Author: Theresa Suart
Service-learning: Asking questions to learn what’s happening
As discussed in a previous blog post, formalizing opportunities for service-learning is increasingly important to schools of medicine, both for the inherent merits of service-learning itself (for both learners and communities), as well as for accreditation considerations.
Queen’s UGME has been exploring ways to address service-learning more systematically, including appointing a Service Learning Advisory Panel. One of the interesting things about service, however, is because of its very nature, it often happens quietly, behind the scenes.
In order to better support undergraduate medical students engaged in service-learning projects, the Panel wants to shine a light on these projects. With this in mind, the Panel, whose members include students, faculty and administrative representatives is issuing a call for information about current community service projects.
Not all volunteer projects meet criteria to be considered service-learning. There are many definitions of service-learning (in fact, there are close to 200 in the literature). The definition Queen’s UGME has adopted (based on one used by the LCME) states:
“Service-learning is a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Medical students engaged in service-learning provide community service in response to community-identified concerns and learn about the context in which service is provided, the connection between their service and their academic coursework, and their roles as citizens and professionals.”
The key triad includes planning (including consulting relevant stakeholders), service, and reflecting on learning. Using this definition, there may be volunteer projects are or could be service-learning as well.
For example, Queen’s Medicine Health Talks sprang from a student interest group. When these first started, the students prepared lectures (under the supervision of practicing physicians) on a number of clinically-relevant topics and invited members of the community to the School of Medicine to hear these lectures. The aim was to welcome and integrate the Kingston community in medical learning. Extending this into service-learning, the students now engage in collaborative planning with both faculty and community members. As well, the lecture series now includes community centres as venues. A post-service evaluation helps students reflect on their learning.
The students involved in the Health Talks took that extra step and asked community members: “What do you want to learn about?”
In the same way that great service-learning projects include a key step of consulting the community about what’s important, the Service Learning Panel wants to hear from members of the UGME community about what they’re already doing by way of service-learning. The next question is how can UG help? Then, what else would you like to do and what support do you need to make this happen?
The Service Learning Advisory Panel’s goal isn’t to change our students’ focus on service: we just want provide support and recognition for these important endeavours in our communities.
The first call is for Established community actions. A second call will focus on new projects. Look for these in the regular UG email communication to all classes. We’re looking forward to hearing from you.
Wrapping up case-based learning sessions effectively
We often spend a lot of time planning our classes, especially our case-based small group learning (SGL) sessions. We tailor our sessional learning objectives to the course objectives that have been assigned, selected solid preparatory materials, build great cases and craft meaningful questions for groups to work through.
This makes sense, as the small group learning (SGL) format used in Queen’s UGME program is modeled on Larry Michaelsen’s team-based learning (TBL) instructional strategy that uses the majority of in-class time for decision-based application assignments done in teams.
One comment we often read on course evaluation forms and hear directly from students, however, is that sometimes they walk away from an SGL session and still aren’t sure what’s important.
Much of the focus in the literature on TBL is on the doing – setting things up, building great cases, asking good questions to foster active learning. There’s not as much written about how to finish well.
Wrapping up your SGL session should be as much a planned part of your teaching as preparing the cases themselves. If you build the time into your teaching plan, you won’t feel like you’re shouting to learners’ backs as they exit the classroom, or cut off as the next instructor arrives. Nor will you find yourself promising to post the “answers” to the cases on MEdTech. Sometimes it’s not the answers that are important, but the steps students take to get there.
Wallace, Walker, Braseby and Sweet remind us that the flipped classroom we use for SGL (preparation before class, application in class) is one “where students adopt the role of cognitive apprentice to practice thinking like an expert within the field by applying their knowledge and skills to increasingly challenging problems.” One such challenge is figuring out what the key take-away points are from an SGL session. With this in mind, it’s a good idea to plan your session summary, but then have students take the lead since “the expert’s presence is crucial to intervene at the appropriate times, to resolve misconceptions, or to lead the apprentices through the confusion when they get stuck.”
