Five non-pedagogical things to do to get ready to teach using Zoom

The UGME Education Team has prepared “how to” documents that outline the technical aspects (with such things as downloading the Zoom app, and things like checking that your microphone works). And we’ve previous written with tips about how to engage students in a virtual classroom which might seem rather unfriendly. This post is about other practical things – things we don’t need to think about, or just do automatically – when going to teach in a physical classroom with students there face-to-face.

Here’s our top-five non-pedagogical things to keep in mind before teaching live on Zoom:

1. Look behind you! Give a bit of thought to what’s behind you when your camera is on. Most things are fine, but consider if there’s a lamp that’s coming out of your head like an antennae or something equally distracting. Think about any privacy concerns, if you’re teaching from your home. My work-from-home space is in my basement all-purpose room. If I’m situated in one direction, you’ll see my husband’s degrees on the wall; another you’ll see a collection of elephant figurines (yes, there’s a story to that), and a third shows my Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and LM Montgomery books from my childhood. Most stuff is innocuous, but think about if you want to share those things with everyone.

Zoom virtual backgrounds are, of course, an option for an instant non-personal look. Keep in mind, however, that the green-screen technology isn’t perfect. If you move around or (like me) talk with your hands, you may have visual blips of hands or your head momentarily disappearing.

2. Turn off all things that beep, buzz, or whirr Just like in a movie theatre (remember those?!), it’s helpful if you can turn off sounds that are within your control – like your cellphone or email notifications. Also, any environmental noises you can control. My home workspace is adjacent to the laundry room. At the exact moment I was typing this sentence, the dryer buzzer went off (loudly!). It’s also helpful to remind housemates that you’ll be teaching so they can make good noise-related choices.

3. Refreshments, anyone? If you’re settling in for a two-hour session, that could be a lot of talking. It’s good to have a glass of water handy, or throat lozenges nearby. Or, if you’re teaching an 8:30 class: COFFEE. Also, tissues or paper towels perhaps – you likely don’t want to dig into a pocket while sitting down for a sneeze or spill of aforementioned coffee.

4. Office supplies, what office supplies? If you typically take notes of questions students have or keep track of which groups you’ve already called on, make sure you have pen and paper on your desk. Also, do you have any small props you want to show? Figure out where in your teaching space you can put these to keep them nearby, but out of the way of things like your refreshments (above) to avoid needing the tissues or paper towels.

5. Time, please. It’s easy to get caught up in teaching material and lose track of the time. Keep your eye on the clock on your computer, or set a timer (this sound we’ll allow) so you finish on time. There will likely be another instructor waiting to begin their session right after yours and you won’t have the usual visual cue of your colleague appearing at the back of 032 or 132.


Keep in mind, this is real life, real time teaching, not a Hollywood film. Things will happen and it will be fine – paging, for example, is unavoidable if you’re teaching in your hospital office. Also, you won’t be the first of our instructors (or students) who’ve had a child or pet wander into camera range. (I routinely warn of random “teen boy” appearances when I’m on Zoom calls. He wandered in while I was drafting this, too).

Are there things you would add to this list? Use the comments box below to share your tips.


For a different (more humorous, maybe more accurate?) take on preparing your environment for online teaching, check out this video by Dr. Andrew Ishak at Santa Clara University. https://vimeo.com/447645552?fbclid=IwAR3lKAaNY0zCPgVJWdPUjog-AD0g7FjsSNBtUL5HAEdcFlUgWaUHi–7JqU

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Three ways to think about student engagement in remote curriculum delivery

While you’re preparing to deliver our UGME fall curriculum for Years 1, 2 and 3 predominantly via remote technologies (and some of that asynchronously), the challenge of keeping student engaged and involved may be top of mind. Three strategies (useful in any teaching, not just pandemic-restricted scenarios) are useful to keep in mind.

1. Set expectations early For many – students and teachers alike – remote teaching using a platform like Zoom is a new way to learn, so it helps to set the expectations when you start. In face-to-face teaching, this is sometimes done formally, but more often informally. A learner sitting alone in front of their computer can’t “read the room” to know what’s ok. If you’d prefer that students use the Zoom “raise hand” function to ask questions, let them know this at the start of class. If you’d rather they unmute their microphones to interrupt, set this as your norm. If you invite students to email you with questions after your session, set a reasonable time-frame for response. If you expect them to have downloaded a worksheet from Elentra ahead of time, make sure this is in your learning event’s “required preparation” section, since you can’t have a handout ready as back-up. Be clear, so no one gets frustrated.

