Supercourse in 'Nature Medicine'
Congratulations and thanks.
The Supercourse Faculty has just been published in Nature Medicine.
Nature Medicine has been one of the, if not the most cited Scientific
Journals. This is the second time in 2 years we have appeared in Na-
ture Medicine. When we wrote the paper we wanted to give everyone
credit, so the authorship is the "Supercourse Faculty".
It is wonderful working with everyone. This recognition is exciting.
Ron, Akira, Deb, Benjamin, Eun Ryoung, Tom, Eugene and Beatriz
April 2000 Volume 6 Number 4 p 358
Global cooperation in higher education: 'supercourse'
The Supercourse faculty
A clarion call was just issued by Nature Medicine for cooperation in
global science(1). It argued that cooperation prevents duplication
and saves precious resources. We suggest that a similar summons
should be made for cooperation in biomedical higher education, as
this too will help all scientists and scholars worldwide. We present
here a model demonstrating the feasibility of such cooperation. Most
higher education is traditional classroom instruction. This 'informa-
tion technology' was developed 2,000 years ago. Classroom teaching
has survived through the years because it works and it is cost effec-
tive. Despite this, classroom instruction is also redundant and inef-
ficient, with considerable waste(2). For example, a lecture called
"Introduction to Epidemiology" has probably been written 5,000 times
by 5,000 different people. How can we eliminate the waste from the
existing approach of lecture manufacturing, to achieve a lean produc-
tion system? This can be accomplished with faculty cooperating with
other faculty, globally. A new approach, called the 'supercourse'(3),
could yield better training for students by improving lectures. Its
core is the construction of a free internet library of lectures. It
is based on a model of sharing by software developers called open
source, in which software is put on the internet for all to share and
develop. Similarly, lecture manufacture can be greatly enhanced by
having scholars put their best lectures on the internet for all to
see and develop. It is feasible. The 'supercourse' has in its network
more than 1,400 faculty from 104 countries who have contributed more
than 100 lectures and 700 reviews of the lectures for free. Thus, the
'supercourse' "teaches the teachers" in areas in which they are not
familiar, and therefore eases lecture development. Moreover, quality
is monitored with statistical quality control of Deming(4). By using
low bandwidth, internet scholars in the remotest areas of developing
countries can be reached; at the same time, the internet is very pow-
erful, as hypertext links are pathways to different sets of knowledge
and cognition. The latest research can speed from journals into the
classroom by direct linkage of lectures with journal articles. The
time of preparation can be reduced by more than 80%, and students re-
ceive much better instruction. A 'shareware library' is a boon to new
assistant professors who start out with no lectures and little time,
experienced professors who have a few dull lectures, and teachers in
developing countries who have little access to the biomedical litera-
ture. It is time to establish the global cooperation among faculty to
make our instruction better and less of a burden.
1. Replacing competition with cooperation. Nature Med. 5, 1329
2. Womack J.P. & Jones, D.T. in Lean Thinking. 9- 28 (Simon and
Schuster, New York, 1996)
3. Supercourse Faculty. The global health network supercourse: Epide-
miology, the internet and global health. Telemed. J. 5, 303-307
4. Gabor A. in The Man Who Discovered Quality. 1-20 (Random House,
New York, 1990).
Ronald E. LaPorte, Ph.D.
Director, Disease Monitoring and Telecommunications
WHO Collaborating Center
Professor of Epidemiology
Graduate School of Public Health
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA
+1-412-383-2746 (Work Phone)
+1-724-934-9023 (Home Pphone)
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