So, have your own summary slide ready – related to your session objectives – but keep it in reserve. In keeping with the active-learning focus of SGL, save the last 10-15 minutes of class to have the groups generate the key take-away points, share them, and fill in any gaps from your own list.
Here’s a suggested format:
- Prompt the groups to generate their own study list: “Now that we’ve worked through these three cases, what are the four key take away points you have about this type of presentation?”
- Give the groups 3-4 minutes to generate their own lists
- Have two groups share with each other
- To debrief the large group, do a round of up four or five groups each adding one item to a study list.
- Share your own list – and how it relates to the points the student raised. This is a time to fill in any gaps and clarify what level of application you’ll be using on assessments.
- If you’d like, preview an exam question (real or mock): “After these cases, and considering these take-away points, I expect that you could answer an exam question like this one.” This can make the level of application you’re expecting very concrete.
Why take the time to wrap up a session this way? Students often ask (in various ways) what the point is of a session. With clear objectives and good cases, they should also develop the skills to draw those connections themselves. This takes scaffolding from the instructor. As Maryellen Weimer, PhD, writes in Faculty Focus, “Weaning students from their dependence on teachers is a developmental process. Rather than making them do it all on their own, teachers can do some of the work, provide part of the answer, or start with one example and ask them for others. The balance of who’s doing the work gradually shifts, and that gives students a chance to figure out what the teacher is doing and why.”
If you would like assistance preparing any part of your SGL teaching, please get in touch. You can reach me at email@example.com
 Wallace, M. L., Walker, J. D., Braseby, A. M., & Sweet, M. S. (2014). “Now, what happens during class?” Using team-based learning to optimize the role of expertise within the flipped classroom. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 253-273.
Happiness, Wonderment, and Career Choice
By J. Peter O’Neill, M.D., M.Div.
During the first week of medical school, I introduce myself to the first year class, and proudly say that I am happy in my career and then I give my entire careers curriculum in one breath. I say: “You were selected to medical school because of outstanding individual academic performance and excelling in the admissions process, but you will be selected for residency only if you can look ‘happy and interested’ and can be wanted by a residency team.”
Each year, most students look back at me with disbelief. They think there must be some MCAT or GPA equivalent in medical school that “will get them in” to residency. They were not part of a team that got in. Nowhere in their preparation for medical school did anyone tell them to look happy.
But being happy and interested can make anyone look great; especially if it is true. It is probably what residency programs look for most. Happy and interested come first, then honesty and diligence. It is not just my personal opinion either.
In our published study on career choice[i] we showed that students choose their residency program based on the variety of clinical experiences, resident morale, and closeness of family. In other words, they wanted a program where residents looked happy and interested, and connected to their families.
We were not the first ones to notice this, but we quantified it with a new method. The Harvard Study on Happiness[ii] showed that happy people enjoyed their careers. People who were open to growth, wanted to do something significant, but also wanted relationships and humor in their lives were happy and successful. Residency programs desperately do not want unhappy residents.
Humor and wonderment are characteristics of the best teachers and mentors in medicine. Drs Neil Piercy and Mike McGrath taught me that. They could enjoy their work with humour, and find affirmation and wonder in the smallest surgeries. I encourage my students to practice wonderment by asking them what they find “cool”. But I wasn’t the first to notice this either. Dr. Ian Cameron writes that many Canadian medical icons share this life long affinity to humour and wonderment.[iii]
Some students come to medical school full of humor and wonderment, and by tending to their physical, mental, academic and spiritual health they still have it. They don’t have to beat CaRMS, they just have to be themselves. Faculty should nourish them by demonstrating the same. Students should practice being part of a team that values humour and wonderment and connectedness to others, by doing that everyday, with their peers.
[i] BMC Medical Education, 2011, 11:61
[ii] George Vaillant, Adaptation to Life, 1977
Are you up to the challenge?
