Author: Theresa Suart
Focus groups: what they are and how we use them
By Theresa Suart, Educational Developer & Eleni Katsoulas, Assessment & Evaluation Consultant
Amongst the plethora of student feedback we solicit about our courses, you may wonder why we sometimes add in focus groups. What could be added to the more than a dozen questions on course evaluation and faculty feedback surveys?
The information we gather in student focus groups doesn’t replace the very valuable narrative feedback from course evaluations, rather, it allows us to ask targeted questions, clarify responses and drill down into the data.
Developed from “focused interviews” around the time of the Second World War, focus groups emerged as a key qualitative research tool in the latter half of the 20th century. Robert K. Merton, a sociologist from Columbia University, is hailed as the “father of the focus group.” (He died in 2003 at age 92.)
Merton used focused interviews to gain insight into groups’ responses to text, radio programs and films. Politicians and marketing companies soon seized upon focus groups to gauge voter and consumer trends. The Queen’s UGME Education Team uses focus groups in a targeted way to augment information gleaned from course evaluation feedback, course director’s meetings with academic reps and other feedback tools.
According to a briefing paper from Carnegie Mellon University, focus groups are “particularly effective” for eliciting suggestions for improvement. “They are also much more flexible than surveys or scales because they allow for question clarification and follow-up questions to probe vague or unexpected responses.” It also helps that faculty rate focus groups as “accurate, useful and believable”.
If you’re asked to participate in a focus group, only agree if you think you have something to contribute to the investigator’s project or purpose. (Sure, it’s fun to come for the free food, but be prepared to contribute in a meaningful way).
What you can expect when you take part in a focus group:
- To be informed if the focus group is for research or curricular innovation (or both). Research studies must have approval from the Research Ethics Board and require specific paperwork to document informed consent. Curricular innovation focus groups are less formal, but will still respect confidentiality of participants. These might not have the same paperwork.
- The facilitator to set the ground rules, and guide the discussion. Savvy facilitators will do this with a minimum of fuss: they will listen more than they speak. (But you can certainly ask for clarification if you’re not sure of a question).
- A co-facilitator will likely take notes and monitor any recording equipment used. The co-facilitator may summarize after each question and solicit further input as required.
- You’ll be asked specific questions, and engage in conversation with the other participants.
What you shouldn’t expect:
- A venting session. This isn’t the time to just complain. A focus group is looking for constructive feedback and suggested solutions.
- To always have your say: the facilitator may realize they have reached saturation on a particular question and will move on. This is to respect your time. (You’ll have an opportunity to send additional comments electronically afterwards if you felt there is an important point that was missed).
What you can do to prepare:
- If the questions are provided in advance (this is best practice but not always possible on tight timelines!) you should take some time to think about them.
- Be sure you know where the meeting room is, and arrive on time.
What you can do during:
- Contribute, but make sure you don’t end up dominating the conversation. The facilitator will be looking for a balance of views and contributors.
- Listen attentively to others and avoid interrupting. The facilitator will make sure everyone has a chance to contribute – you’ll get your turn.
What you can expect from data collected at a focus group:
- It will be confidential. Different strategies are employed. For example, you may be assigned a number during the focus group and participants asked to refer to people by number (“Participant 2 said…”).
- In a formal research study, you should be offered an opportunity to review the data transcript after it is prepared. (This is sometimes waived on the consent form, so read carefully so you can have realistic expectations of the investigator).
- The end product is a summary of the conversation, with any emergent themes identified to answer the research questions.
What you can’t expect:
- A magic bullet solution to a challenge in a course or class.
- One hundred percent consensus from all participants – you can agree to disagree.
- For all outlier opinions to be represented in the final report. These may be omitted from summary reports.
We’re always grateful to our students for donating their time to our various focus group requests throughout the year. These contributions are invaluable.
For course directors: If you think this type of data collection could be useful in your course review and revisions, feel free to get in touch. It’s one of the tools in our qualitative research toolbox and we’re happy to deploy it for you as may be appropriate.
Eleni Katsoulas firstname.lastname@example.org
Theresa Suart email@example.com
I have my faculty evaluations, now what?
Did you teach last semester? If so, you likely have feedback from your faculty evaluation forms awaiting your attention. Parsing out feedback from evaluation questionnaires is an annual challenge for all university instructors. It was the topic of a Faculty Focus article by Isis Artze-Vega, associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Florida International University. She offered solid advice for those of who feel angst over student evaluations
Dr. Artze-Vega suggests seven key approaches to responding to student evaluations.
