WueDive - Digitale Innovationen in der Lehre

Complex systems: Climate Change and the Effects on Health

Project goal: to prepare medical students for climate change and to enable collaborative and constructive learning, facilitated by digital systems

Project duration: 12/2021 – 07/2024

Involved subject areas: The Faculty of Medicine, University of Würzburg; Chair of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) of the University of Würzburg; Priv. Doz. Dr. med. Frank Schröder as an external expert on geriatrics, a specialist in internal medicine, angiology, and diabetology, Haßberg Kliniken



Climate change is now recognized as a global public health problem and will be an important element for the future workforce in all the disciplines of medicine and healthcare. Doctors will have a crucial role to play in the mitigation of climate change and adaptation of the healthcare system to prepare for emergent healthcare treatment methods. One of the most important concerns nowadays is to prepare students for clinical practice in this environment of climate change. Knowledge and training have to be implemented into the curricula of medical degree courses.

Modern teaching formats and methods will be employed to optimize curricular implementation and thus motivate students to study the subject. This teaching project will therefore combine the emerging topic of climate change and its effects on health with newly developed didactic concepts. Teaching will be performed as a blended learning concept with asynchronous material on WueCampus and subsequent online meetings. An introductory lesson will set the basis. In further seminars, an online climate simulation tool to assist in understanding climate goals will be used to simulate changes in energy, land use, consumption, agriculture, and other policies. Finally, students will deal with patient cases as fictitious scenarios related to a local increase in temperatures, as an indicator of climate change. They will explore and solve these cases using the methods of problem-based learning.

Didactic perspective

Background information, complex simulations, and solving patient cases will be used as vehicles to promote student learning in the subject of “Climate Change and the Effects on Health”. There are different domains of professionalism, which are closely related to each other and will serve as learning delivery for students.

Delivery of knowledge in the subject

The project will employ innovative teaching and learning methods based on digitally assisted formats. Thefollowing learning objectives will be addressed for students as future medical practitioners/specialists. The project will enable students 1) to understand the existing and potential health impacts of climate change, 2) to identify climate-related health issues, 3) to be aware of characteristics that may make certain individuals especially vulnerable to climate change, e.g. heatwaves and 4) to manage climate-sensitive illnesses.

Digital competencies through digital formats

The teaching project is realized in a purely digital format as a series of online seminars on the videoconferencing and interaction platform Zoom. Classroom settings and conferences will be performed in 2D and tools such as online whiteboards and the interactive En-ROADS simulator will enhance student involvement. In a second step, a fully immersive classroom will be implemented with virtual reality (VR) technology.

  • The En-ROADS-Simulator will be employed during the interactive online seminars. It is a free and web-based simulation tool for understanding climate goals through changes in taxes, subsidies, economic growth, energy efficiency, technological innovation, carbon pricing, fuel mix, and other factors that impact global carbon emissions and temperatures. The simulator is designed to be used interactively by small groups. It stimulates conversations and discussions on climate change with a global perspective and how to deduce mitigation efforts. By investigating different scenarios, students gain a deeper understanding of climate change and how it is effected by the complex interplay of different measures from the sectors. Through discussions in groups and a negotiation process, they come up with solutions to tackle the rising temperature with the best outcome. The simulation tool will help future doctors and medical staff to understand the necessity of dealing with the implications of climate change.

Online Whiteboards enable social interaction between students during the seminars. In particular, the platform Miro will serve as tool for visual collaboration, enable team work, and thus promote motivational and active learning. Student groups are provided with tasks, then discuss and record their ideas and suggestions in writing. Digital collaboration will be assisted by brainstorming sessions using sticky notes, which are then further consolidated as comments and statements.

  • ViLearn comprises an immersive classroom for teachers and learners to communicate and interact with each other in a virtual learning environment. The VR technology allows students to learn and work together in a highly authentic setting mimicking a real classroom with social interactions. The immersive classroom is equipped with the established features to facilitate all activities known from face to face teaching in higher education: the lecturer presents slides, asks questions, and communicates with the learners. Students work on laptops, take notes, and search the Internet. To collaborate in small groups, they can enter different rooms.

Problem solving based on patient cases

The teaching project will also address problem-based learning (PBL) as a method to enhance students’ active involvement in learning. Students work in small groups and analyze an uncertain situation dealing with patients suffering from climate change. They have to identify the associated symptoms. They then define learning objectives to understand the conditions of the underlying diseases, research the problem with the aid of suitable sources of information, and finally present to each other the results to close the gap in knowledge. Apart from the subject-related learning objectives, problem-based learning supports students to promote self-learning, develop transferable skills, and improve teamwork abilities, as well as to encourage intrinsic rewards.