Queen’s medical students have issued a challenge to the entire UGME community to change some habits in February with the #keepsmewell positive wellness challenge.
Spearheaded by the Mental Health and Wellness committee, the challenge includes month-long goals such as eat balanced breakfasts and sleep 7 hours a night as well as weekly challenges that include such things as make a new recipe, try a new activity, call a friend and skip the elevator to take the stairs.
To take the challenge, students, faculty and staff are invited to form teams of four (the challenges are slightly altered for faculty and staff – only student teams will take part in the MED LAW Games, for example). Teams earn points for each activity members complete and there will be prizes at the end of the month. (The challenge is funded by an AMS grant and a generous anonymous donation.)
Teams need to open a Twitter account and track their activities with tweets throughout the month, including the hashtag #keepsmewell .
“We’re attempting to get all four years to engage,” says Alyssa Lip, the committee’s chair. “There are options for clerks to do this remotely so they can have team members across the country and still be a team for this competition.”
Encouraging faculty and staff to join in was a natural extension of the challenge. “We wanted faculty and staff to be involved because they’re a part of the medical community that we engage in,” says Lip. “It’s also very inspiring to see that faculty and staff care about their wellness, and about our wellness.”
“The goals of this challenge are to focus on changing our everyday habits into positive ones – preventative medicine!” Lip explains.
In addition to Lip, the committee includes: Executive: Natasha Ovtcharenko, Shannon Chun, Rufina Kim, Meghan Bhatia, Amy Jiang, Alicia Ling, Elena Bianca, Meherzad Kutky; preclerkship members: Arian Ghassemian, Beverly Guan, David Carlone, Jonathan Krett, Madelaine Baetz-Dougan, Olivia Suppa, Sarah Edgerley, Fay Zhu, Calvin Santiago; and clerks Brandon Maser, Hollis Roth, Soniya Sharma, and Debarati Chakraborty.
When Lip and Aesculapian Society VP Academic Natasha Ovtcharenko sat down at the beginning of the year to update the committee’s terms of reference, they “felt strongly that mental health and wellness activities should focus on programming to enact effective changes around our QMed community,” Lip says. “This initiative grew from an amalgamation of smaller ideas and past initiatives that we drew inspiration from. For example, the competition idea came from a successful Movember campaign by the 2017 class council last year, while the self-care aspect was an existing current trend and the social media aspect came from Ottawa Med’s smaller #keepsmewell campaign.”
The wellness challenge is in line with the committee’s three overarching themes:
- Providing wellness resources (they’ve started monthly sessions for students to relax and chat confidentially and have created resource cards and pamphlets available in the Medical building at all times)
- Creating a stigma-free environment (they’ve started a three-part “Frames of Mind” speaker series geared to all mentors in medicine—faculty, staff, colleagues. The first one was on Identifying and Responding to Students in Distress)
- Positive habits (they want to focus on maintaining wellness, and developing mechanisms and habits that can build more resilience and not just address ‘when things go wrong’).
For Lip, her key take-homes are that little things you do every day can make a big difference, such as sleeping and eating breakfast. “And taking time out of ‘work’ to do something unrelated, for yourself, is important” such as taking a yoga class or watching a movie.
The challenges for #keepsmewell reflect this philosophy. “We made a point to keep each activity simple, because those are the habits that are easiest to change and make the most difference,” she explains. “It’s an ambitious pilot to what we hope to become regular yearly program!”
Lip and the rest of the committee have been overwhelmed by the support their classmates have given and how people have responded to this initiative. “We really hope people will get something out of this by the time March rolls around.”
All members of the Queen’s UGME community are invited to attend the information session on January 29 at 12:30 p.m. in 132A in the Medical Building. To register, email Alyssa Lip (firstname.lastname@example.org) by February with the names of your team of four. She’ll send a tracking sheet to get you started.
