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

1. Review

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!

2. Reflect

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?

3. Revise

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.

4. Relax

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.

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Don’t skip over getting ready

When I was a teenager, my Dad had a poster in his high school vice-principal office that featured a picture of a bird’s nest with blue eggs in it. The caption read: “most of life is getting ready.”

I really didn’t like that poster because it was all about patience and I was all about getting on with the next thing. I was always about what comes next: finish high school, go to university, get the job.

It took a long time for those lessons in patience to sink in and for me to accept that much of life is getting ready. And a lot of the getting ready is hidden, behind the scenes, like what’s going on in those blue eggs in that poster’s nest.

It’s a lot like how we spend our summers when we’re involved in teaching that follows the traditional academic year cycle (which excludes our clerks and clerkship faculty who learn and teach year-round).

At UG, especially for the upcoming pre-clerkship academic year, we spend a lot of the summer getting ready. The Education Team, Course Directors and teaching faculty are looking at course evaluation reports and looking at where improvements and changes are needed. The Curricular Coordinators are getting everything set in MEdTech so things run smoothly. And a multitude of other behind-the-scenes support team members are quietly getting on with getting ready. While the end results of all this preparation are evident, the tremendous amount of work involved usually isn’t.

For planning purposes, we need to think ahead, look at the big picture and always be thinking of the next thing. But for teaching and learning, being in the moment matters, too. And, sometimes, you’re in the moments that are about getting ready.

Sometimes we dismiss the “getting ready” stage as a holding pattern, as mere waiting. It’s not the “good stuff” or the “important stuff”. But getting ready is every bit as important as what comes next. Without getting ready, the good stuff can’t happen.

Think about the last big celebration you took part in (maybe for a birthday or special holiday). Did it involve presents? Did you take some time to find the perfect gift, picking out wrapping paper and bows, maybe a special card? Did the recipient take a moment to appreciate that effort or tear right in? Maybe you were the recipient. Did you savor the moment, or dive right in? My Mom always insisted we read the card first, how about you? Regardless of slow savoring or exciting unwrapping, it was a special moment, that made the preparation – the getting ready – worth it.

Sometimes getting ready is taking a breather (as we hope our pre-clerkship students are doing with their summer!) or augmenting skills, and sometimes is doing all the necessary preparation to make things run smoothly for the “big” event. It’s important to recognize that, from a pedagogical perspective, this getting ready – either course prep, or “introduction to” instruction – isn’t wasted time, but necessary steps along the way.

So be in the moments of getting ready.

Meanwhile, we’ll get back to work reviewing course evaluation feedback, revising preparatory materials and SGL sessions. Looking at which learning event worked well and which need some tweaking and which need a major overhaul. Are assessments well-mapped to learning objectives? Is the rubric clear or can we improve that? What about annotating those objectives….

(And, as always, if you’re in need of help with any of the above, get in touch. We’re here to help).

 

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This post is about nothing

I discarded quite a few topics for this week’s post as I didn’t want to “waste” a key topic on the “downtime” for many of our faculty and students of the summer break between semesters (excluding all those students and faculty involved in Clerkship, of course).

Sure, I could write about learning objectives, and active learning strategies, or assessment tools and rubrics, but these informational items would likely be missed by quite a few people off on summer pursuits.

And, really, I want you to miss them as anyone’s holiday break (however long or short) should be used to pursue as little as possible. A few years ago, when I was teaching at Loyalist College, I had students ask me what I wanted them to work on over a holiday break. It turns out my colleagues had given several detailed assignments. Firmly believing in the need to relax and recharge, I told them I wanted them to sleep in and eat cookies for breakfast. (I got pretty good instructor evaluations that year; I hope it wasn’t just about the cookies).

So for this post, I thought to myself: “I should write about the benefits of doing nothing”. A short Google search later, I’ve discovered this is hardly a unique idea – and there’s evidence-based research to back up these benefits.

In fact, in a 2014 Forbes article, Manfred Kets De Vries pointed out that “slacking off and setting aside regular periods of ‘doing nothing’ may be the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health”.

An Australian blogger drew attention to a study by Bar-Ilan University that demonstrated that daydreaming correlates with performance. “They found a wandering mind does not hamper the ability to accomplish a task, but actually improves it by stimulated a region of the brain responsible for thought-controlling mechanisms.” (Read more about that study here.)

