Star Turn

December 11, 1998

Julia Hinde experiences the cool and calming delivery of a medical school lecture on the autonomic nervous system.

There is no doubting that William Large's first-year lectures on the autonomic nervous system, which regulates the function of some internal organs, are a student favourite. There are no snazzy sound effects, nor high-tech interaction with the class. But his lectures keep students awake and not dozing off.

The key, they say, is the delivery. Students at St George's Hospital Medical School in London take the standard of teaching seriously. Every year they run awards for the best lecturers. This year - with the first medical teaching quality assessments beginning in England - they are determined the awards should carry clout. The voting system has been formalised and awards were presented at the academic board so that good teachers could be recognised among their peers.

Medical education is supposedly moving away from lecturing towards "problem-based learning", where students are encouraged to work through and research a medical problem independently. But the fact that St George's students still judge lecturing suggests it is far from finished. Rightly so, says Professor Large, runner-up this year.

Among the grey suits and white coats of a large London hospital, Professor Large's yellow checked shirt and black jeans stand out. He starts his lecture by explaining the plan and objective of the hour ahead, using overheads and highlighting the most important items. Unfamiliar chemical names and difficult concepts are explained, and then repeatedly woven into the lecture.

Practical classes, running parallel to the course, are constantly referred to, so students can associate what they are being told with their own experiences, while examples are always put into the clinical context.

A spontaneous round of applause at the end suggests the subject was brought alive for students. Several waited around to rack their lecturer's brain.

All seemed impressed. "He's very clear and you always get the right balance between writing down and listening. It's more of a calming experience than other lectures," one student says. A mature student adds: "We have all the information in the lecture notes. I want more out of the lecture than what's in them. He's got a lovely voice and a nice style."

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