See what’s possible when a tech team reinvents flashcards for medical education

Powercards app by Elsevier Hacks participants uses "flashcards" to spark conversation among med students worldwide

Elsevier Hacks Powercards
The Powercards team works on their app at Elsevier Hacks in Helsinki. (Photo by Todd Fredericks)

Almost every medical student will be familiar with the classic learning tool of flashcards. These succinct summaries of critical information have played a role in education for decades. Once restricted to the limitations of cardboard, flashcards can now be digital, incorporating video, 3D animation, high quality imagery and links to more detailed text. The in-development Powercards app aims to go beyond even that, turning the creation and distribution of flashcards into a conversation among peers around the world. Users will be able share flashcards, suggest improvements and discuss with fellow students how best to put those cards to work.

Powercards is part of a global incubation program run by Elsevier that builds on the Elsevier Hacks 2017 event in Helsinki. The original event paired medical students with technologists and tasked them to solve some of the biggest challenges in medical education.

Emerging from that event, the team behind Powercards is one of three working together across the globe. Over a 12-week period, they will be coached by experts from Elsevier and other businesses in design, development, communication and business, taking the ideas and prototypes created at the hackathon and building them into fully matured business plans and MVPs (minimum viable products), ready to release in the market.

Next week, these teams are being flown to the UK to present their prototypes to a global panel of Elsevier senior managers on July 19. One team will be awarded an additional $10,000 from Elsevier to continue to develop their prototype and grow their startup.

What is it?

A toolset that will enable medical students to fluidly translate any content, whether it be a lecture presentation, a textbook, a photo, sound, video, or even 3D models, into a dynamic flashcard study resource.

What the mentors say

David Game, Education eProduct Director at Elsevier, commented: “One of the interesting, critical dilemmas the team had to address was that, although flashcards are a very powerful learning tool, there’s this question of whether it’s reading the flashcard that is the real learning driver, or the process of creating it. So, after we had that conversation they’ve pivoted to a shared social model around flashcards and turned them in to a starting point for a conversation around understanding. That makes it a really good technology idea rather than an embellished print product.

“Something we saw at the Hackathon was how quickly medical students end up talking about the same challenges, wherever they are in the world. So, by harnessing a social aspect around the design and feedback of your flashcards the team behind Powercard can extend the conversation beyond the four people that happen to be on your dorm.”

What the hackers say

In his update on the Elsevier Hacks site, Nathan Ratner studying at the University of Minnesota and CEO/Chief Financial Officer of Powercards, explained: “After the 2017 Hackathon, we rolled out a survey and received over 190 responses from medical students all over the world. We conducted in-depth interviews to validate the results of our survey and to gain a deeper understanding of our target user’s needs. We also scanned and benchmarked the features of our potential competitors that are out in the market, which helped us figure out our features list. We had a Peer to Peer Research with Elsevier’s UX Director, which gave us confirmation that all our prep and research work were done correctly We were immensely delighted by that.”

Charlese Saballe, Chief Operations Officer and Head of Design for Powercards, added: “The feedback helped us pinpoint our strengths and weaknesses. We have identified that our business model needs a bit more clarification and we have to think of validating our strongest selling points. One way of doing that is via A/B testing, which we see as a great methodology to evaluate our theses and market position to our direct competitors.”

Learn more about Elsevier Hacks


Written by

Ian Evans

Written by

Ian Evans

Ian Evans is Content Director for Global Communications at Elsevier. Previously, he was Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier’s Global Communications Newsroom. Based in Oxford, he joined Elsevier six years ago from a small trade publisher specializing in popular science and literary fiction.


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