Distributed teaching: research ethics delivered across multiple sites

Jonathan Ives delivered this online teaching session to medical students across the clinical academies using a Microsoft Surface Hub. He organised the session around a single interactive task followed by extensive feedback and discussion from different Hubs. This session demonstrated that it is possible to interact directly with students even at scale.

Tools: PowerPoint, Surface Hub, Video, shared whiteboard

Full story

Medical ethics lends itself to discursive teaching and learning, with concepts, discussion and decision making at the core. There are challenges still in delivering teaching to people in multiple sites, with remote students largely unseen by the session facilitator. Whilst the technology helps connect sites, it is the session design that helped make the best of opportunities for meaningful discussion facilitated by clinical teaching fellows at each site.

Jonathan organised the session around a single interactive task, which was preceded by an introduction from the presenter and followed by extensive feedback and discussion from different Hubs. The task was to consider research proposals and decide whether they should be granted ethical approval. This focus on a real-world task requiring a concrete decision gave focus, whilst allowing disagreement, discussion and debate. It demanded consideration of background principles, and weighing up different perspectives.

Immediately prior to the session Jonathan met with Martin Van Eker from the Ed Tech team to discuss the session plan and how to use the technology.  This discussion led to some last-minute changes being made to the session plan to simplify the delivery and feedback process (for example making use the chat function), and this streamlining made a big difference.

With a clear and uncomplicated structure and a well-designed and meaningful task, the session was identified as a blueprint for other Hub teaching sessions.


  • Students watch a short 20-minute video presentation on the topic in advance of the session.
  • Jonathan began the session with a short introduction and re-cap of key concepts, before introducing the task.
  • Each Hub site considered one of three research proposals to decide whether they should be granted approval.
  • The task was carried out at each site as a plenary group, with facilitation from the local CTF (clinical teaching fellow).
  • Each site annotated the section of a shared whiteboard that contained the text of each of the 3 research proposals, with Jonathan interacting with each group via the whiteboard.
  • Through feedback for the task Jonathan took each research proposal in turn and invited comments from each of the sites who had worked on that proposal.  This mostly involved them justifying their decision whether or not to approve the proposal, and answering questions from Jonathan and fellow students in different sites, with Jonathan emphasising learning points as they arose.

Session timings

  1. 0 mins: Introduction and presenting key concepts
  2. 11 mins: Introduction to the task
  3. 12 mins: Task carried out at each site
  4. 38 mins: Feedback on task
  5. 60 mins: Farewell and close


Jonathan avoided front-loading the session with a lot of information. The student learning derived from the issues that arose both spontaneously and as prompted by both the CTF during the task and by the presenter during the feedback stage. The focus of this session was more on developing students’ understanding rather than feeding them large amounts of information. It is arguable that the former is a more appropriate way to work with the specific affordances of the Surface Hubs.

This session demonstrated that it is possible to interact directly with students even at this scale, and suggests that one way to do this successfully is for the interaction to be geared around an appropriate and clearly defined task.


  • Hub sessions arguably lend themselves better to developing understanding than delivering information.
  • Avoid front-loading sessions with information when teaching with Surface Hubs.
  • Give students plenty of time to complete tasks, and make it clear at the beginning of each task how long they have.
  • Giving different sites unique tasks helped sustain interest during the feedback stage.
  • It was important that the presenter managed the feedback effectively, listening carefully and giving positive feedback but also inviting further comment and opening up further issues for discussion.
  • Hub sessions run at this scale can make it difficult and perhaps daunting for presenters to obtain spoken responses from students. However in this case the presenter allowed time for this, and the task structure seemed to support the approach used.
  • Listen to the advice of knowledgeable colleagues, and be flexible in response.