- First, she advises faculty to analyze the data. The Education Team routinely does this for course evaluations for course directors and the Course and Faculty Review Committee, but not for individual faculty evaluations. Analyzing comments is a great starting point; otherwise, human nature often has people hyper-focusing on the wrong things. Are you reading an outlier opinion, or is there a theme in multiple students’ comments? “Identifying themes will help you determine whether they warrant a response,” Artze-Vega writes.
- Ask any actor or director and they’ll tell you: negative feedback is easy to remember. American film director Peter Farrelly has said: “With all of my films, if I get one bad review and a bunch of good reviews the bad one is the only one that will stay with me.” Artze-Vega cautions to resist the lure of the negative. Don’t automatically dismiss a negative comment, but “consider: Am I focusing on this because it’s ‘louder,’ or because it’s a legitimate concern?”
- Considering feedback this way flows into Artze-Vega’s third key: Let your critics be your gurus. Citing a New York Times article, she points out that, “we often brood over negative comments because we suspect they may contain an element of truth.”
- A fourth approach is to find counter-evidence to negative comments. You can look for or remember comments that contradict the negative one. (If your faculty evaluation report is anything like some course evaluation reports, sometimes, you’ll find these comments in the same evaluation report from other students).
- Artze-Vega stresses that “we should devote at least as much time to students’ positive comments as their negative ones,” so her fifth key is dwell on the positive ones. If you hyper-focus on negative feedback, you can lose sight of the many things you are likely doing well – and that students appreciate.
- To aid in this, she further advises to read them with a friend. “A more objective party can help you make sense of or notice the absurdity of the comments because they’re not as personally invested in them.”
- Finally, Artze-Vega advises to be proactive. “If you don’t conduct this analysis yourself, you’ll be at the mercy of whomever is charged with your evaluation—and they probably won’t be as thorough,” she points out. “Also, take the time to provide explanations about any off-the-wall student complaints, so that your reviewers don’t draw their own conclusions.”
To all of this, I’d add: having read through your feedback, what’s your plan? What will you keep doing? What will you change? How will you do that? If you teach in the Queen’s UGME program and would like some assistance in using student feedback to improve your teaching practice, I’m available to assist you with this. Drop me an email. Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Because good advice is worth repeating, this is based on a post from January 12, 2015
Multiple avenues to service-learning for UG students
As part of its commitment to promote social responsibility and accountability as core values of its graduates, the Queen’s UGME program works to facilitate, encourage, support and acknowledge students’ service-learning.
While there are multiple definitions of service-learning, the UGME program has defined service learning as a learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection.
The UG Curriculum Committee first made this commitment formally in 2014 and continues to uphold it.
Service-learning is a unique type of volunteer service in its approach, specifically with the structured preparation and reflection requirements. Ideally, preparation involves consultations with community-member stakeholders. Additionally, the UG encourages students to focus on longer-term community engagement such as a term- or year-long commitment to build community relationships.
The UG, under the auspices of the Teaching, Learning, and Integration Committee (TLIC) has developed several avenues to service-learning: group service-learning projects, individual projects and individual activities.
Each SL endeavor must include preparation (including consultations with stakeholders where appropriate), service, and reflection on the service and learning that occurred. The TLIC assigned a minimum range of hours required for service (set at 15-20 hours). The hours threshold was established to ensure sufficiently meaningful engagement while recognizing students’ key responsibilities remain their academic studies.
Upon application and review, the TLIC designates student group activities as service-learning options. Sometimes these are activities designed specifically with recognized service-learning in mind. In other cases, existing student interest groups have designed service-learning options that participants can use to extend a volunteer activity into full service-learning. Some examples of our current approved group service learning projects are SWAM (which provides swimming lessons to children with disabilities), Jr. Medics (first aid workshops for elementary and middle-school students), and Altitude (mentoring for university students interested in a career in healthcare).
Students may also bring forward proposals for individual service-learning projects, typically in cooperation with a community-based agency. These are considered on a case-by-case basis applying the same criteria as for established group projects.
Individuals also have the option to pursue what the TLIC has designated as volunteer-based service learning. This option recognizes that not all community agencies’ needs fit our predominantly-project-based service-learning model.
Such organizations have a streamlined volunteer service system and any project that could be proposed by our medical students could be redundant to the agency’s mandate. The TLIC recognizes that medical students can meet the intended service and learning outcomes from working within these existing, established structures. For agencies that are pre-approved by the UGME, students may complete recognized service learning by following a non-project path.