The Educational Development Team is on board! The committee graciously granted us a waiver on the “mixed gender” rule as our team consists of four women and they’ve let us register as a challenge team. Are you in? (Follow us @QMedEdFabFour)
Figuring out what’s important in a faculty evaluation report
Critics only make you stronger. You have to look at what they are saying as feedback. Sometimes the feedback helps, and other times, it’s just noise that can be a distraction.
Separating the useful feedback from the noise in students’ comments on faculty evaluation questionnaires is an annual challenge for all university instructors– not just at Queen’s School of Medicine. It was recently 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 us who feel angst over student evaluations.
As a side-note: the headline on the Faculty Focus article points to “cruel student comments” but just because there’s negative feedback doesn’t mean the comments are (or should be) cruel or rude. Student in the School of Medicine are given guidance about completing course and faculty evaluations at the beginning of every year. They’re encouraged to be professional in completing them, so while there may be constructive feedback, it should never degenerate into merely cruel criticism. Students are also encouraged to provide concrete suggestions for ways to improve.
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 hyperfocus 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 a 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.”
One way to be proactive, is to solicit feedback earlier, when you can still make adjustments for this cohort of students, rather than waiting for the end-of-semester one to help with next year’s planning.
When she’s teaching a full course, Sheila Pinchin, Manager, Educational Development and Faculty Support has always used her own evaluation forms three weeks into a course and three weeks later to get just this type of feedback.
Terry McGlynn, an associate professor at Cal State, also advocates this approach as one of his tricks-of-the-trade to avoid bad teaching:
“I often use a supplemental evaluation form at the end of the term. There are two competing functions of the evaluation. The first is to give you feedback for course improvement, and the second is to assess performance. What the students might think is constructive feedback might be seen as a negative critique by those not in the classroom. It’s in our interest to separate those two functions onto separate pieces of paper. Before we went digital, I used to hold up the university form and say: “This form [holding up the scantron] is being used by the school as a referendum on my continued employment. I won’t be able to access these forms until after the next semester already starts, so they won’t help me out that much.” Then I held up another piece of paper [an evaluation I wrote with specific questions about the course] and said, “This one is constructive feedback about what you liked and didn’t like about the course. If you have criticisms of the course that you want me to see, but don’t think that my bosses need to see them, then this is the place to do it. Note that this form has specific questions about our readings, homework, tests and lessons. I’m just collecting these for myself, and I’d prefer if you don’t put your names on them.” I find that students are far more likely to evaluate my teaching in broad strokes in the university form when I use this approach, and there are fewer little nitpicky negative comments.”
If you do decide to use this type of mid-course feedback, keep your questions few and focused. (Otherwise, there’s potential for evaluation-fatigue on the students’ part, which lowers the quality of the very feedback you want).
If you teach in the Queen’s UGME program and would like some assistance in separating the useful feedback from the noise, I’m available to assist you with this. Drop me an email. Reach me at email@example.com
See more on this topic from an earlier UGME blog post here.
Enjoy these early and lasting gifts from the Bracken Health Sciences Library
By Suzanne Maranda, Head, Bracken Health Sciences Library
When I meet faculty in person, especially if I’ve not seen them in a while, or if they are new to Queen’s, they often embarrassedly admit that they never come to the library. Over the years, I’ve refined my answer: ”Oh, but you do; you probably just don’t know it. Most links to full-text articles would not work if the Library had not done the behind-the-scenes work.” Medical students are also quite amazed to find out, during their first session of medical school, that a single annual journal subscription can cost more than their tuition! The Queen’s Library spends over $9 million annually on library resources, most of which are electronic. The proportion in the health sciences is among the highest, with well over 90% of the purchases allocated to online materials.
The materials purchased by this library have also changed over time. It used to be that books and journals were the only information sources for serious learning and research. In recent years, in addition to conventional books and journals, with many more online than in print, you may find, among others, point-of-care tools such as Dynamed and BMJ Best Practice, anatomy software and image banks, clinical skills videos, clinical cases, and DVDs ( the latter can be borrowed to show in class or recommended to students).
