A complex topic explained in a simple, engaging way.
That’s the essence behind a budding YouTube channel that doubles as a seminar series for graduate students at McMaster University.
Known as Demystifying Medicine, this channel is a collection of short videos created entirely by students that bring contemporary approaches to linking the links between science, medicine and diseases.
Consider: obsessive compulsive disorder as told through the eyes of the person living with it; walking in the shoes of a young adult with ADHD; sleep paralysis, anorexia nervosa, cocaine use, color blindness and sex chromosome abnormalities; the science of getting drunk; Why do people bite their nails? Is milk really good for you?
These videos — and nearly 1,100 others who liked it — have accumulated north of 31 million hits worldwide and garnered a massive subscriber base of over 124,000 in just eight years.
“I didn’t think it would be that big, no,” said Dr. Kjetil Ask, who headed the channel in 2014.
In fact, the hugely successful channel had a far more humble beginning.
The idea for a niche and informative seminar series was born at McMaster when Ask attended a similar course a decade ago while working at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland.
“They also had an enigmatic medicine symposium series, where students would give topical presentations, including a clinical overview from a physician, a patient interview, and then a scientist talking about how to solve the problem.” “I thought it was the best way to learn something about a subject you weren’t familiar with.”
When Ask returned to Hamilton in 2011, he conducted the series at McMaster, the first undergraduate students to make in-class presentations for high school students.
“Some students started saying, ‘Why don’t we make a video instead of standing in front of a PowerPoint presentation?'” he recalls. “We had no intention of doing this initially, but why not?”
the rest is history.
Demystifying Medicine at McMaster has become so popular that the school now offers four classes per semester for it. Each has about 24 students with vast educational backgrounds from arts to biochemistry, divided into six smaller groups. They are required to make four videos on any current scientific, medical or educational issue over a period of three months.
The curriculum is rooted in experimental learning and gives priority to creativity. There are no exams or mid-term grades. Instead, students are judged on a number of assignments, such as classroom participation and self- and peer-assessment.
“We don’t give any interim grades because, in the middle of the course, students must try crazy things they don’t know will work,” Ask says. “It’s not a good idea to say ‘I’m going to grade you’ if they want to unleash their creativity, because they don’t dare try.”
Every week, groups present updates on their videos to their course facilitators and peers, receiving feedback on what’s good and what’s not. And at the end of the semester, there are exit interviews where students suggest how the curriculum can be improved.
It is designed to be a student-driven curriculum unlike anything else in post-secondary education in Canada.
“In addition to the learning component, other skills that contribute to its popularity are developed in students,” says Ask, pointing to teamwork, risk-taking, conflict resolution, and personal responsibility. “There are skills that are sorely needed in today’s workforce.”