For this non-project (activity) path, the TLIC has students complete different required preparation (typically research on the cooperating agency and/or the community need that is being met). Examples of approved settings for this type of SL include working at Martha’s Table and Pathways to Education’s tutoring programs. Students can bring forward suggested agency programs for approval for this path.
For any of these SL avenues, students are expected to initiate contact with the organizations themselves, although from time-to-time, the TLIC may work directly with an agency to set up pilot service-learning projects (such as the previous Loving Spoonful project). When these opportunities are available, students are informed through the AS and Class Presidents’ emails.
For more information on recognized service-learning options, feel free to email me at email@example.com
Disorientation can be the first step to learning
Have your ever found yourself in a new course or job and wondered how the heck you got yourself into this terrible situation? It could be something you strived for actively for years and sought out for yourself. (Yes, I know that describes many medical students, but also people in new jobs, and students in other graduate programs like the one I’m in at the Faculty of Education).
Often, in a new situation – even one we’ve chosen – we can feel less competent than we did in our previous circumstances, and scramble around to figure out why something we wanted has turned out so poorly right off the bat. Generally, adult learners are used to feeling competent in their lives, work, and previous educational endeavors. New situations can rob (or mask) that previously-developed competence.
Using Taylor’s Model of the Learning Cycle can help with these feelings and ensure you stay focused on moving ahead, rather than getting stuck in the “I’ve made a terrible mistake” self-talk.
First articulated by Marilyn Taylor in 1979, then refined in 1987, this cycle explores learning from the learner’s perspective.
Taylor described the learning cycle as one of Disorientation, followed by Exploration, then Reorientation, culminating in Equilibrium – then, for lifelong learners, a new period of Disorientation as the cycle begins again. Within each of these four stages are other predictable and/or possible stages, opportunities and solutions.
Although Taylor focused on inquiry-based learning, I’ve found the model can apply to any new learning situation for adults including, as mentioned above, starting a new job or new professional role.
Here’s Taylor’s Model of the Learning Cycle in a nutshell, based on a chapter from Dorothy MacKeracher’s Making Sense of Adult Learning (2004) (Disclosure of potential for bias: I was introduced to this model by Dr. MacKeracher during my BEd studies and she was later my supervisor for my master’s degree).
The model begins with the learner entering a new situation, often described as a “disconfirming event or destabilizing experience” which highlights a “major discrepancy between expectations and reality”. The change can be starting a new course or program, starting a new job, new technology being introduced at work, or a change of circumstances related to aging or health.
The disorientation comes about when the new situation isn’t routine. The learner no longer feels competent or capable, which can result in a crisis in self-confidence. (The questions of “why did I sign up for this?” or “who thought I’d be good here?” are common in this phase.)
When a learner experiences confusion, anxiety and rising tension, the learner frequently withdraws from others because of feelings of inadequacy.
As MacKeracher notes: “in formal learning programs, the person most frequently blamed is the facilitator” for things such as not providing enough direction or clear instructions, or “not being helpful”.
Some people get stuck in this phase and focus on immediate – but misguided – solutions. For example, assuming the problem is lack of control, so trying to be more organized, but not really moving forward. (I’ve called this my “rearrange the chairs on the Titanic” mode. It’s not a productive place).
The exploration phase begins when the learner “can name the central issue and make contact with others,” MacKeracher explains. “The individual becomes engaged in searching for information or ideas that could assist in resolving the identified problem.” The key here is to look for information or ideas that will make things better, not a superficial quick fix. This could involve exploring new study habits, identifying training gaps and solutions, or considering new points of view or attitudes (depending on the learning situation).
Towards the end of the exploration phase, the learner may withdraw from others somewhat to think things over, but this is not the avoidance of the disorientation phase, rather a time for thoughtful reflection and planning to make a transition.
The transition to the reorientation phase is characterized by “integrat[ing] ideas and experience to provide a new understanding of the issue [or circumstance]” that caused the disorientation in the first place. “The learner consciously acknowledges that learning is a process in which he or she is the agent.”
As implied by its name, this phase is far more settled than the previous three, or, as MacKeracher writes: “this phase involves a much reduced emotional intensity.” Learners may consolidate, refine, and apply their new perspective and skills and share them with others in different context “or tested out as new behaviour in new settings.”
(And then back to disorientation…)
Sometimes people move through these phases instinctively, but if you’re feeling stuck – disorientated – working through Taylor’s Learning Model consciously can be helpful. Sometimes, it’s just reassuring to know “this is a phase” and you’ll come out the other side stronger, resilient, and competent in your new circumstances.
