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UCSF School of Medicine Collaborative Syllabus

Proposal Status: 

Description of Project: The UCSF School of Medicine predominately uses comprehensive syllabi rather than textbooks for the first two pre-clinical years. These syllabi have developed significantly since their inception through major efforts from the faculty, but unfortunately student feedback has been difficult to effectively coordinate, analyze, and integrate. In order to overcome this obstacle, the proposed project aims to give medical students a live forum through which they can easily submit errors, pose questions for the faculty, share explanations and other insight that would benefit fellow students and faculty for future editions of the syllabi. Furthermore, faculty and course directors could also use this easily accessible forum to distribute announcements, corrections and reply to students’ questions or comments in a convenient and time-responsive manner.


Deliverables: Each of the essential core curriculum blocks will have their own collaborative syllabus available on the iRocket website each week for students to easily download. This platform allows users to make in-text comments and reply to other comments directly at the relevant text within the syllabus. Users will be instructed to use yellow text boxes for comments to address the faculty (corrections, errors and questions) and green text boxes to address fellow students (useful alternative explanations and memory devices). Faculty will reply to comments and distribute announcements with blue text boxes. This color-scheme will allow users to focus on relevant comments. Students and faculty with Internet connection will be able to publish their comments as well as immediately view the comments of others, creating a discussion forum directly on the syllabus. The faculty can review the feedback and incorporate changes into subsequent yearly editions of each block’s syllabus and also respond to students’ questions. Because Adobe already offers this platform (please download and use Adobe Acrobat/Reader to open the attached example of a first-year Pathology syllabus section graciously annotated by second year medical students Ben Friedman, Dora Friedman, Katelyn Dow, and the author Dr. Ramachandran), the collaborative syllabus is immediately capable of being incorporated into the curriculum when classes resume in August and September for first- and second-year medical students.


Impact on UCSF: The School of Medicine syllabi is the primary academic source from which first- and second-year medical students use to build their clinical and scientific foundations. Historically, students have expressed frustrations when encountering errors or poor explanations while feeling incapable of directly integrating corrections into the syllabi with the current system. The proposed project aims to develop a dynamic, integrative forum for medical students to share insight with their fellow classmates and the faculty for future editions of the syllabi. Importantly, this system would reach not only reach 150 medical students per class per year, but changes to the syllabus would benefit future classes as an ongoing process. Compounded over coming years—and possibly incorporated in the other UCSF health professional schools—it is highly likely that such a system would have a profound and expanding positive impact upon many thousands of future health professionals.


Team Members and Roles:

Dana Rohde, PhD- Director of the Organs Block for first year medical students, and one of the major faculty members involved in improving the syllabus with 12 years of experience. Responsibilities include: Subject matter expert, review of student feedback for relevant syllabus sections and establishing final decisions on many of the changes in upcoming syllabus editions.

Christian Burke- Assistant Director, Technology Enhanced Learning. Expert on Adobe platform and technical liaison for students and faculty.

Alissa Gee- Course Administrator with 3 years of experience coordinating faculty feedback into final syllabus changes. Responsibilities include: technologist providing students with the annotatable weekly syllabi as well as transferring annotated syllabi to faculty and course directors.

Yoseph Kram- UCSF Second Year Medical Student. Project visionary and coordinator. Responsibilities include: coordination of the project as a whole, and oversight for second-year medical students’ feedback. Responsible for project implementation in August and September, including an introductory lecture to explain the collaborative syllabus for first- and second-year medical students.

UCSF First Year Medical Student Committee- Primary users of the collaborative syllabi who will track its effectiveness throughout the year. Responsibilities include: oversight and liaison support for fellow first year medical students and their feedback, including monitoring for professionalism and participation.

     Richard Alexander- incoming first year UCSF medical student.

     Will Morrel- incoming first year UCSF medical student.

     Harjus Birk- incoming first year UCSF medical student.


Estimated time devoted by team member:

Dana Rohde, PhD- 1-3 hours per week while class is in session, and numerous hours after the block ends to incorporate some of the larger changes, such as clarification of concepts.

Christian Burke- up to 1 hour per week troubleshooting technical issues.

Alissa Gee- 1-3 hours per week while class is in session devoted to uploading relevant syllabus sections, and transferring annotated syllabi to relevant faculty and course directors.

Yoseph Kram- 1-3 hours per week devoted to reviewing 2nd year medical student feedback for professionalism and participation, and also coordinating faculty replies to students questions.

UCSF First year medical student committee- 1-3 hours per week devoted to reviewing 1st year medical student feedback and also coordinating faculty replies to students’ questions.


The system does seem very useful for collaborative education and collaborative review of material. The technical challenge is syncing everyone's comments from their downloaded syllabus. Does this utilize the Adobe export/import comments functionality (ie. user intervention required) or is there a system to automatically synchronize? And if automatically synchronized, is this software offered from Adobe or developed as part of this project?

Thanks for the comments and questions, Dr. Terrazas. Indeed, Adobe has a platform set up for this exact issue called a "Shared Review". Once a user downloads this type of pdf and opens it with Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat, he or she is prompted to sign in with an Adobe username and password. After signing in, the user has the capacity to simply click buttons in the tool bar to publish his/her comments and to check for new comments from other users. This means that we can simply upload pdfs to the iRocket medical student homepage for students and faculty to download, and then everyone can comment and communicate directly on the pdf without ever re-uploading the files or emailing them to each other. All one needs is an internet connection, the pdf, and an adobe username and password (which is free). These links help explain further: This video at 4:37 in particular shows what I've tried to explain here about the "Publish Comments" and "Check for new updates" buttons: I hope this helps to answer your questions, but please let me know if there is anything that I can clear up further.

Very nice use of existing technology and applying it to education. I can see the benefits to students and syllabus creators alike, and is a vehicle for continuing discussion of a lecture outside of the lecture itself.

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