Posts Tagged ‘education’

Peer Review for Trainees

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

In one week in 2010, educators nominated the best articles about rethinking higher education. Organizers as the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University compiled the submissions into an e-book called Hacking the Academy.

One of the provocative ideas there for shaking up traditional academia is from Cathy Davidson, former Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke. She describes an experiment in “crowdsourcing” student grades. Rather than the faculty member alone evaluate student performance, she had fellow class members determine if a student’s work was satisfactory.

This approach eliminated some of the usual student jockeying to perform for the teacher and gave them a wider audience. The method could easily be applied to clinical teaching settings where peers observe each other’s performance.

Letting Go of Lectures

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The evidence against the effectiveness of lecturing for student learning is growing. A study published in Science describes the results of an experiment in a large introductory physics class at the University of British Columbia.

In week 12 of the semester, one section received traditional instruction from an experienced professor using lecture, PowerPoint, and clicker questions. Two inexperienced teachers trained in deliberative practice led another section using interactive exercises. The experimenters took care to establish ground rules for this learning contest. Both sets of instructors agreed on the learning objectives and a multiple choice quiz at the end of the week.

The results were not even close. The experimental group saw greater student engagement, attendance, and significantly higher scores on the post-test. The authors acknowledge that the intervention required significant outlay of time (20 hours of preparation for the first class), but gradually decreases over time. Moreover, students wished that the entire class were conducted using the interactive methods. The only barrier to change is inertia.


Thursday, February 24th, 2011

The Teagle Foundation has released a book called Literary Study, Measurement, and the Sublime: Disciplinary Assessment. The project brings together essays by experts in literature and assessment to suggest ways that teachers can measure student learning when it comes to less tangible outcomes.

Medical educators tend to think of their content as concrete. Learners, after all, must demonstrate their knowledge through national exams. But, in other ways, training medical students and residents resembles the teaching of literary studies. We hope learners gain empathy, professionalism, and the ability to "read" a patient. The suggestions in the book can help academic medical centers gauge their success in conveying these abstract qualities.

One model that may apply to the medical setting is the verified resume. Originally designed by the Department of Labor to emphasize skills training for the workforce, the six-item score card resonates with the goals of medical training. The verified resume includes measures of:

  • responsibility
  • team player
  • listening
  • creativity
  • acquiring and evaluating information
  • working with cultural diversity

Learning On-Line

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Doing educational research is tricky. Unlike in clinical trials, investigators can't limit all variables or deny some students knowledge. The slipperiness of qualitative research has left many questions about the effectiveness of on-line learning unanswered.

A report this summer for the National Bureau of Economic Research adds another finding to the ongoing debate. The authors, academic economists, attempted to create a controlled experiment by dividing students taking a microeconomics course into a "live" learning group and a virtual group. They found that low-achieving, male, and Hispanic students performed significantly better with the in-person format.

All the usual limitations on educational research apply to this study, but it does suggest that synchronous learning still has its benefits. Just like e-readers are not replacing traditional books, all these teaching methods can exist simultaneously. The internet is not a panacea for higher education, but it offers powerful tools for learning.

The Mindset List

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Every back-to-school season Beloit College releases its Mindset List. This list describes the world as seen by the entering class of freshmen. Some of the perspectives on the mind of the class of 2014:

  • Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
  • DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.
  • Czechoslovakia has never existed.
  • Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.
  • They have never worried about a Russian missile strike on the U.S.

Students born in 1992 may have  historical knowledge of the Cold War or life before the human genome, but they have no personal experience with it. For professors, it is important to know the audience. Seeing the world through their eyes allows us to tailor the concepts we teach. One of the most effective pedagogical tools is to drastically interrupt a deeply-held expectation.

These students still have a ways to go before graduate school, but their worldview is not so far off from that of the entering class of medical students.

The Teaching Formula

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire have analyzed submissions to the annual Tutor of the Year award. By counting how many times the nominations mentioned a specific trait, they were able to rank the elements in an educator most valued by students.

Not surprisingly, the most common quality in a nominee was "great teaching." Thirty percent of the nominations mentioned that. More revealing was the least mentioned item: feedback and assessment. Just four percent of students cited that as a reason to recognize their instructors. Also highly ranked: positive outlook, influential, and edutaining.

It is not too helpful for an educator looking to improve her skills to know that students want "great teaching." But the lack of interest in feedback seems to go against many current pedagogical trends. Is this a case where the patient does not know what is good for him? I would be curious to see a longitudinal study that follows up on the students at intervals after the class is over. With time, do they come to appreciate different qualities about an instructor?

Flexible Education

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

A new report by professors at UCSF encourages a rethinking of traditional medical education. One area for reform is the time necessary to receive the M.D. degree. Why four years for everyone? If students learn at different paces and have different interests, why not a more flexible schedule?

The proposal would make medical school more like doctoral programs, whose curricula are much less rigid. At the same time, recent critics of ten-year-long Ph.D. programs have called for graduate study in the arts and sciences to be more like medical school.

I'm inclined to favor more rigid timelines for medical school but more loose guidelines for residency. Sharing a common experience of courses over four years provides benefits that outweigh accommodating individual learning styles.

Empathic Education

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

When I was a college student, I took some memorable lecture classes. Though they could not address individual student concerns, the professors gave compelling lectures illustrated (in those days) with relevant slides and memorable anecdotes.

Lectures are an efficient way to communicate content. It's a brain dump from the expert to the novice. But there is no way to ensure that the recipient of the material understands the core concepts or can implement them in novel ways. Increasingly, pedagogical theory has turned to more dynamic, learner-centered teaching.

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece by Jeremy Rifkin that made me reflect on good teaching practices. He points out that the traditional system stifles collaboration--it's considered cheating to work with others. Yet, studies have shown that when medical students work together, they diagnose patients more quickly and accurately.

If the goal of medical education is to train empathetic physicians, we should consider replacing lectures with small group projects that prepare students for the kind of work they will be doing as practicing doctors.