This is, admittedly, a simplified overview of Taylor’s Learning Cycle Model. Feel free to drop by my office for further discussion or to borrow my copy of MacKeracher’s Making Sense of Adult Learning.
Use the microphones, and other audio advice
Microphones can be intimidating to use and sometimes we think we don’t need to use them. (Especially those of us who have developed a “teacher voice” over the years). However, using the microphones available in the School of Medicine Building’s large teaching theatres (032 and 132) is essential to provide an optimal learning experience for all, especially those who may be using Assisted Listening Devices (ALDs), catching up with captured lectures, or video-conferencing in using Zoom.
These teaching spaces were actually designed to limit sound travel, so the microphones become essential equipment. “The theatres were designed to be like a recording studio, which means there’s minimum audio transfer throughout the room,” Jason Palmer, Classroom Technology and Media Coordinator* explained.
The building materials were selected with this minimal audio transfer in mind. It’s accomplished through acoustic panels in the ceiling and the wall paneling around the room.
“It isn’t actually wood, it’s an acoustic material. If you look at the wood up close, you’ll see microlaser perforations through the wood and if you look at the backside, it looks like a half-inch thick slice of pegboard MDF, but there’s a one milimetre skin of walnut over the top of the whole thing, with these perforations,” he pointed out.
Behind the paneling itself are two other sound dampening materials as well as insulators. One reason for these design choices was to ensure that when up to 16 small groups of 7-8 people were talking to work on cases (for example) that the noise level in the room “would not be outrageous.”
“If you had a room that was very echo-y, like a standard room with standard drywall, you would create a cacophony pretty quickly. It would be untenable because the first group starts talking, the second group has to talk a little louder to be heard over the first group, to the point that it would just be a chaotic sound,” he said.
“A lot of traditional old-school classrooms were like that, because they built them out of concrete walls, and they didn’t really think about [noise] or if anyone was talking other than the lecturer – and that was the point. We’ve changed the teaching model, to use this group learning methodology, and because of that, they had to make a lot of considerations for audio.”
The rooms were also designed to act as recording studios to facilitate lecture capture and broadcasting of learning events through technology such as Zoom meeting. For these recordings, the audio is taken from a direct feed from the microphone system, rather than recording the room at large.
There are three different types of microphones used the theatres, two for presenters and one for students/audience members.
Each theatre has a lavalier lapel microphone and a handheld one. The most often used by instructors is the lavalier mic.
The quickest way to remember where to clip the lavalier microphone is to put the microphone dead centre under your chin, Palmer said. “It means wearing things like button down shirts and ties to make it really easy. Wearing things like t-shirts and solid front shirts makes it more difficult.”
A lanyard cord or strap from a passport pouch can also work. (Thank you, Dr. Sue Moffatt for this advice!) It’s helpful helpful to have either a pocket or a waistband/belt to clip the unit to, or if you’re using a passport pouch, the unit can go there.
“The reason you want it dead centre, is because a microphone is a cone, at 45 degrees. If I turn my head to either side and it’s dead centre, the microphone will still always pick me up. If I put the microphone off to the side, as soon as I turn to the other side, I’m gone.”
Some instructors prefer the hand-held microphones and these are also used for panel presentations. (There are now an additional four handheld mics available in 132 specifically for panel presentations).
When using the handheld microphone, the advice is to almost rest it on your chin and talk at a normal volume.
“The reason you almost rest it on your chin, is a microphone is really a very heavy thing. It doesn’t seem like it at first, but after an hour of teaching… the microphone starts to slowly lower down to your belly button.”
For both the lavalier and hand-held microphones, “red means stop, green means go,” Palmer said. “When you first turn it on it’s still red because it hasn’t synchronized to the receiver– this takes a bit less than two seconds. Turn it on, wait for the green, then start talking.”
Palmer does caution that a microphone isn’t a miracle worker. “If you are someone who is naturally soft-spoken at all times, a microphone won’t instantly make you louder. Contrary to what people believe a microphone is for. It’s not for amplification, it’s for sound for sound reinforcement.”
“What I tell people: When you pick up a microphone, you are talking at a dinner party to five friends, you’re not talking one-on-one to your friend. You’re also not talking at a Starbucks where it requires a lot more volume. You just need to elevate slightly – don’t yell, but at the same time, don’t talk really quietly.”
The microphones are equipped with AGC (automatic gain control) if you talk too loud and risk feedback and ‘brains’ in the microphone scale you back – so don’t worry, he added.
