Students Team with Khan Academy to Make #MCAT2015 Prep Videos

By Sarah Sonies

To help students prepare for a medical career in a changing health system, an updated version of the MCAT will launch in 2015. The new test will require students to have an understanding of the social and behavioral sciences, in addition to a background in the natural sciences.

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Khan Academy to sponsor a contest to encourage medical students and residents to create educational tutorials (i.e., collections of videos, questions, and articles) about concepts that will be tested by the new MCAT exam.

The 15 winners of this competition to provide free, online resources to medical school applicants were announced in June. They hail from medical schools from California to Massachusetts, Wisconsin to Arkansas. One is currently participating in Teach for America. What unites them is their facility with technology, their love of learning, and their desire to revolutionize teaching.

Raja Narayan, a fourth-year medical student at UC Irvine, was inspired to enter the competition because of work he was already doing, sharing notes via iPad and Dropbox with classmates in anatomy lab. He had experienced the flipped classroom model in pharmacology class, and had already created a website that teachers learners how to study in medical school.

Narayan has worked for the Princeton Review, teaching MCAT preparation courses. The Khan Academy project leverages all of his skills and interests, he says. His goal in participating in the video project?

I remember when I was studying for the MCAT and it being a bit dry. You memorize the concepts and you gain the practice in answering the questions. That’s not to say that isn’t how people should study, but one of the things that I’m trying to instill in my videos is to try to make them funny and fun so that students who want to study hard in order to be a competitive candidate can also enjoy themselves by seeing some humor in the things I talk about.

I try also to incorporate some interesting facts that are relevant to the topic at hand. Facts that might not be the “high-yield” things applicants are tested on while taking the MCAT, but are still relevant, resonate with the learners, and help them realize why the subject matter they are learning in the video is so important.

Another of the winners, Angela Guerrero, is a second-year medical student at Stanford. “I have always been interested in how technology and innovation can be used to improve the quality of medical education,” she says. “I spent a lot of time in my undergraduate years doing organic chemistry research, and I thought that would be a good topic to present. For my entry, I made a video that was an overview of organic chemistry lab techniques with which I was very familiar. I also decided to do that because I didn’t necessarily have to be good at drawing to make the video, because drawing molecules is easy!”

Jasmine Rana, a second year medical student at Harvard, was an experienced Khan Academy user. To enter the competition, she submitted three videos she had made about electro-chemistry.

All of the winners attended a weeklong video production boot camp facilitated by Khan Academy staff. It was a great experience, Guerrero says. “Everyone brought something really unique to the table, were all able to learn from each other, and we got to hang out around each other all the time.”

Already comfortable with teaching, Narayan found the boot camp especially helpful in learning the technical production side. “One of the skills prior to boot camp that I didn’t have was the extent of experience in video editing and recording software. Over the course of the camp our skills all got significantly better. We made about two videos a day that we shared with a designated peer who gave us some feedback. We were able to work through the software together and learn from each other. We could present visuals as we were drafting and collaborate in a way that enhanced each other’s skills,” he says.

Rana sees the project as an avenue to new areas of exploration, as well as a leading indicator of the future of medical education. “When I finish school, I would love to become a clinician and an educator. Technology has offered access to a lot of information and knowledge resources, but there is not a very engaging, structured, or efficient way to learn this knowledge,” she says. “I would like to see how the use of technology and these educational videos can really be used in preclinical curriculums at medical schools over a long period of time, in order to add new ways of learning the curriculum.”

All of the winners hailed the free, open-access nature of their final product as an important step in providing high-quality MCAT study materials at no cost and expanding the medical school applicant pool. “Even two or three years ago when I was prepping for the MCAT, it was pretty difficult to find low-cost or free instructional materials,” Guerrero says. Everyone should have the opportunity to prepare or study for the MCAT if they want to become a doctor, so it’s great that we are trying to bring MCAT prep to the masses. Anyone who wants to train can without worrying about the cost of a formal test prep class.”

The first tutorials are expected to be available this fall and will be posted on both the Khan Academy MCAT Video Collection site and the Pre-health Collection of the AAMC’s MedEdPORTAL® iCollaborative, a free, searchable online repository of instructional materials for teaching pre-health curricula.

Want to learn more? Check out the posts from the Khan Academy blog for posts on the MCAT training camp for the competition winners.