MEFANET 2008 introduced modern teaching methods applied at medical faculties

The second conference MEFANET, which was focused on e-learning and health informatics in the education of medical disciplines, took place in Hotel Voronez (Brno, Czech Republic) on 20-21 November 2008. Apart from general topics related to modern methods of education, the last year's conference (MEFANET 2008) concentrated on the specialties of dentistry, stomatology and maxillofacial traumatology.

Just like the previous year (2007), the last year's conference was primarily aimed at lecturers working at Czech and Slovak medical faculties. The last year's programme and the composition of participants, however, were much more varied than they were in 2007. This is a result of a successful cooperation among medical faculties, which started in 2006 with the aim to share educational materials and experience among medical schools in Prague, Brno and Olomouc, and expanded within two years to include all ten of Czech and Slovak medical faculties.

The MEFANET project is based on the cooperation among ten Czech and Slovak medical faculties.

The MEFANET project

The MEFANET 2008 conference was arranged with the primary aim to become a meeting for the supporters of the inter-faculty project MEFANET (MEdical FAculties NETwork, This educational network project is based on an equal cooperation among all ten of Czech and Slovak medical faculties, who have agreed to make joint effort in the introduction of modern information technology into the education, particularly in the areas of creation and sharing of electronic teaching tools. The MEFANET project does not involve any directive measures to be adopted by the participating faculties; quite the contrary, it is based on a fully voluntary cooperation of those faculties. The project focuses primarily on the creation of methodical materials and recommendations in order to facilitate a wider cooperation among teams of teachers. The target group of the MEFANET project involves teachers and students from all medical faculties, thus involving over 20,000 potential users at the present time.

Conference opening

The conference was opened by the Chairman of the Coordinating Council of MEFANET project, doc. RNDr. Ladislav Dusek, Ph.D. from the Institute of Biostatistics and Analyses at Masaryk University (MU), who also introduced present guests: prof. MUDr. Jan Zaloudik, CSc. (Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at MU), prof. RNDr. Eva Taborska, CSc. (vice-dean for 1st stage of master' s degree programme at the Faculty of Medicine at MU), prof. MUDr. Stanislav Stipek, DrSc. (member of the Dean's Council and Chairman of the E-learning Committee at the 1st Faculty of Medicine at Charles University in Prague), prof. MUDr. Jiri Vanek, CSc. (vice-dean for stomatology and Head of the Department of Stomatology at the Faculty of Medicine at MU), and doc. MUDr. Lenka Roubalikova, Ph.D., representative of the Czech Dental Chamber.

Prof Zaloudik gave a speech to stress the importance of the MEFANET project for the education of today's generation of medical students. He also said: "This inter-faculty cooperation is excellent, although it is not very well known among the public. The project is based on three basic pillars which are essential for MEFANET to run properly:"

  1. "Professional competence of everyone involved. Authors of modern teaching tools are mostly teachers with many years' experience. However, a number of high-quality students' works have emerged recently and have been published on the official educational portals of individual medical faculties.
  2. Big motivation of everyone involved. Many teachers have already realized that an on-line published work is much more easily available – and can have much bigger impact – than printed textbooks or monographs. Forward-looking teachers are forthcoming to meet the requirements of students who might possibly not acquire the printed textbooks at all.
  3. Continuity of education at the participating faculties. The creation of modern educational materials follows their many years' traditions. The only change that has occurred is the way in which educational material are published."

Plenary session, launch of the central MEFANET gate

The plenary session was introduced by the lecture of Prof. MUDr. Dusan Mesko, Ph.D. from the Jessenius Faculty of Medicine in Martin (Slovakia), entitled "The vision of digital education in medicine". Prof Mesko said: "Many lecturers working at medical faculties nowadays give the impression of being rather backward as regards the usage of modern technology – in comparison with their students. As a result, the communication between teachers and students is rather poor, which is a pity." During his engaging lecture, Prof Mesko gave many examples from his position as a teacher and father, and called upon all lecturers to learn from their students and to adopt the modern technology as a useful communication tool.

Modern technology, however, also brings new questions and issues to be solved. For example, the creation of electronic materials at medical faculties has many ethical and legal aspects. The second plenary lecture was given by Mgr. Jitka Meklesova, an expert on the Copyright Act from the Czech Ministry of Culture, and met with enormous success.