Do not blow into a microphone, as this can damage the equipment. “If you want to see if it’s on talk, or lightly tap it,” he advised.
The student desk microphones are activated from the main console by ensuring the “push-to-talk” mode is selected. (This is typically done by one of the technical staff first thing in the morning). Similar to the other microphones, there a one or two second delay from pushing to the microphone working. When the button is pressed, it flashes three times red, then stays on steady: at that point, it’s on. Push the button again to disengage. (It’s also automatically disengaged when another student microphone is pressed.)
The last thing he’d like students to remember about their table-top microphone system is that the mics are vulnerable to drink spills.
“All their drinks should have a lid. We don’t want to damage the microphones. Inside a microphone is a very complex arrangement of copper wire over a very thin membrane in order to facilitate sound,” he said.
Whenever there is a problem with a microphone or a button, please let the tech team know so they can fix them as soon as possible. For now, use the firstname.lastname@example.org email – there is a ticket system coming.
* * *
Still, some people insist they’re loud enough to go without the tech. Palmer, who has been working in these theatres since the building opened in 2011, disagrees.
“We have ONE presenter who is, absolutely, loud enough to present in that room without a microphone. That person also did Shakespeare at Stratford – has projection! I heard them through the glass [of the audio booth] as if they were standing next to me,” he said. But even that person needs to use the microphone, he added. Palmer cites three main reasons for everyone to always use the microphone systems:
1 Individuals with hearing difficulties may have problems hearing even someone who is projecting well, due to clarity, reverberation, and other ambient interference. “You want as much clarity as possible,” he said. Plus, the microphones feed directly to the Assisted Listening Devices (ALDs) that are available for use in both theatres. “It’s a ‘direct drop’ from the matrix, so it’s the cleanest line feed you can possibly get.” (I tried one out in the basement lobby outside 032 while a class was going on, and the feed even outside the classroom was excellent).
There are four ALDs for each theatre. These can be signed out from the tech booth at the back. Students can just ask at the booth, or email ahead of time if they prefer (email@example.com). It takes moments to set up and with fresh batteries (provided) they’re good for eight hours. Each ALD has a sanitizable hearing cup that covers one ear.
There is also a portable Assisted Listening System (ALS) available if needed in another teaching space. It includes a microphone the instructor wears that feeds directly to the student’s system. The ALS has one transmitter and eight listener units. To arrange to use the ALS, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Palmer wants to make sure students aren’t hesitant to use the devices if they need them. “We always have a technician in the back room, so it’s always available.”
2 The microphone provides a direct feed for recordings for lecture capture – for both instructors and students. “It’s an opt-in system with lecturers, but just so people get in the habit of using the microphones. We need the students’ questions recorded, as well, because dead air and then an answer is not effective.”
3 “We are capable of doing Zoom video conferencing in each of the lecture theatres and without the microphones, people at the other site wouldn’t hear. We generally want everyone to have the same experience, plus, we really want that clean audio in that Zoom meeting.”
A fourth great reason to use microphones whenever they are available (not only in 032 and 132) is this helps to make our teaching spaces more accessible to all users — a requirement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
* He says he also answers to “Tech Guy”, “Computer Guy”, and “Guy in the Booth”.
DILs, RATs, and SGLs: a primer on team-based learning
Three-letter acronyms* figure heavily in medicine and medical education. Three of these that are intertwined in much of our pre-clerkship classroom-based learning are DIL, RAT and SGL.
These abbreviations are for three key learning event types that, when combined, comprise Michaelsen’s Team-Based Learning (TBL) model. This form of teaching unfolds in three steps and is designed to make best use of students’ and teachers’ time and expertise. The steps are:
Students receive preparatory materials either in a lecture, in a Directed Independent Learning (DIL) assignment, in a module, in previous courses, or preparatory readings. This material is typically fact/knowledge-based information.
Students’ understanding of this material is assessed in some way. This could be through formal Readiness Assessment Tests (RATs). These tests consist of 10-12 multiple choice questions. Each student completes an individual RAT (iRAT), then complete the same quiz in their SGL group (gRAT). The instructor then takes up any questions with which groups had difficulties. This could also be assessed via an online self-assessment quiz or some other method (e.g. completing a previous unit).
Having completed the preparation material, been assessed on their readiness, and having problem areas explained, students are ready to apply this knowledge through cases and problem solving application exercises, what we call Small Group Learning (SGL) session.
