UNE-UC Irvine link breaks the tyranny of distance

Published 12 June 2012

An Australian and an American university are embracing advances in high-speed broadband to hold joint classes and medical simulations, and to share expertise and facilities, despite a geographical separation of some 11,000 kilometres.

As part of the project, the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale, Australia, and the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) will establish a permanent, high-definition, synchronous videoconferencing link between the two institutions.

New equipment will be installed at both campuses to give UNE students the ability to access and participate in joint, real-time, virtually-linked simulation courses held simultaneously in both Armidale and Irvine classrooms.

UNE’s Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Annabelle Duncan, said high-speed broadband was demonstrating that distance was no barrier to education.

“By utilising technology to access UC Irvine, our students get the opportunity to access world-class facilities in a way that has never been possible,” Professor Duncan said. “This collaboration demonstrates the great outcomes for students, no matter where they are located, when universities join forces to share both academic and technical expertise to offer students access to innovation in medical education.”

Professor Duncan said that while the collaboration was focused on the University’s medical program, opportunities were being explored to expand it into nursing and allied health areas as well.

The Head of UNE’s School of Rural Medicine, Professor Peter McKeown, said the collaboration had provided UNE with the opportunity to have the first medical school in Australia to introduce iPads as a teaching tool and introduce ultrasound in medical education – particularly relevant for the rural health sector.

“This collaboration with UC Irvine will leapfrog our capacity to use simulation in health education,” Professor McKeown said.

As part of its iMedEd Initiative, UC Irvine’s School of Medicine has developed a comprehensive iPad-based curriculum, reinventing how medicine is taught in the 21st century and becoming the first in the United States to offer entering students a completely digital, interactive learning environment. It is also the only medical school in California to offer cutting-edge portable ultrasound training in its curriculum.

UC Irvine’s Senior Associate Dean of Medical Education, Dr Gerry Maguire, said UC Irvine’s affiliation with UNE, and the cooperative agreement, was a natural extension of its iMedEd program. “Technology is on the forefront in our medical education program – no textbooks, instant access to information, and diagnosing hidden diseases with bedside ultrasound,” Dr Maguire said.

“Now, with an expansion of medical education simulation, the best and brightest faculty members from two leading medical schools will come together to deliver the best in curriculum,” he said. “Even though we are separated by the vast Pacific, students at UNE and UC Irvine will learn together in a cooperative environment, preparing to meet not only the needs of our local community, but those of the world.”

UNE’s School of Rural Medicine is part of the Joint Medical Program, which is an expansion of the highly successful University of Newcastle medical program in partnership with UNE, Hunter New England Health and Central Coast Health.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show participants and observers at UNE (Professor Peter McKeown standing near centre) during today’s video-linked ceremony to mark the signing, at UC Irvine, of the affiliation agreement between the two universities.