Thursday, December 8, 2011

Paper vs Pixel - Use of On-line or traditonal books in medical education

I was at at team meeting yesterday to orient faculty to the neuroscience course I'm co-directing next year.  We were going through the section where I was relaying to them our required texts for the course.  One of the faculty (who happens to be a physiologist) asked which physiology text we were using for the course.  On the list we have a nice neuroanatomy text, a brain atlas, a psychiatry text, a pathology text, and Harrison's.  He felt the neurophysiology discussions in our clinically minded neuroantomy text were lacking, and the other faculty in the room agreed with him.

So this left me with a dilemma.  Do I have switch from our current neuroanatomy text with a definite clinical foundation a more comprehensive text with neurophysiology covered more completely?  Such a text was used in the past, and was felt to be too dense for the needs of medical students.  Do we have them buy a text that focuses only on neurophysiology in addition to the neuroanatomy text?  I think this would likely just lead to them not buying this text as we'd only need a few chapters, and I'm not sure it would be very useful for them in the future honestly.  It would likely be more dense than the book we already rejected.  Do we just give them the lecture notes to study from?  Or do we search for/develop online references for them to use.

This last point led me to the rebuttal I had to requiring the students to buy another textbook.  My impression from talking to fourth year students is that the majority of them do not buy textbooks any more.  I can actually see good reason for that.  First, textbooks are and always have been expensive.  Textbooks are also notoriously slow to adapt to new information (new editions come out every few years, and take a year or so to develop, so are at best a year out of date, and at worst 2-3 years out of date when they are read).  Compare that to most online resources which are free (or available for free through institutional subscriptions).  Online resources aren't guaranteed to be updated frequently, but at least the possibility is there for them to be updated frequently.  Also, with the advent of more interactive pages, there is a chance for things to be updated as new information is developed through crowd-sourcing.  Hence, my idea that asking students to buy another text is foolish, as I'm not convinced that their all going to buy the first 3 books that are already on my list.