Directed Independent Learning (DIL) sessions provide content delivery, followed by Readiness Assessment Tests (RATs), culminating in Small-Group Learning (SGL) events where students engage in application exercises.
SGL sessions provide an opportunity for students to apply material they have already learned in order to extend their learning. Specifically, application exercises:
- Help students develop understanding and apply the course material.
- Address any misconceptions that may have developed, as students apply and integrate knowledge (Kubitz & Lightner p. 66).
- Provide opportunities for students through practice, to transfer what they learned to application questions (Kubitz & Lightner p. 67).
- Ensure students integrate “several different skills to answer application questions that require transfer of learning,” including accessing prior knowledge and identifying which knowledge applies and which does not (Kubitz and Lightner p. 67, citing Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Normal, 2010).
This model means most of non-lecture classroom-based time will be students working in their small groups of seven to eight students. The instructor’s role is to design the cases, ask challenging questions and then emphasize, reinforce, highlight, and clarify key teaching points throughout the session through the case debriefs.
Case application questions balance the line between too easy and too hard:
If questions are too easy: Can’t have spirited discussion when all teams agree on answers.
If questions are too hard: Predictable frustration if groups of well-prepared students cannot arrive at the most reasonable answer because question has design flaws or requires outside knowledge
Here are eight great types of questions that can be incorporated into application exercises:
- What is the key phrase in the case that will cause you to proceed down a particular path?
Change a variable:
- If variable X is changed in the case, how would your approach change?
- You can only order one test from this list. Which is the best one to choose? Why?
- What is the BEST choice, given the case history? Why?
- What’s the NEXT best choice to make?
- Give groups the decision, then ask them to provide a rationale for it.
- Given a particular pathophysiological insult, have groups determine what caused it.
- Given the case history and a particular course of action, what will the outcome be?
- Rank tests, procedures, medications, in order of importance vis-à-vis the case history or learned protocol. Have the group explain why they decided on that order.
If you’re a faculty member looking for assistance with preparing to teaching using TBL methods, please get in touch. If you’re a student with feedback on a particular SGL session or TBL in general, please get in touch, too. Reach me at email@example.com
* As an aside, TLA is the three-letter acronym for three-letter acronyms.
Sweet, M. & Michaelsen L.K. (eds) (2012) Team-Based Learning in the Social Sciences and Humanities. Sterling, Virginia: Styllus Publishing LCC (and Kubitz & Lightner in this volume)
Harris, S.A. and Watson, K.J. (1-1-1997), Small Group Techniques: Selecting and Developing Activities Based on Stages of Group Development. University of Nebraska- Lincoln. digitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln Paper 378
Five ways to get moving on your summer reading plans
I worked at my campus’ library to help pay for my first university degree. The evening hours worked well with my coursework, the commute was great (walk across the quad!), and I was surrounded by books.
This last point was both a blessing and a curse: my “to be read” list grew and grew with each shift, whether I was shelving returns or stamping the university logo on newly-acquired tomes for the collection. Each book I came across was ripe with possibilities.
We all have a TBR “pile”: either physically in the form of stacks of books or journals, or virtually as a list (written or mental). Summer can be an ideal time to catch up on “required” reading or savour something from the “just for fun” section but sometimes getting started can stall you in the stacks. Try these five steps to get down to precious reading time.
1. Cull the pile. If it’s been a while since you organized your pile, don’t be afraid to remove titles. Your needs and interests may have changed in the intervening months. And something that seemed highly relevant back in January might not be as appealing now. Also, if you start a book and find it’s not living up to its promise, ditch it. Why waste your time? I give a book 40-50 pages to impress me; otherwise, I move on. (This works for non-fiction and fiction alike).
2. Set the time. We schedule times for meetings, but reading – even to keep up with our professions – often drops to the “squeeze it in somewhere” category. Consider scheduling 30 minutes a day of dedicated reading time. Can’t manage one half-hour slot? If it’s something you plan for, you could break it into two 15-minute chunks. Stow the book in your briefcase or make sure it’s downloaded to your eReader. Experiment to see what works.
Do you have a favourite way of managing your TBR pile? Is there an app or computer program or maybe a filing system that works for you? Please share!
3. Balance topics. Are you reading for professional development or diversion – or maybe both? Make time for each. Feeding your spirit can be just as valuable as the latest journal article in your field. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll set out to read something “for fun” and find that it actually has relevance to your current course work literature review…
4. Curate excerpts. Sure, there are some books that require a start-to-finish reading strategy, but sometimes reading a single chapter can give us the information or tools we’re looking for. Some books are even designed this way. Make use of Introductions and Tables of Contents to find what’s relevant to you and just read that.