2. Use tools effectively All the tools available in the classroom are also available in remote teaching – they just sometimes need a bit of tweaking to use effectively. For example, one really low-tech engagement tool is silence. In my early days teaching at the University of New Brunswick, I had a Post-It note on my lecture notes which said: “shut up, Theresa!” This was a succinct reminder to myself to give students time to hear and process questions before I went ahead and answered them myself. With remote teaching, we need to factor in time for student to click on their “raise hand” button or hit “unmute” along with that processing time. Silence can be uncomfortable for instructors as we think we should be filling every moment, however, using questioning and dialogue effectively remotely requires becoming comfortable with longer intervals waiting.

Most other tools you use routinely face-to-face can continue to be used via Zoom. For example, Poll Everywhere and videos were also used quite easily during the spring term. Do you sometimes use “show of hands” to get a response? Both the “raise hand” function and the “reactions” one can be used for this purpose. Some in-class tools might take a bit of strategic thinking and planning to rework for remote classes. If you have something in particular in mind, reach out for brainstorming and to capitalize on collective wisdom.

3. Assign roles Whether you’re in a Zoom class, or assigning asynchronous work, it can be helpful to proactively assign roles to individual students to keep everyone engaged and participating equitably. Whether it’s the randomizer app used by Dr. Gilic and Dr. Simpson in MEDS 115 to call on individual students for responses, or a “Someone from group X” call-out, these can all be tailored for Zoom.

If you’d like some Zoom-mediated face-to-face feedback, ask that one student from each SGL group be “on camera” during the class. Not everyone’s internet supports using video throughout, but teaching to a sea of names in black boxes makes it hard to gauge responses. Using a rotation within groups will share this responsibility. (And get more camera-shy students used to being “on” in a low-stakes way).

If you’d like a student to monitor the chat box for questions, create a roster of students who are willing to do it and share that task through the term.

If you’re using discussion boards for asynchronous teaching, break up the tasks needed to meet the learning outcomes of the discussion: have one or two students assigned to pose a discussion question based on the preparatory materials, another to moderate, someone else to write a one-paragraph summary of the discussion to share with the large group. You could also assign a student or two from each group to write multiple choice questions based on the assigned material. (If you’re interested in using discussion boards on Elentra, get in touch and we can set it up for you).


It’s true we’re in somewhat uncharted waters for teaching this way, but there are solutions to the teaching challenges. If you’re stumped or frustrated, please reach out – we can find some solutions together. Reach me best by email (theresa.suart@queensu.ca).

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The Humble, Inspiring Leadership of Sir Tom

The spectacle of a 94 year old Queen wielding a large sword to “knight” a 100 year old gentleman, stooped and standing with the assistance of a walker, might seem somewhat anachronistic and perhaps even a little inappropriate to those whose tolerance for tradition and ritual is strained even in the best of times. Certainly, the double-whammy of the COVID crisis and racism activism are very much front of mind for most people and understandably so. Jaded suspicion and negativism have easy footholds in our consciousness. Hope and optimism struggle for attention.

Nonetheless, that’s exactly what’s to be found behind this brief ceremony conducted Friday at Windsor Castle.

ibitimes.co.in

The gentleman being knighted is Captain (now Sir) Tom Moore. He is a veteran of World War II, having been “conscripted” at the age of twenty. He was assigned to an armoured corps, but eventually served as part of what came to be known as the “forgotten army” in Burma (now Myanmar) surviving, among other things, a bout with dengue fever. After the war, he became a businessman and motorcycle enthusiast. Recently, not content to simply observe the COVID pandemic from the comfort of his retirement home, he resolved to do something to assist the overburdened National Health Service. Options being limited, he decided to do 100 laps of his garden on his 100th birthday, which he did with the support of his walker, but otherwise unaided. The project was widely picked up by social media and the press. Contributions started rolling in. To date, 33 million Pounds ($56.2 million CDN) have been raised.

theworldnews.net

These efforts, together with tons of natural charm, have made him the very embodiment of British pluck and resilience in the face of adversity, and this past week he was knighted by his slightly younger Queen, who herself knows a thing or two about maintaining a stiff upper lip in the face of adversity.

dailymail.co.uk

There are many words that come to mind in describing Sir Tom’s actions. “Charitable”, “altruistic”, “selfless” would all seem to apply but there are other aspects of his remarkable story that, although equally valid, may not immediately come to mind.

One is “humility”. Sir Tom was not looking for acclaim or to make a “big splash”. He simply saw a need, felt obligated to make a contribution, and set out to do whatever was in his power to do. In the case of a now one hundred year old man with obvious limitations, that consisted of walker-wheeling around his backyard.

The other word that comes to mind is “leadership”. Although its doubtful he would describe himself in such terms he has, despite advanced age and physical limitations, done much more than simply raise funds. He has provided leadership in a time of crisis. By choosing to act rather than simply bemoan his situation, by acting without artifice or expectation of self-promotion, by rejecting victimhood and bitterness, his actions inspire us all to simply get up and keep moving ahead. With his walker firmly in hand, he shows us the way.

