education New Delhi, Medical Council of India, 1997.
  2. Rotti SB, Soudarssanane MB, Srinivasa DK, et al. A new approach in training preclinical medicals undergraduates in Community Medicine, Medical Teacher 1992, 14; 378-81.
  3. Soudarssanane MB, Rotti SB, Premarajan KC. Teaching acute respiratory infection using low cost aids. An experience in Pondicherry, South India. Medical Teacher 1991, 13; 369-70.
  4. Soudarssanane MB, Rotti SB, Roy G, et al. Research as a tool to teach epidemiology. World Health Forum 1994, 15; 48-50.
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