Other research points to relaxing (i.e. doing nothing) being good for your heart, fighting the common cold, maintaining a healthy weight, sleeping better, and contributing to improved mental health.

Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere wrote of the virtue of doing nothing in a 2014 CCN article. He noted: “It’s an old principle, as old as the Buddha or Marcus Aurelius: We need at times to step away from our lives in order to put them in perspective. Especially if we wish to be productive.”  (Watch his Ted Talk, where he emphasizes the benefits of stillness, here: https://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_where_is_home)

So, the next time I post, I’ll have more tips and tools for your educational toolbox. In the meantime, focus on wellness and, well, doing nothing. You can start with this slide show of Ten Ways to Enjoy Doing Nothing.

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Five things to do this summer: a Med Ed to-do list

This first year I worked in a post-secondary setting, I was somewhat bemused when students asked me how I was going to spend my summer – they were heading out on a three or four month “break” and assumed I was doing the same. Some had work plans, some travel, some both. Regardless, they would be away from campus and recharging their batteries, and, perhaps, expanding their perspectives in a variety of ways. I, however, would be at my desk.

Two decades and three universities later, I’m still working through much of the summer months as are many of my administration, staff, and faculty colleagues as we stagger vacations with other colleagues and other family members’ schedules.

For those of us at the School of Medicine (including our 2018 clerks!) who don’t have two or three months off this season but maybe a couple of weeks and the odd day here or there to make a long weekend – here’s my list of five things to do that are (loosely) related to medical education. (This list is best perused—and perhaps amended or augmented—while sitting on a patio with your favourite libation).

  1. Read something not related to your discipline

In the crush of academic terms, it’s easy to fall into the trap of reading for work, not for recreation. There’s always just one more journal article to be read, one more new text to review. One more thing to stay on top of. Vow to read at least one novel (or collection of short stories, or poetry) this summer. Regardless of genre, you’ll learn something of the human condition (which is at the heart of medicine and medical education) and it will refresh you, too. So, move it to the top of your To Be Read pile. Among my picks: a toss-up between finally reading at least one of the Harry Potter books, or Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. Maybe both. The Art of Adapting by Cassandra Dunn is also in the running.

  1. Binge watch a cooking show on the Food Network

Whether it’s TiVo’ed or Netflix, the ability to skip the ads is a godsend for a rainy Saturday’s binge-watching. Opt for something where you might pick up a recipe or tip or two, but pay attention to how the host explains what they’re doing. Is it conversational? Directive? Do you stay engaged? Or pick one of the competition shows (Chopped is my guilty pleasure) and check out how different judges give feedback. Some are brutal; some overly-kind without much substance. Some have thoughtful suggestions. Many adapt their critique delivery, based on the experience and competence levels of the chefs competing. How can this inform how you deliver feedback?

  1. Enlist some pals and build a sandcastle at the beach

Sandcastles are hands-on and best accomplished as a team effort. Building one requires both attention to details and a flexibility to accommodate the sand, water, and tide schedule. The plan is rarely ever 100% completed without modifications along the way. Plus, everybody gets dirty. And, at the end of the day, there’s nothing except pictures as the tide washes it away. So, a fresh slate the next day. And, we can take the lessons learned on to the next one.

  1. Hit the movie theatre to see a summer blockbuster

Enjoy the a/c and see something outrageous. Popcorn optional. Take note of if the story drags anywhere: did you get the urge to check your smart-phone (pre-movie admonishments aside). What made your attention wander? Was it an extraneous info-dump? An overly-long car chase? Just too much of something? A gap in knowledge? If you’re working on online modules for next year, take note of where the show lost you. Adapt this insight to material you create for your students.

  1. Watch some fireworks

Most of us know that fireworks were invented in China centuries ago. According to the “Fireworks University” website, this was an accident when a field kitchen cook happened to mix charcoal, sulphur and saltpeter. What a happy accident*.

There’s no great medical education insight to go with this watch fireworks suggestion: they’re just fun. And maybe that’s the insight right there.


 * (I feel obliged to stress the importance of  following all instructions for the at-home kind of fireworks and strongly urging you to show up for community fireworks shows instead. Avoid the unplanned side trip to the ER).

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