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Making a MOOC

The Wisdom course will shortly go live on FutureLearn. In this blog, Johanna Reilly provides a personal reflection on her experiences and the process of creating the Wisdom course.

“So what exactly is this other job you do?”

“Well, umm, it’s sort of a thing… a website and we’re making a course and a podcast and blogs… it’s kind of about knowledge work… GP wisdom… and, ermm, scholarship..”

I’ve repeated this exchange with any number of friends and colleagues (and my appraiser) and I’m used to the blank face I get in reply. My explanation is clearly somewhat lacking but it’s interesting that the idea of primary care scholarship or more specifically, promoting and celebrating primary care scholarship seems so removed from so many of my colleagues in practice.

Being completely honest when I started working on this project I felt somewhat similar. As a newly qualified GP, I had replied to a job advert for a session a week as a remote intern for WiseGP. Professor Joanne Reeve had started the Wise website after feedback at conferences about the need to bridge the perceived gap between academia and front line general practice and to celebrate the scholarship and knowledge work done every day by all GPs. I had been involved in some research work after I had finished GP training and felt similarly, that primary care seemed to be divided into a small number of academic GPs and everyone else when we should be one team.

I wasn’t sure what a website would do about that though, or how we could start those conversations. In the last year working for Wise, although I’m still not sure, I think we might have reached a starting point.

Annabelle, Emily and I all started working as Wise interns part time. We were probably as geographically spread as we could be around the UK and had different interests and viewpoints but we all felt strongly that our day job needed something more. We took different focuses at the beginning, Emily focusing on outreach and building connections, Annabelle on updating the Gems library and planning a newsletter and me on attempting to start a podcast and blogs.

Podcasting proved an interesting journey. I phoned a friend for a 30 minute tutorial on free software and audio editing and then decided to give it a go. The results are great from my guests, who have all been incredibly articulate and had fascinating stuff to say. As for me, I have a lot of “Umms” and “Errs” to edit out as I stumble around, trying to remember what questions to ask next. The amazing thing about doing a podcast has been the opportunity to talk to people in a non-pressured way about their work and their thoughts about our work and that, for me, has been a fantastic learning experience even if my interviewing technique is somewhat lacking. (Podcasts are available on the Wise website and via Spotify if anyone is interested)

Then Joanne said there could be funding available for us to create a online course aimed at early career GPs about knowledge work. We were all keen – but what would we put in it?

Because primary care is such a broad church there could have been multiple angles to focus on. We had some interesting discussions – could we discuss epistemology or would our target audience run a mile? (Answer – maybe, it’s in the extra notes) How could we keep it relevant for day to day clinical practice? Could we bring our personal interests while keeping the focus on knowledge work? The course is free online but that means busy GPs would be doing it in their own time. How could we keep it challenging enough to interest but easy enough to complete in an evening at the end of a busy work day?

We created a logic model and wrote lots of word documents we sent round and round. Then it came to process of creating the online course and we discovered we were expected to make multiple “talking head” videos explaining our material. Never exactly comfortable on camera, this was a trial for me and I have yet to actually watch the videos so believe I might have forgotten what I said. The technical process of submitting material to the FutureLearn platform also had its challenges and I was grateful to Annabelle for her organisational expertise and keeping the rest of us on track, no one who knows me well will be surprised to learn I was still uploading content late in the evening before our final deadline loomed.

It would be wrong to discuss the process of making the course without mentioning the context. The winter of 2021/22 has been exceptionally challenging I think for all of us working in primary care. The pressure has been incredible and the public dialogue unsupportive. In my practice caring for people experiencing homelessness we have had a huge toll of untimely drug related deaths and morbidity of young patients and associated stress experienced by staff. With family commitments as well there were times when I felt that discussing and writing articles about primary care scholarship and knowledge work was not something I could or should prioritise.

It's easy to look back now the course is submitted and say I’ve changed my mind but I have. It feels like we are at a juncture when medicine is being increasingly technologised and depersonalised. There is a belief commonly held that in twenty or fifty years an algorithm will be doing our job, only better than we do it. I don’t think that’s right and it’s not just because personal relationships are important in medicine (although they are) but because medical learning and knowledge are not so simply fitted into a mathematical model but come from deep knowledge of systems and cultures and intuition and tacit knowledge matters too. If we are to have an NHS that survives and thrives we need strong primary care, to provide holistic whole person care, not focused on one single organ system but on a whole complex person, in the context of a community and their family.

Primary care scholarship, thinking about what we do, how we learn, how we should best advocate for our patients and communities is essential to that strong primary care. So by making this course I hope that we will help inspire that spark in some new GPs and perhaps some more experienced ones too. We can’t be all things to all people and I’m fully expecting some will find the material too basic or not relevant enough… but I hope there will be something useful for some of you out there.

So please consider signing up by clicking the button below and if it’s useful or if not – please send us some feedback – we’d love to hear from you.

Johanna Reilly


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