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‘Make Learning Visible’ | An Interview Series with Dr. Iris Thiele Isip-Tan (Part 1)

By Frances Ho (UPCM 2024)

When you’re over a year into a pandemic that shows no signs of letting up, it’s easy to feel that every day is the same: wake up, eat, join Zoom class, sleep, repeat. It’s even easier to take for granted that despite the speed bumps and growing pains, the mere existence of the online setup is a feat – the fruit of years of educational innovativeness, creativity, and courage.

In the UPCM community, the face of innovative medical education is social media savvy endocrinologist Dr. Iris Thiele Isip-Tan, also known to her thousands of Internet followers as @endocrine_witch or Dok Bru. Fresh out of endocrine fellowship, Dr. Isip-Tan was “full of enthusiasm” as she made her first foray into the classroom in 2004, only to be greeted by an all-too familiar sight: medical students sleeping. “I was like, ‘how else can we make this process better?’ I remember being a medical student and also falling asleep in class,” she chuckled.

Her curiosity grew as our digital age evolved. She went where her questions called her: from blended learning, educational technology, and the flipped classroom to social media, telemedicine, and health information dissemination. All this culminated last August, when she was named one of 2021 Most Outstanding Filipinos for Teachers by the Metrobank Foundation and awarded as Manila’s Breakthrough Medical Educator and Translational Researcher in Health Informatics.

Amidst back-to-back Zoom meetings and a never-ending to-do list, Dr. Isip-Tan discussed with me her views on medical education, her journey in academia, and the challenges of striking a work-life balance. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.

How would you describe your philosophy as a medical educator?

“Make learning visible.” When you’re standing there in front of the class as a teacher and you’re lecturing, you see the faces of your students. Some of them seem to be nodding at you, so siguro naintindihan. Some of them are dozing off. So, [you’re] quizzical na parang feeling mo, “Are they lost? Am I making sense?” I think that’s one of the things I wanted to remedy kaya yun yung naisip ko. “Make learning visible.”

Before that, I had taken a Coursera course on digital artifacts, and they were saying, “Ano nga ba yung pinapakita ng student to show that they have mastery of what they have learned? In the same way that from a cultural point of view, what would they find millions of years from now, if everything is online?” Alam mo yun, what is our artifact? So, the idea that there is an artifact that you can see – that really captured my imagination.

Mahilig ako magpagawa ng artifacts. Like in the flipped classroom, if I give a quiz, then I know if the students viewed the video that I told them to look at. In my elective class, I asked them to make a visual abstract. Then I can see exactly how they engaged with the teaching material I gave them.

How did your experience in studying social media and informatics influence you as a medical educator?

So, when I started in Informatics, sobrang simple pa yung mga lessons noon. Ngayon, madali na lang, but when I started with Dr. [Alvin] Marcelo, we really had to learn HTML. So, I got interested in websites. I remember I made my first Google site as a master’s student, and then later, I decided to have my own blog. Doon ako naging interested. Kasi when you start engaging with online tools, there’s always like, “Oh, you can also use this, you can also use that,” and then, kabit-kabit na ‘yon.

“Wow, nagvaviral ang pusa. Baka pwede naman mag-viral din ang health information.”

Ang funny story was – you know, I didn’t go through yung mga Friendster, yung MySpace… my first social media platform was Facebook. I only joined Facebook because I was supposed to organize our high school reunion. And then, I saw Grumpy Cat, and sabi ko, “Wow, nagvaviral ang pusa. Baka pwede naman mag-viral din ang health information.” So, when I started my Facebook page in 2012, that was an experiment. I just wanted to see kung ano yung mangyayari if I posted about health information – if that would go viral.

While I was in [the] master’s program, I needed to go to the US to attend an endocrine conference. So, I was going to be absent in Dr. Marcelo’s class. And he said, “Okay, if you’re gonna be there and you’re not gonna be able to attend class, can you live tweet from the conference?” So, that’s how I learned to be on Twitter. ‘Pag natututo ka na ng mga ganyan, you want to share it with your students. “What else can we do on this platform?”

Given that Philippine medical education is known for being very traditional and by-the-book, were your methods ever met with resistance? How did you overcome this?

What’s nice about being in UP is that there’s always academic freedom. Noong kailangan gumawa ng [master’s] thesis, I was telling [Dr. Cecile Jimeno], “Can I try something? …Can I try to get a few of [the SGDs] online para lang mabawasan yung face-to-face SGDs? And then, we’ll see from there what’s going to happen.” We did have some comments about [it] even in the early days; siyempre mabagal yung internet, hindi makapasok doon sa Moodle, mga ganyan. It was even harder before dahil hindi pa siya VLE ng UP Manila eh, it was really just the OSIRIS [the Moodle of the College of Medicine] na ang admin doon ako lang ‘tsaka si Dr. [Alvin] Marcelo.

I was upfront naman at that time that I told [the students] na, “This is part of my thesis, eto yung gagawin natin.” I appreciated it na they knew that I was trying something new, and they were also trying to help me.

I remember there was a quiz question [during the flipped classroom]; somebody raised their hand and said, “Ma’am, I think there’s something wrong with the question.” And because I grew up in the traditional curriculum, parang nagulat ako na sinabihan ako ng ganoon. Something wrong with the question! Pero sabi ko, “Sige, ano kaya yung wrong with the question?”

The way I phrased the question was, “What was the most important adverse effect of metformin?” I had in the choices, “lactic acidosis,” and “GI disturbances.” So, I was asked, “Ma’am, what do you mean by most important? Is it most important kasi nakakamatay – so lactic acidosis yung sagot? Or most important kasi most common siya, in which case GI disturbances yung sagot?”

“As I went through teaching, I learned to accept feedback from students kasi it really makes you better. You just have to not [involve] your ego.” | Photo retrieved from

It was my first time to be challenged openly in a class, but then I said, “You are actually correct!” Now that I think about it, why did I ask the question that way? As I went through teaching, I learned to accept feedback from students kasi it really makes you better. You just have to not [involve] your ego. It’s not easy, pero kasi that’s the way it is eh. Kailangan mo rin i-model yun para sa students na, “You give us feedback, I can take feedback.”

To be continued:

Part 2 | ‘Aralin Natin Para Magawa Natin’

Part 3 | ‘The Dinner Table Is Sacred’

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