While the Canadian dollar was still strong, the Library made strategic purchases of journal backfiles, allowing perpetual online access to older journal content. Most of this electronic content is linked to PubMed and Medline and the other databases in the OVIDSP interface for seamless access to full-text.
Tip #1: After completing a database search, it is best to NOT use the “limit to full-text” option in OvidSP because that limit only retains the journals purchased via this interface provider or where it has an agreement with particular publishers. There are MANY more journals that we purchase from other vendors, but the links will display only after clicking on the “Get it at Queen’s” button.
We are also very pleased that the links to full-text have finally been implemented in PubMed! Tip #2: For the links to appear, you must link to PubMed from the Bracken Library homepage (look under Find Articles). When you click on a citation, you will see this link:
in the top right corner, sometimes in conjunction with the publisher’s link. The Queen’s links will let you know exactly what years of the journal were purchased and, if the desired article is unavailable in full-text, you will see a link to order it from our Interlibrary Loans (ILL) service.
This brings me to an important change that will go into effect early in January 2015. All health and life sciences faculty and students will be able to order interlibrary loans using RACER. This service allows you to place orders and keep track of them yourself, but more importantly, it is linked to a desktop delivery system. Requested articles will be delivered as a link embedded in an email message. Remember that the Library no longer charges for interlibrary loan requests. More information will be sent to all health sciences faculty in December.
Course Reserve: Another service has changed this fall: there are now other options to place items on Course Reserve. Faculty have always been able to request that books or print journal articles be placed on reserve for students to sign out. These items are to be highly used by the entire class, and the reserve function allows for very short loans, usually 3 hours, which ensures that the entire class can have access within a reasonable amount of time. This is still the only way to handle a complete print book, but what about a chapter? Or an electronic article? Many faculty now put links to course readings in MedTech Central, and maybe we can help:
Tip #3: Bracken Library staff can scan a book chapter or a journal article and send faculty a pdf file for upload to MEdTech Central. This also applies to existing online materials: a persistent link can be created, which insures that you are using a reliable link over time and that the item is accessible from off campus. Please send requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now is the time to plan for the Winter Term!
On behalf of the entire Bracken Library staff, please accept my best wishes for the holiday season and for a healthy and productive 2015.
New Features on MEdTech
At the fall Curricular Leaders’ Retreat, Lynel Jackson highlighted four new and improved MEdTech features that can assist faculty in presenting information for students and in planning learning events and courses.
Adding Resources to Learning Events
The EdTech team has completely redesigned the way resources (such as files, links, and quizzes) are added to the Learning Events and displayed to learners in Student View. This new view uses much of the information the EdTech team has collected for years during the upload process, like “Should this resource be considered optional or required?” and “When should this resource be used by the learner?” then displays it to learners in a clear and user-friendly timeline on the Learning Event page. The new format clearly shows what learners need to do to prepare for class, and also clearly marks what resources are required versus what is for information only.
In Development: In the future, these classifications will be used to provide learners with a checklist on their Dashboard, identifying all the activities they need to complete before classes for the week.
The EdTech team has enhanced MEdTech’s Curriculum Explorer tool which is now able to show not only where objectives (at any level) are mapped to Courses, and Learning Events, but also Gradebook Assessments. Faculty members and staff can use this tool to really explore the curriculum at all levels.
There are a number of new and enhanced reports – such as MCC Presentations by Course, Course Objectives by Events Tagged, and Learning Event Types by Course – that can assist in evaluating past course iterations as well as planning the next one. Curriculum coordinators can generate these reports for Course Directors, on request.
One of the most frequently requested features by faculty has been the ability to easily upload images or documents, and embed video into rich text areas throughout the MEdTech platform. With this Fall release, the team was pleased to announce this can now be done within any of the rich text areas.