5. Turn to tech. How can tools you already use help with your TBR list? I routinely use my iPhone to read journal articles in those “gap” times — when I’m early for an appointment, waiting to catch the bus home or to pick up my son from an activity.
Next on my reading schedule:
Peripheral visions: Learning along the way by Mary Catherine Bateson (1995)
Recommendations from my recent reading (aka, my attempt to add to your TBR pile):
Invisible women: Data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez (2019)
Spark by Patricia Leavy (a novel that explores the challenges of designing and conducting research). (2019)
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (2012)
What’s on your summer reading schedule?
A version of this post original appeared here in July 2014
How to spend your summer not-vacation
There’s a different rhythm to summer at the medical school. Yes, this involves some vacation time, but it also involves getting many things done that get set aside during the university academic year.
For those involved in classroom-based teaching, the summer interval is an opportunity to review, reflect and revise teaching for the upcoming semesters. With this in mind, here’s my suggestion for tackling this task this summer:
A 4-R To-Do List for Summer 2019
What you review will depend on your role in the UGME program. If you’re a course director, for example, re-read your course evaluation report, your own teaching evaluation report, and any notes you may have made through the year about how things went. Did the student curricular reps have any feedback for you during your course? Re-read these emails. Have a look to see if any of the MCC presentations assigned to your course may have changed (we update our list as the Council updates its presentations).
If you’re an instructor in a course, read through your notes on your learning events and your instructor evaluation report. Read through your teaching materials and your learning event pages on Elentra (our LMS, formerly called MEdTech).
Did you set aside any journal articles relevant to your field with a sticky-note saying “save for next year”? Now is the time to pull that out!
Once you’ve reviewed relevant materials, think about your teaching. Did things go the way you wanted them to? Are there aspects of the past year that you’re really proud of and want to retain? Are there things that didn’t go as smoothly that you’d like to address next time? Are there things that went quite well, but you’d like to shake things up or experiment with something new? For anything that’s changed in your field, how might this impact your planning and teaching?
Decide what you’d like to change or address in next year’s teaching. Think about what’s manageable within the scope of your course or other responsibilities. Maybe you’ve seen some of the e-modules used in other courses and think one would fit with yours and make your teaching more effective. Maybe you’d like to enhance your existing cases to incorporate other curricular objectives assigned to your course. Maybe things are going pretty well, but you’d just like to shift things around a bit. Call me! I can help brainstorm and talk about timelines to set your plan in motion.
Many of us in medical education – and academia in general – have a lengthy summer to-do list that involves not only preparation for the next teaching cycle, but catching up on many other things, too. Sometimes that summer list can become overwhelming, so remember to take some time to relax and disconnect a bit from the “med ed” side of you: take some strolls along the lake, eat a popsicle or an ice cream cone. Do quintessential summer things that have nothing to do with any to-do list.
The TRC Calls to Action require a personal response
The 94 Calls to Action from the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission demand response and action from governments and institutions. Seven of these Calls to Action focus on Health and Healthcare issues. For those of us with the privilege to be involved in medical education, there is a particular focus on #23 and #24:
23. We call upon all levels of government to:
i. Increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field.
ii. Ensure the retention of Aboriginal health-care providers in Aboriginal communities.
iii. Provide cultural competency training for all healthcare professionals.
24. We call upon medical and nursing schools in Canada to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, and Indigenous teachings and practices. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.
Yes, an institutional response is required and is underway and has been and will be written about here and elsewhere. (In particular, look for future Education Team posts about curricular and teaching responses). But the Calls to Action also require a personal, individual response and this is, in some ways, harder.
I’ve been wrestling with my own response. Here’s some of that…
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The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings exposed events long ignored in mainstream history curricula. I prided myself on being a student of history, of recognizing the foibles of historical records – the victor writes the books – and yet I found myself saying over and over again: “How did I not know this?” How was this never a part of the quaint lessons about Indians in my Grade 3 Reader, nor in the more sophisticated history books at King’s and Dal? How is it I could be so oblivious?
At the same time, I wanted to distance myself from any responsibility for these historical wrongs. For example: I’ve been at events where people introduce themselves with descriptors, such as their clan or First Nation affiliation, or, for people like me using the term “Settler”. I’ve always bristled at this. I don’t self-identify as a “Settler.” For me, “settler” implies agency, suggests choice. What choice did I have about where I was born? Extending this further, my pre-Confederation poor Acadian and Irish ancestors in rural New Brunswick likely weren’t concerned with much beyond day-to-day survival, and I’m sure were good people, so, they’re not responsible either. Right?
