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Whisking research into the classroom

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 12 January 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:99
  1. Ronald E Laporte, director, disease monitoring and telecommunications (ronlaporte{at},
  2. Akira Sekikawa, assistant professor of epidemiology,
  3. EunRyoung Sa, research fellow,
  4. Faina Linkov, research fellow,
  5. Mita Lovalekar, research fellow
  1. WHO Collaborating Center, 3512 Fifth Avenue, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA
  2. Department of Epidemiology, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh

    The marriage between research and teaching has been loving. Information from the laboratory is translated to the classroom to increase the wisdom of future generations. Conversely, students' questions sharpen our research. Disappointingly, the information flow from research to class is meandering. In one pathway, research results are re-written in books and then included in lectures. This is characteristic of undergraduate training. In a second route, faculties create their own lectures directly from the original articles, as in graduate teaching. Both approaches have worked well, but they are now ill equipped to handle the speed and quantity of scientific developments. Research and teaching are growing distant.

    The lack of progress is seen by contrasting research 150 years ago with that today. John Snow in 1854 characterised cholera in London; the results were published a year later, and by 1856 the information was in undergraduate curriculums—only two years after the original epidemic.1 In contrast, research completed in 2002 may not be seen in classrooms for more than five years.

    Another problem with producing lectures from original research literature is the information explosion. A typical introductory course for students has 30 topics, and it is impossible for a faculty to keep up with developments in five of these subjects, let alone 30. Students do not receive state of the art lectures.

    A knowledge speedway is needed to pass information from research to classroom (and return feedback to the scientists). The internet would be its backbone, and one such method is a free, shareware system called the Supercourse, which provides lecture courses on epidemiology and the internet for students in medicine and health related subjects.2 Scientists put these web lectures in a library on the website, and currently 4700 faculty members from 141 countries have contributed 473 lectures.

    Similar models could be developed for any discipline. Scientific journals on the web could create a lecture library on the internet to bridge the “translation gap” between research and teaching. The approach is simple: with each article accepted for publication, PowerPoint slides are provided that give the key results. A simple click would allow teachers worldwide to download the slides free of charge. Instead of it taking 1-4 years for scientific results to appear in the classroom, it would take 1-4 minutes. Potentially, this could be taken to a higher level with lecture buttons on Medline. An advantage for journal publishers is that such lectures would reach many more people than the journals, and thus might be a portal to pay-for-view articles.


    • The Supercourse Faculty can be accessed at Authors of future BMJ papers who would like to place an associated talk on Supercourse should contact Supercourse direct. They should also tell the BMJ that a talk appears on Supercourse, so that a link can be made from the paper on to the Supercourse site.

    • Competing interests None declared.


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