To upload images or documents, click the “Browse Server” button from within the “Image” or “Link” icons. This will open your personal “My Files” storage area where you can upload images or documents from your local computer. Once you upload the image or document, clicking it will embed the image or document directly in the rich text area. You can also embed video from the Queen’s Streaming Server, YouTube, or Vimeo into any rich text area by clicking the “Embed Media” icon, and pasting in the “Embed Code”.
For questions on these updates and other aspects of MEdTech, reach the Education Technology team at email@example.com
Balancing service and learning in service-learning
Formalizing opportunities for service-learning is increasingly important to schools of medicine, both for the inherent merits of service-learning itself (for both learners and communities), as well as for accreditation considerations.
The Future of Medical Education in Canada (FMEC) report places a strong emphasis on social accountability, and service-learning is integral to carrying out this mandate: “Central to these social accountability initiatives is the provision of a comprehensive education for physicians that will enable them to respond directly to the ever-changing health care needs of the communities they serve” (FMEC, p. 16).
Ways forward suggested in the FMEC document include:
- Provide greater support to medical students and faculty as they work in community advocacy and develop closer relationships with the communities they serve.
- Provide students with opportunities to learn in low-resource and marginalized communities as well as international settings. To emphasize student and patient safety in a socially and ethically accountable framework, students should experience adequate training and preparation prior to working in these communities and should have adequate support throughout. (p. 17).
As well, service-learning projects can provide students with opportunities to develop many aspects of the CanMEDS competencies in community settings, enhancing our existing classroom and hospital-based curriculum.
But what, exactly, is service-learning? There are many definitions of service-learning (one reference points to 147 definitions in the literature) and many interpretations of what service-learning may look like.
The LCME has defined service-learning as “a structured learning experience that combines community service with preparation and reflection. Medical students engaged in service-learning provide community service in response to community-identified concerns and learn about the context in which service is provided, the connection between their service and their academic coursework, and their roles as citizens and professionals.”
It’s also helpful to consider this chart (from Marquette University in Milwaukee) which illustrates the differences among community service, service-learning, and internships.
Regardless of variations in definitions, service-learning is always a three-part process which incorporates preparation, service, and reflection.
The core components of service learning include:
- Formal, deliberate preparation, which includes consulting with the members of the community who will be served by a project and which may include classroom instruction or another form of mentorship/coaching. A plan, detailing both the intended service and learning outcomes is created.
- The “service” and “learning” are completed
- The learner reflects on the process, the service and the learning. (This may occur throughout the project or period of service). The learner provides evidence of learning. (This could be provided in different ways, for example, through written reflections or an interview with a preceptor).
Some things to consider when thinking about incorporating a service-learning project into an existing course or a student-developed learning plan:
- Time & Scope: Is this in addition to, or as a replacement for, an existing project or assignment? There may be ways to extend or expand existing assignments to allow for service-learning. How much time can students realistically devote to the project both to make it a success and in light of other academic and personal responsibilities?
- Goals: How does the project relate to curricular objectives and individual students’ learning goals? How does the project serve the community group or agency’s goals? An individual or group of students may have short-term goals that feed into an agency’s long-term planning: A particular cohort could complete a component of a larger service-learning endeavor with subsequent cohorts carrying on with other components of the same over-arching project.
- Mentoring & Accountability: How will students be guided and supervised during the project? Is this responsibility shared between an instructor and community member or does one person have the lead? How will students’ learning be assessed and documented?
Encouraging opportunities for service-learning should in no way suggest that other, equally-worthy, voluntary service is not valued by the School of Medicine, Queen’s or the wider Kingston community (and other communities in which our students find themselves). However, because of the integrated nature of service-learning, it has the potential to provide unique opportunities for our students and our communities. The Professional Foundations Committee is exploring ways to address service-learning formally in the UGME Curriculum.
If you’re interested in incorporating service-learning in your course, the Education Team is available to help with your planning. Please feel free to get in touch.
