SketchyMicro is one of the newest players on the medical-student led quest to shake-up medical education. Led by three UC Irvine medical students, SketchyMicro aims to take the pain out of learning microbiology and improve board scores for COMLEX Level 1 and USMLE Step 1. Somehow finding time in between his surgery rotation and launching SketchyMicro, one of the students leading the project, Andrew Berg, answered some questions for me about the program and how it differs from traditional learning.

What is SketchyMicro? What is the goal of the project?

SketchyMicro is a learning modality that utilizes visual learning as its primary form of teaching. Instead of having to memorize long lists of facts, we try to incorporate all the details of a microbe into it’s own unique, memorable scene.  We then draw these scenes out piece by piece on video starting from a blank canvas, explaining each symbol as we go. By providing intuitive associations of facts with pictures, we hope to present information in a clear and easy way in order to ultimately increase recall and efficiency.

What I mean by all of that, is that we draw cool pictures to teach microbiology.

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What separates SketchyMicro from conventional learning methods?

We believe that students who use visual learning techniques will learn the material more quickly and retain it for longer. There are loads of journal articles that support the power of visual learning.  Unfortunately I don’t remember any of them… they didn’t have any pictures.

So rather than making too many unsubstantiated claims, I really encourage people that are interested to just check out the six videos we have available for free on our website.  We’ve made every effort to create a course that eliminates the stress of rote memorization and finally makes microbiology fun!   After all, studies show that having fun increases board scores… but don’t quote me on that.

What has the development process been like? Has there been anything you’ve discovered about the “learning process” along the way?

Honestly, it has been a great learning experience! Going from sketching the mnemonics in our notebooks to a digitally-formatted story that is sketched in real-time along with the narrator was a huge transition. But, we were able to adapt and continue to do so. We have gotten a lot better since our first couple of videos, not just in content and story-telling, but visually as well. The whole process has taught us just how far teamwork can take you.

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Can you share any details on the final product (launch date, pricing, differing levels of access, etc.)?

Since our first two videos, we have actually been very hard at work and are finishing up all of the bacteria category! In the meantime, we’ve also already started working on viruses, fungi and parasites.

As far as launch date, we’ve already done a “soft-launch” to allow viewers to see the already-made videos.  Mostly we did this so that people who had tests coming up in the near future could have access to the videos we finished right away. Our program will be divided into two parts. The first part is solely bacteria. The second part will be viruses, fungi and parasites. Right now, people can pre-order the first portion and watch the bacteria videos as they are uploaded. We expect to finish the first part by the end of 2013 and hope to finish the second part by February or March, just in time for Step 1 studying!

What is your vision for SketchyMicro in the future?

We hope to have all of Microbiology done in the very near future (hang in there!) and are also hoping to create a more robust platform for self-testing and review features.  However, we’re also always trying to rethink ways to best get all of the information across.  We’re also getting some great feedback and ideas from our beta testers.  I’m really excited to see where we take things.  Our primary goal is to become the best resource for medical students wanting to learn microbiology.  However, there has definitely been talk of expanding into other subjects! SketchyPharm anyone?

SketchyMicro is now open to product pre-orders that include instant access to 21 bacteria videos and extended 6-month access when the program officially launches by late 2013.