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Branched scenarios are easy to make in PowerPoint

Have you ever wondered ‘How do I get my students to explore and learn at the same time?‘. You’re not alone. Dr Ben Saxon (Paediatrics), Michael Brockhouse and I recently worked on building a branched scenario in Powerpoint to help medical students learn about childhood anaemia. The scenario is currently being used in the course and right from the start the students are faced with a choice:

each option provides issues that commonly confront a medical student at 5th year level. The student has to choose what to do next:

again each option is presented the student with results to consider. This is a form of situational feedback and is authentic learning. Ben has used real information in these pathways that makes the student actively think (a) what it means, and (b) what to do based on that information. This ensures that the student is pulling together all that they know in order to make the decision:

PowerPoint and the use of hotspots and images such as:

allows the student to clicks on, say the liver, and a bubble will pop up showing the results of the liver examination. In this way, the student can explore a virtual examination of a patient and consider real-time information that they must incorporate and use on the spot. This involves the kind of multi-dimensional thinking that we encounter in real life situations, rather than the linear questions we encounter in MCQs for example. As such, branched scenarios are suited to situational learning where a student must integrate a lot of lower-level unidimensional information.

This type of learning can increase cognitive absorption and ‘flow’, because it is playful and fun, and this increase in focus engages the cognitive gears much more than less rich types of learning tool.

A few tips of making one of your own:

  • lay out the branches first on ‘paper’
  • provide a number of options on each page that students select from
  • provide feedback information on each landing page so that students can gain an understanding of the consequences of selecting each option
  • links can be in the form of images, and you simply hotlink each one to a new page
  • provide back or home navigation buttons on each page (make a page template that include these)
  • mock up concepts first, then make it pretty later
  • save it as a .ppts (not .pptx) so that it plays full screen and students don’t see all the underlying slides – this forces them to ‘play the game’
  • have fun making it, so students have fun using it!

A consideration of the pedagogy:

This type of learning resource is suited to intermediate or advanced students who have mastered the novice levels of the topic in question, because branched scenarios start with a situational cue to respond to, as opposed to being heavily guided by a leading question. Situational cues are useful only to students who can identify the important issues on their own and begin formulating a response based on their judgement, whereas more novice students require more scaffolding to get them going. Branching scenarios can still be used by novice students (eg 1st years) if they bring together earlier learning concepts – the important thing is that in using the branching scenarios, the students are playing with bringing all prior knowledge together and they are learning to navigate the body of knowledge they are expected to master at that point in their training.

Further help:

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