The central gate ( interconnects educational web portals of all involved medical faculties.

The following plenary lecture, entitled "The uniform solution to share and supply educational content in the MEFANET network", was given by Ing. Daniel Schwarz, Ph.D, and also met with very favourable response. Dr Schwarz provided details on the function of educational portals which have been put into operation at all Czech and Slovak medical faculties. Such a portal maintained by a medical faculty allows the academic staff to publish their electronic materials; this activity is nowadays called e-publishing and in fact, it is equal to "classic" publication activities – i.e., printed on paper. Apart from this, educational web portals facilitate the communication among authors of multimedia teaching tools and their users, help to people involved in the lifelong education of doctors and health care professionals, and finally, facilitate the navigation of students and teachers in the complex system of tools for the electronic support of education and study. On the contrary, an educational portal does not aim to replace e-learning applications themselves: these applications typically run on a separate server, the portal of a medical faculty being used as a publication platform. In this way, authors of teaching tools let their colleagues and students know about their work.

Dr Schwarz described in detail all aspects of this uniform portal solution for all participating faculties, and concluded his lecture by providing the URL of the so-called "central gate" which interconnects educational portals of all involved medical faculties: The users can search for educational materials by simply entering a relevant expression into the search box, or by browsing the contents of central gate using the map of medical specialties. This map presents the only unifying element of educational portals of all involved faculties.

Electronic support for the education and study in the specialty of Dentistry and Stomatology

The second session of lectures was introduced by the speech of Prof. MUDr. Jiri Vanek, vice-dean for stomatology and Head of the Department of Stomatology at the Faculty of Medicine at MU. Prof Vanek pointed out that starting from the academic year 2004/2005, the study programme of Dentistry and Stomatology was shortened from 6 years to 5 years, resulting into significant modifications in the curriculum. In this context, e-learning tools are very welcome: firstly, the issue of printed materials would be much more time-consuming; and secondly, electronic educational materials are much more flexible and can be updated at any time, as needed. Prof Vanek pointed out the low numbers of students and graduates in the study programme of Dentistry and Stomatology, and informed the audience on a joint development project which had been submitted by medical faculties in Brno and Pilsen, entitled "Creating the conditions for the increase in number of students in the dentistry study programme".

Most of the following lectures were closely related to the proposal of the development project cited above, and their authors were mostly from the Faculty of Medicine at Masaryk University. MUDr. Tomas Sojka introduced his software application for the education of dental indices and for the processing of clinical data in stomatology. MUDr. Pavlina Cernochova, Ph.D., and MUDr. Sonia Bartakova, Ph.D., acquainted the audience with their use of e-learning tools in the pregradual education of orthodontics and dentistry, respectively. Representatives of other medical faculties also shared their experience: Prof. MUDr. Tatjana Dostalova, DrSc., MBA (2nd Faculty of Medicine at Charles University in Prague) presented examples of several e-learning courses of stomatology in the Moodle system, run by the Charles University Computer Centre. Prof. MUDr. Andrej Jenca, CSc. (Faculty of Medicine at the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice) explained the benefits of documentation of rare cases treatment in the field of maxillofacial surgery. 

Telemedicine is not the stronghold of radiologists only

Telemedicine is an interdisciplinary field which currently undergoes a turbulent development. In brief, telemedicine deals with the transfer of clinical images, videos or other data from the place where they were recorded to any other place on Earth. This technology can be readily applied not only in the education of medical students, but also in the consultation of complex clinical cases with more experienced colleagues. Although live transmission from operating theatres was already common in the 20th century, modern technology has brought many improvements and new possibilities.

Depending on the medical specialty, there are many branches of telemedicine, such as telepathology, telehaematology, telegynaecology, etc. In his lecture, MUDr. Michal Jurajda, Ph.D. (Faculty of Medicine at MU) demonstrated the advantages of telepathology: microscopic sections are scanned and digitized using a special instrument, allowing the student (or clinician) to assess these sections whenever and wherever, as he/she only needs an ordinary computer instead of a microscope. MUDr. Jamila Kissova from the Faculty of Medicine at MU explained the principles of telehaematology, which has similar advantages as described above. The following lectures pointed out the importance of direct transmissions from operating theatres, which are frequently used in the education of ophthalmology, gynaecology and other specialties.

