Sunday, September 30, 2012

Blending Learning

This TEDx video features Dr. Joseph Kim discussing his recommendation for improving the relationship between teacher and learner.  While his talk is geared towards undergraduate university teaching, there are several pearls for medical teachers.

In order to improve teaching, he points out that we need to:

1. Structure courses to take advantage of technology:

This topic is getting a lot of airtime lately.  It even made the New England Journal of Medicine.  Blended learning, flipped learning, individual interactive instruction, asynchronous learning.  While the exact methodology employed varies, they all share an important principle: Give the learner the material on their time, at their pace.

Critics will cite difficulty with verifying completion of the material, but I think they're missing something.  Likely, they still depend on synchronous lectures to fill the valuable class time.

By putting the lectures online you take advantage of repetition, giving students the ability to master the material.  You also take advantage of adult learning by the learner the ability to skip forward if the material is too basic.

2. Rethink how we use class time effectively

Now Dr. Kim gets at the crux: we need to stop wasting learners time.  If the session fails to add value to their learning, it is wasteful.  Salman Khan, of Khan Academy fame, discusses how using video allows teachers more time with the learners in another powerful TED Talk.  By moving from the "Sage on the Stage" to the "Guide on the side" the teacher is now in the position to assess the learning and help the students master the material.

It is important to recognize that class time is now used to explore issues in greater depth.  Class time is now longer "lecture time" but is used for small groups, problem solving, or projects.  As Dr. Kim points out: learner build meaning and add a personal context to the material

The biggest threat to this type of teaching is time.  I've had the good fortune to spend the last five years teaching at a residency that utilizes this approach in a low tech fashion: assigned reading.  Each week our learners are assigned 50-100 pages of journal articles about a specific topic, such as head trauma, cardiac ischemia, or pulmonary infections.  The faculty then lead a two hour discussion every week about the topic.  We utilize many methods for leading the discussion: creating mind maps, reasoning through cases, guided discussions, role playing, etc.  It take a phenomenal amount of time to read the material and design the learning experience, but the learner engagement is phenomenal and our boards scores aren't too shabby either.

3. Make the pursuit of scholarly teaching a priority

What Dr. Kim is really getting at is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), a term popularized by Ernest Boyer in his book Scholarship Reconsidered.  Educationalists view teaching as a continuum:

Teaching: routine instruction; teaching the way we were taught with little insight into how to improve education

Scholarly Teaching: Teachers who "inform" their own teaching; use pedagogy to improve practice; obtain feedback from students, outside/peer evaluators, and self-reflection to improve practice

SOTL: The actual research into what works and doesn't work in education

SOTL provides the evidence for evidence-based education, hence the need to make it a priority.  With SOTL, we can:

Improve learning outcomes
Improve instructional design
Improve teaching and faculty development

SOTL is a big topic, and I'll be writing on this more later.

So, using technology to flip the classroom, empowering students to learn, and actively investigating what works and doesn't work is the way forward?  As Dr. Kim concludes, by focusing on these three issues, "we can make informed decisions that will lead to better educational design and sound education policy."  I can't agree more!

Other References:

O'Brien, M. (2008). Navigating the SoTL Landscape: A Compass, Map and Some Tools for Getting Started. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 2(2): 1-20.