But I did have a choice when I moved to Kingston in 2006: when I moved to these traditional lands of a different nation. I don’t even know the historical relationship, if any, between the Wolastqiyik (the preferred name of the people I grew up knowing as Maliseet) and the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee. I never even thought about it vis-à-vis my discomfort with “settler”.
During his recent three-day visit to Queen’s, sponsored by the Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr. Barry Lavallee, a member of Manitoba First Nation and Métis communities, and a family physician specializing in Indigenous health and northern practice, pointed out that we can’t accept the status quo. We must consider who supports our ignorance and for what purpose. We are also responsible to recognize what phenomena support our own positions of privilege and power. And what to do with that power.
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When I picked my Twitter handle in 2010, I wanted something unique – not @Theresa487 or something like that – and, wistfully, I wanted something that reminded me of home. I opted for the “original” Indigenous name of my New Brunswick hometown (the colonial-corrupted spelling, I later learned, but home nonetheless). So I became @Welamooktook. It reminded me of the place, the land, where I had roots, and family, and history.
But those same reasons I picked it became reasons to let it go. My original feelings and sentiments were sound, but I couldn’t escape the cultural appropriation, the feeling of wrongness it came to mean, as I reflected and wrestled with it.
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A year ago, as part of an Education course I was taking, my classmates and I were encouraged to go to an exhibition of Kent Monkman’s artwork at the Agnes Etherington Art Gallery, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience.
The entire installation was thought-provoking, emotional, and disturbing. One painting, in particular, haunted me: The Scream (2017). As I stood looking at this large painting depicting “the exact moment Indigenous children were taken from their parents”, I focused on three young people in the background, at the right, running away. Running away from the red-serge Mounties I had grown up looking up to. The trio running in the back are dressed in jeans and hoodies and look like teenagers I would see anywhere in Kingston.
They looked like my son.
This made it real for me. Made it close enough to touch. Close enough to imagine.
My son has a hoodie like that.
* * *
The TRC demands a response but that response is not guilt – or denial. It’s self-reflection. And compassion. And empathy. And action.
It’s relinquishing a cherished Twitter handle because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s stumbling through a territory acknowledgement because I’m still getting my Maritime tongue around Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee when Wolastqiyik is easier. And trying to go beyond the scripted suggestion to address relationships, and thoughts about land and people.
It’s accepting the self-descriptor “descendant of settlers” because that’s accurate and real and it matters.
It’s working with my physician colleagues to ensure sound curricular and clinical experiences that, as Dr. Lavelle described, gives our students “the ability to treat the person in front of them based on their experiences without judgment.”
It’s wrestling with getting all of these meandering ideas and feelings into words to share in this blog, because we all need to be part of this conversation — all the while worrying it’s arrogant or insulting or inadequate.
In his workshop, Dr. Lavallee urged us to use reflection to address our response to new information. And he challenged us: “When you feel the discomfort, move into it, because that’s where the learning occurs.”
We tell our students to ask questions and then listen: Patients have the information and will share it. I learned the same in my previous career as a journalist. Ask questions, but most importantly listen to the answers. Even when the answer is uncomfortable, is difficult, is challenging. That’s the personal response.
Spring UGME retreat May 28
The spring UG Education retreat is coming up on May 28 at the Donald Gordon Conference Centre.
Designed primarily for course directors, unit leads, intrinsic role leads and others in educational leadership roles in our Undergraduate Medical Education program, this annual day-long event provides opportunities for information sharing and faculty development in planning for the next academic year.
The morning agenda includes an update from Associate Dean Anthony Sanfilippo as well as sessions on the progress test and quality assurance, accreditation & program evaluation. There will also be brief updates from the Librarian team at Bracken Library about new resources, and from the course team about the Human Structure & Function curriculum renewal.
The afternoon will begin with our guest speaker, Melissa Forgie, MD, FRCPC, MSc, Vice dean, UGME, University of Ottawa. She will speak on Embracing Diversity in Medical Education
Break out sessions will follow, including a working session for pre-clerkship course directors to build or revise assessment plans for next year and a clerkship course directors’ session on continued EPA/CBME implementation.
If you contribute to the Queen’s UGME program, please join us for all or part of the day. To register, use this link: https://queensfhs.wufoo.com/forms/ugme-may-28-retreat-registration/