Metodical aspects of e-learning

Two lecture sessions and two workshops were dedicated to the methodical aspects of the creation of e-learning courses and other electronic teaching tools. This topic attracted much attention, giving the conference participants many occasions to learn how their colleagues dealt with the creation of educational materials. The first workshop on this issue was lead by PaeDr. Jana Vejvodova, CSc. (University of West Bohemia in Pilsen), who explained specific procedures to be applied when dealing with different forms of e-learning. Dr Vejvodova also compared the effectiveness of various didactic strategies that can be applied in e-learning. Participants of this interactive workshop were given many specific examples to decide whether a given approach was correct or incorrect when preparing a specific course. The second workshop was focused on the effective use of information sources, and was lead by Prof. MUDr. Vladimir Mihal, CSc. and Mgr. Jarmila Potomkova from the Faculty of Medicine at Palacky University in Olomouc. The workshop was specifically dedicated to the application of evidence-based medicine (EBM) principles in the pregraduate and postgraduage education of doctors, and the organizers invited Dr Otmar Mueller from the European subsidiary of UpToDate in Budapest. The workshop participants learnt how EBM tools can be used when searching for answers to two example questions, regarding serious childhood diseases in this case.

Methodically oriented lectures were focused on various procedures and specific software applications which can be used in the creation of e-learning tools. The multimedia Atlas of Physiology and Pathophysiology designed by MUDr. Jiri Kofranek, CSc. (1st Faculty of Medicine at Charles University in Prague) won particular recognition of the audience: this extensive work is being developed by joint efforts of doctors, programmers and graphic designers. On the other hand, Ing. Milan Dvorak (Faculty of Medicine in Pilsen at Charles University) demonstrated that even authors-beginners can very well embark on less spectacular projects, which still have a very representative look. 


Dr. Chris Paton (University of Auckland, New Zealand) outlined the possibilities of technology Web 2.0 for the education of medical students.

The next day of the MEFANET 2008 conference started with a videoconference which attracted those interested in the progress of medicine lecturers in the English-speaking world. Within a few minutes, a live communication was established with Dr Chris Paton from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Prof. MUDr. Stanislav Stipek, DrSc. (1st Faculty of Medicine at the Charles University in Prague) took the word to introduce Dr Paton as a recognized expert on e-learning, who had gained experience in Nottingham City Hospital in the UK, at the Cambridge University, and had worked in many other renowned institutions.

In his videoconference lecture, Dr Paton outlined the huge possibilities offered by the current technology Web 2.0. While Web 1.0 was based on static, mostly text-based information administered by a single webmaster, the current Web 2.0 is basically an interactive network of hundreds of millions of users who actively contribute to the contents of internet. Text-based and image-based information are in fact outdated, being progressively replaced by audio- and videorecordings, more advanced technology and more complex applications, although the interface to control these applications is increasingly user-friendly. At this point, Dr Paton mentioned several applications widely known to the community of internet users all over the world, including YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia etc.

However, most lay internet users have no idea of internet applications intended for doctors or medical students which are based on similar technology as popular web portals mentioned above. The blog ranks among the best known: 16,000 users have until now subscribed to receive news from this webpage run by Dr Kevin Pho, a general practitioner living in the United States. The project is another example: this analogue of the very popular Wikipedia will be launched in the end of 2008. Dr Paton himself established the web portal NewMedia Medicine, which not only focuses on the creation of 3D biomedical animations and e-learning courses, but also serves as a community network – in a similar fashion to the much-loved Facebook – but dedicated primarily to medical students.

Dr Paton also highlighted strengths and weaknesses of the Web 2.0-based e-learning. The advantages of modern technology are obvious, including the biggest one: students can actively participate on the learning process, far from absorbing the encyclopaedic knowledge, as it was common in the last century. There are also a few disadvantages, such as the easy manipulability of the contents: for example, anyone can change anything on Wikipedia, which makes this source of information less trustworthy. Another problem which is frequently dealt with is the question how to respect the patients' right to privacy, and to ensure an effective teaching process at the same time. These and other issues, however, can be effectively addressed by adopting certain rules which will leave everyone satisfied.

