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Open Access Research article

A trial of patient-oriented problem-solving system for immunology teaching in China: a comparison with dialectic lectures

Zhiren Zhang*, Wei Liu, Junfeng Han, Sheng Guo and Yuzhang Wu*

Author Affiliations

Institute of Immunology, Third Military Medical University of PLA, Gaotanyan Main Street 30, Chongqing, 400038, People's Republic of China

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BMC Medical Education 2013, 13:11  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-11

Published: 28 January 2013



The most common teaching method used in China is lecturing, but recently, efforts have been widely undertaken to promote the transition from teacher-centered to student-centered education. The patient-oriented problem-solving (POPS) system is an innovative teaching-learning method that permits students to work in small groups to solve clinical problems, promotes self-learning, encourages clinical reasoning and develops long-lasting memory. To our best knowledge, however, POPS has never been applied in teaching immunology in China. The aim of this study was to develop POPS in teaching immunology and assess students’ and teachers’ perception to POPS.


321 second-year medical students were divided into two groups: I and II. Group I, comprising 110 students, was taught by POPS, and 16 immunology teachers witnessed the whole teaching process. Group II including the remaining 211 students was taught through traditional lectures. The results of the pre- and post-test of both groups were compared. Group I students and teachers then completed a self-structured feedback questionnaire for analysis before a discussion meeting attended only by the teachers was held.


Significant improvement in the mean difference between the pre- and post-test scores of those in Groups I and II was seen, demonstrating the effectiveness of POPS teaching. Most students responded that POPS facilitates self-learning, helps them to understand topics and creates interest, and 88.12% of students favored POPS over simple lectures. Moreover, while they responded that POPS facilitated student learning better than lectures, teachers pointed out that limited teaching resources would make it difficult for wide POPS application in China.


While POPS can break up the monotony of dialectic lectures and serve as a better teaching method, it may not be feasible for the current educational environment in China. The main reason for this is the relative shortage of teaching resources such as space, library facilities and well-trained teachers.

Patient-oriented problem-solving; Medical education; Immunology; China