Teaching Matters

Undergraduate Certificate in Veterinary Medical Education

Dr Neil Hudson explains the benefits of peer assisted learning in the Undergraduate Certificate of Veterinary Education

We have introduced something called peer assisted learning here at the vet school and we've been doing it informally at the vet school for a number of years but we decided in recent years to bring it formally into the curriculum and we have it as part of the curriculum but we also have optional sign-in classes where we get our fourth-year students signing up to help with the equine clinical exam sessions.

The reason behind that is that we are passionate that we want our future vets to be really good educators because every day of your working life as a vet you're teaching someone you're teaching an owner of a dog, you're teaching a farmer how to look after their stock, you're teaching an owner of a horse, or you're teaching students coming and working in your practice, or you're teaching a fellow colleague, so we really wanted to give our students experience of teaching to get better and better at that.

I find that it's nice to kind of remove the elements of this kind of hierarchy system that you sometimes have when you're dealing with professors kind of one-on-one, especially at the school where we have so many world-renowned professors that it can be kind of intimidating, you're kind of like "I'm not worthy" and you kind of freak out a little bit and you get kind of deer-in-headlights, so who do I ask this? You know, or will I come off silly? Or, it kind of puts that pressure on to deal with some of the professors at times, but when you have peer assisted learning it takes that element away because these people have stood exactly where you have stood previously and it really helps to have them just very casually be like yeah this this and this or no don't do this or it's wonderful to really have that element and I can see not every peer assisted teacher that's older than us has the same level of confidence so some of them will come and be like "I don't know what I'm doing today" and we're like "that's cool us neither" and it's a great system to help them as well as ourselves so it's a really kind of organic learning situation.

This is a voluntary scheme that you're doing helping the younger vet students, why is it you've chosen to volunteer?

When I was in second year, I thought it was really useful having the fourth years come along and help us but it just makes it sort of easier to relate to it and you can ask them questions and you're not scared about saying the wrong answer or anything like that. Sometimes if you've had 9-5s all day every day for the past month, talking to other students about what you actually have to learn, takes the pressure off of it which can be very helpful.

Do you think vet medicine has a particular aspect which lends itself to this type of teaching?

Yes, because one way or the other, we have to work together throughout our entire profession and a lot of the work has a practical element so we'll go into it, we'll go and teach each other and we'll learn that way and the people we've taught we'll hopefully learns something that way as well I think it really does lend itself.

So what some people would say is isn't that not the sort of job of lecturers and tutors rather than the students, what would you sort of say in response to that?

I think it just gives the second years a lot of confidence to be with fourth years that have A, been through it before, and B, they don't feel sort of, I mean some people wouldn't feel nervous asking a lecturer a question, but it's just sort of, it just enables them to say whatever they like without feeling they need to sort of be reserved in any way, well we hope that it does that anyway.

At all times there are senior members of staff supervising that practical so in the equine class myself and other equine clinicians will go from box to box and chime in and if if the fourth year students are wanting a bit of backup and help they will call us in and we help with that, so we never want to put those students in a position where they're thinking, "oh, I'm having to struggle here on my own" and and we find when we've surveyed the students afterwards that they've really enjoyed that whole experience, but yeah we're very much there, and we're sort of making sure that they're doing the right thing and we brief them before the classes as well so that we, that we're all clear on what we want to try and achieve from these practicals, so it's a very sort of mutual relationship from there, but yeah we're always there.

What exactly is it you get from the process?

Well number one, I would say that it sort of reinforces what we've learned two years ago and sort of had a break from, because obviously we're studying different species and secondly it just sort of, enables us to sort of get to know the second years and just knowing what they get from it, it just gives us a lot of pleasure, knowing that we're helping them.

It's not every person that's going to ultimately end up as a formal veterinary educator in a vet school, but as I say, all our veterinary students who become vets are going be teaching to some degree, so we see a good number of our students doing this programme and then a small number taking it a step further with a higher education academy -  obviously the whole year is not going to sign up for this because not everyone wants to do that, but what we're passionate about is setting up future generations of veterinarians and scientists and researchers so that that the future of the profession is in safe hands in terms of teaching and outreaching because I think an important role that vets play is educating the general public about health and animal health but also public health and human health and I think the more education that we can get with that the better it will be.