The videoconference met with an enthusiastic response of audience, and there were several questions from listeners which might have surely set off a very exciting discussion. However, due to the very tight schedule of the conference, Dr Paton could only reply briefly and referred those interested to his website

Educational web portals

Building a common on-line platform for e-publishing of educational materials developed at individual medical faculties has been one of the main objectives of the MEFANET project. Therefore, particular attention was paid to the implementation of educational portals, and one conference session was dedicated uniquely to this issue. The first lecture was given by Ing. Jaroslav Majernik, Ph.D (Faculty of Medicine at the Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Košice) who talked about his own experience with the installation and operation of the common portal solution (see Although the Faculty of Medicine in Kosice has not yet published as many e-learning materials as have other medical faculties, the administrators of its portal have shown a lot of enthusiasm, which is so needed to convince local teachers of the usefulness of this innovative solution.

Other two lectures were given by medical students from Bratislava, informing the audience about an innovative solution of a students' web portal which is entirely independent of the official management of the Faculty of Medicine in Bratislava (Slovakia). In the end of this session, Mgr. Bohdana Rehakova (Faculty of Medicine at the Palacky University in Olomouc) introduced a very successful project of e-learning support for pathophysiology at the Faculty of Medicine in Olomouc. This progressive project has resulted into a publicly available web portal (, containing digitized videorecordings of lectures, synchronized with powerpoint presentations. These virtual lectures are equipped with a powerful searching tool and self-learning tests. 

Panel discussion and open-door session of the MEFANET Coordinating Council

Chairmen of the panel discussion (left to right): doc. RNDr. Ladislav Dusek, Ph.D. (LF MU), Ing. Daniel Schwarz, Ph.D. (LF MU), RNDr. Cestmir Stuka, MBA (1. LF UK), MUDr. Martin Vejrazka, Ph.D. (1. LF UK), prof. MUDr. Stanislav Stipek, DrSc. (1. LF UK).

This year's conference programme was enriched with a panel discussion, dealing particularly with the question "how to fill the educational portals with satisfactory and high-quality contents in a short space of time?" The administrators of educational portals at some faculties often face the same problem: teachers at the respective faculty have such a heavy workload that they often do not have enough time or motivation to create electronic teaching tools to be published on the portal. The panel discussion was chaired by Prof. MUDr. Stanislav Stipek, DrSc. (1st Faculty of Medicine at the Charles University in Prague) who outlined some other reasons for the teachers' unwillingness to cooperate. Some teachers assume, for example, that it is not worth spending their time on lengthy preparation of educational materials, as there is allegedly nobody to appreciate their work apart from students. Doc. RNDr. Ladislav Dusek, Ph.D. (Faculty of Medicine at MU) objected that electronic textbooks can be awarded by the academic community in the same way as printed textbooks – and moreover, there is high probability that much more people learn about the author's work thanks to the modern technology. Participants of this discussion have finally agreed that individual faculties need to establish stable teams of people to provide technical support to the teachers and to help them with the digitization of their educational materials. In many cases, students can be also engaged, as they are very well acquainted with modern technology (often better than their teachers) and can be very enthusiastic to create these educational tools.

A public session of the MEFANET Coordinating Council took place after the end of the official conference programme. The representatives of individual medical faculties made complimentary remarks on smooth running of the conference and on its programme, and suggested some minor improvements for the next year. A good news is that over its two-year existence, the MEFANET project has already won a very favourable position in the field of education of future doctors: when searching for medical terms (particularly in Czech), the search engine Google offers links to the central MEFANET gate ( – or to individual educational portals – among the first positions. Some other subjects would also like to join the MEFANET project, such as the Ternopil State Medical University (Ukraine) or the Faculty of Health and Social Studies at University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice. Decision on the admission of these subjects will be made later on.

In the end of the session, the Coordinating Council agreed that the MEFANET conference will be held also next year: the conference MEFANET 2009 will take place on 26-27 November in Hotel Voronez, Brno, Czech Republic. Until then, we wish a lot of success to all participants of MEFANET 2008 and to all supporters of the MEFANET project and modern educational methods, and we will be hoping to see them again in 2009.

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