Brainstorming in the classroom
Have you ever used brainstorming in your teaching? If you want groups of students to come up with a variety of ideas quickly, brainstorming is one tried-and-true way to get creative juices flowing.
Since the concept was introduced in Alex Osborn’s 1953 Applied Imagination, brainstorming has caught on in business, education, volunteer organizations and elsewhere to generate ideas and solve problems.
Brainstorming, as set out by Osborn, is designed to produce a large quantity of ideas in a short space of time, in order to encourage creativity. He had four simple rules for brainstorming sessions:
- Don’t allow criticism
- Encourage wild ideas
- Go for quantity
- Combine and/or improve on others’ ideas
Last week I saw a post on Twitter that suggested “brainwriting” rather than brainstorming. I was intrigued and clicked-through, only to find a new name for a familiar best practice: brainstorming works best when it’s planned, not haphazard, and it starts with the individual, not the group.
As described by Patrick Allan (citing work of Leigh Thompson and Loran Nordgren) brainwriting avoids the brainstorming pitfall of anchoring: where an early idea streams all other suggestions in a particular direction. “Brainwriting” gives individual team members time to write down their own ideas free of others’ influences.
Osborn himself advocated this (although he didn’t use the term brainwriting), asserting that the best ideas come from a blend of individual and group work. Classroom brainstorming shouldn’t be unplanned: students should have prep and thinking time.
As Robert Sutton notes in “Eight Tips for Better Brainstorming”: “Skilled organizers tell participants what the topic will be before a brainstorm.”
Barbara Gross Davis also encourages individual preparation in Tools for Teaching. She suggests posing an opening question and having students spend five minutes writing a response. This “gives students time to think and enriches subsequent discussion.”
Here are some other ideas to encourage better brainstorming in your classes:
- Assign roles within the brainstorming group. Groups need a moderator (to guide discussion, keep the group on topic, and encourage wide participation), a scribe (or two) to capture the ideas (using either flip charts, Post-It notes, computers or consider audio recording), and members (to contribute and build ideas).
- If you’re going to use brainstorming, make sure your scribes have some tools. To Osborn’s original four rules for brainstorming, OpenIDEO adds be visual: “In live brainstorms we use coloured markers to write on Post-its that are put on a wall. Nothing gets an idea across faster than drawing it. Doesn’t matter how terrible of a sketcher you are! It’s all about the idea behind your sketch.”
- MindTools advises that the moderator can help keep the team on task and can help the team avoid narrowing its path too soon. “As the group facilitator, you should share ideas if you have them, but spend your time and energy supporting your team and guiding the discussion. Stick to one conversation at a time, and refocus the group if people become sidetracked.”
- Remember, the students who are the moderators and scribes aren’t actively brainstorming while they’re attending to their key roles. Encourage teams to share these tasks throughout a term, so it’s not always the same couple of people who end up taking notes rather than contributing their ideas.
And, what to do with all those ideas the groups generate? Sutton points out that brainstorming should “combine and extend ideas, not just harvest them,” so have a plan for what you want students to do next.
The next steps are sorting and follow-up. In Small Group and Team Communication, Harris and Sherblom recommend an “ACB Idea Sorting Method”:
- Assign an A to the best one-third of the ideas
- Assign a C to the least usable one-third
- The middle one-third automatically receive a B
- Go back to the B’s and separate them into the A or C category
- Store the C category ideas for later use
- Prioritize the A’s in terms of their importance, urgency, or applicability to the problem at hand.
The Education Team can help you with incorporating brainstorming and other techniques in your teaching. Contact us to arrange for one-on-one coaching or to facilitate a workshop for your team.
7 Tips on Better Brainstorming. (n.d.). OpenIDEO. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from https://openideo.com/blog/seven-tips-on-better-brainstorming
Allan, P. (n.d.). Use “Brainwriting” Instead of Brainstorming to Generate Ideas. Lifehacker. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from http://lifehacker.com/use-brainwriting-instead-of-brainstorming-to-generate-1615592703?rev=1407126541539&utm_campaign=socialflow_lifehacker_twitter&utm_source=lifehacker_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow
Brainstorming: Generating Many Radical, Creative Ideas. (n.d.). Brainstorming. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from http://www.mindtools.com/brainstm.html
Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2. ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.
Harris, T. E., & Sherblom, J. (2011). Small group and team communication (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.
Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, F. P. (2009). Joining together: group theory and group skills (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Merril.
Sutton, R. (2006, July 25). Eight Tips for Better Brainstorming. Bloomberg Business Week. Retrieved August 12, 2014, from http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2006-07-25/eight-tips-for-better-brainstorming
Incorporating technology into teaching should focus on providing high-quality learning experiences for students, not just adding the latest tech fad to your teaching toolbox.
That was one of the messages shared by Sidneyeve Matrix, PhD, keynote speaker at the 7th annual Celebration of Teaching, Learning and Scholarship in Health Sciences Education. Sponsored by the Office of Health Sciences Education, the theme of the one-day conference was “Learning Together: Relationships in Health Sciences Education.”
Matrix, a Queen’s National Scholar and Associate Professor with the Department of Film and Media, Faculty of Arts and Science, addressed the topic of High-Engagement and High-Tech Teaching and Learning Experiences, by Design.
Although most of today’s students have grown up with technology, they’re not all the tech experts some may expect. They have surface knowledge of technology they use, but not necessarily a broad range of skills. And while students may not have deep digital competencies, they expect faculty to have them, Matrix said.
The first step to enhancing teaching with technology is addressing the faculty tech-skills gap through faculty professional development, Matrix suggested. This, she acknowledged, may be easier said than done: the biggest barrier to tech adoption by both students and faculty is time.
So, why bother with educational technologies? The payoff in student learning has been studied: teaching with edtech and social media improves student outcomes by 10 percent. And what about the distraction factor? Another study Matrix cited revealed students with smartphones study 40 extra minutes per week versus those without them.
Matrix advised faculty interested in incorporating more technology in their teaching to seek out innovators within their own departments and schools: approach these people to find out what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. She said blended learning teams should include ITS consultants, instructional designers and faculty peer mentors. Key messages: don’t go it alone and don’t think you have to reinvent the wheel.
And, she emphasized, focusing on students’ learning experiences—not the technology—is the key to success. Like all good teaching, teaching with technology should focus on excellence and engagement, not just adding in a tech tool or two – or 20.
While there’s “choice abundance” in online tools for teaching—Matrix pointed out there are over 2000, producing “choice fatigue”—too much technology can turn a good course into a “Frankencourse”, producing frustration for all concerned and lower student learning outcomes.
Matrix also advocates incremental innovation, pointing to her own Film240 Media and Culture course: its first iteration in 2007 had 75 students; by 2009 it had 500 students and a social media component. In 2011 she added a new online section, mobile app and webinars and boosted enrolment to 1000. The 2013 class had 1400 students, e-flashcards, podcasts, eBook, self-quizzes and lectures available on demand. Her point: she didn’t do it all in one term, or even one year.
One technology-assisted assignment Matrix showcased in her presentation was infographic digital posters, used as an alternative to a research essay assignment. These are shared via the course Learning Management System (LMS) for peer-to-peer inspiration and feedback. Students can use Piktochart to create their assignment.
These aren’t just pretty posters, but well-researched assignments presented in a visually-appealing, accessible way. “It’s visual storytelling with research narratives,” she said.
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What’s your favourite tech teaching tool? Let us know what it is and why it works for you by sharing in the comments.
If you’re interested in tech teaching training, let us know what topics are of interest to you. We’ll incorporate these requests in our future UGME faculty development planning.
Find the full slidedeck from Dr. Matrix’s presentation here. You can find more on trends in digital culture, communication and commerce, with emphasis on social, mobile, and educational technology at her Cyberpop! blog.