The “Greatest Generation” indeed.

Thank you, Sir Tom.

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Engaging Diversity, Then, Now, Always.

This week, I’m reprising an article that first appeared on this blog September 8, 2014. It was part of a series of articles that were developed at the time to examine the concept of diversity in the context of medical education. The motivation was to develop a more focused approach to diversity within all aspects of our school. As will become apparent in subsequent installments, all this led to a number of changes and innovations within the school, most of which are still operational today.

Recently, as described in a recent article (https://meds.queensu.ca/ugme-blog/archives/4880), we have re-committed to engaging diversity within our school. As we do so, it’s important to emphasize the particular importance of this initiative within medical education, and to review and reassess steps previously taken.

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The Educational Value of Diversity

UGME Blog: September 8, 2014

In October of 1931, a 16-year-old college student joined a group of friends for a night of carousing and entertainment at the Driskill Hotel, in Austin Texas.  He had no idea what to expect of the entertainment, the focus of the evening being on the “carousing” component.  Rather unexpectedly, he is deeply moved by the performance, and particularly by the featured musician.  Many years later, that student writes about that experience in his memoirs:

“He played mostly with his eyes closed. Letting flow from that inner space of music things that had never existed.  He was the first genius I’d ever seen.”

The “genius” he was referring to was Louis Armstrong, who was himself only 31 at the time, at the beginning of a career that would eventually identify him as one of the greatest virtuosi and innovators in the history of American music.

The young man was Charles Lund Black, who would go on to become a Professor of Law at Yale and expert in American constitutional law and contribute importantly to a number of cases involving key civil rights issues.

Professor Black would later say the following about his experience that evening:

“It is impossible to overstate the significance of a sixteen year old Southern boy’s seeing genius, for the first time, in a black.  We literally never saw a black man, then, in any but a servant’s capacity…Blacks, the saying went, were ‘alright in their place’, but what was the place of such a man, and of the people from which he sprung?”  http://www.nytimes.com/2001/05/08/nyregion/charles-l-black-jr-85-constitutional-law-expert-who-wrote-on-impeachment-dies.html

In Black’s eulogy, a former student would say of him, “He was my hero…He had the moral courage to go against his race, his class, his social circle.”

In Medical Education, the concept of Diversity has become entrenched in our collective vision as expressed in both the Future of Medical Education in Canada recommendations and in accreditation standards.  The rationale for such initiatives has been largely perceived to be the need to ensure equity of opportunity, and a need for medical schools to respect and reflect the gender, cultural, religious influences of the societies they serve.  Laudable and worthy justifications, to be sure.  However, Mr. Black’s encounter with Mr. Armstrong hints at deeper, even greater benefits.  Does diversity within a learning environment, or as a deliberate component of a curriculum, have educational value?  Does it shape thought and attitudes?  Does it make students better practitioners of whatever career they undertake?  Does it make them better citizens?

These questions have had particular relevance and attention in the United States for the past several decades, where they have been the focus of legal as well as pedagogical attention.  Affirmative Action initiatives and subsequent legal challenges have required both jurists and educators to engage this question critically and analytically.

In 1978, Chief Justice Lewis Powell wrote the following opinion regarding the case Regents of the University of California vs. Bakke.  He argued “the atmosphere of speculation, experiment and creation – so essential to the quality of higher education – is widely believed to be promoted by a diverse student body…It is not too much to say that the nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to the ideas and mores of students as diverse as this Nation of many peoples.”

Chief Justice Powell’s decision, however, did not settle the issue.  Challenges have continued and the wisdom of mandated diversity initiatives has been repeatedly questioned.  This is largely due to the lack of a theoretical framework or evidential basis demonstrating value.  Since then, considerable work has either emerged or been resurrected to provide such evidence, which is summarized in an excellent paper by Gurin and colleagues (Harvard Educational Review 2002; 72: 330).

From the theoretical perspective, the work of a number of sociologists and psychologists is particularly relevant, and fascinating to review.  In attempting to describe their work, I freely admit to venturing far beyond my expertise and apologize in advance to those much more knowledgeable. 

Erik Erikson, as far back at the early 1950s, postulated that late adolescence and early adulthood were critical times in the development of personal and social identity.  He theorized that such identity develops most effectively when people at that stage of life are provided what he called a “psychosocial moratorium”, by which he meant a time and situation during which they could feel free to “sample” and experiment with various social roles for themselves before taking on a more fixed and permanent role, i.e., before they “committed” to a profession, personal philosophy, or relationship.  Colleges and universities are critical to providing this environment for most young people, certainly in North America.  But how can they promote this critical social development?  In the words of Gurin and colleagues:

“Higher education is especially influential when its social milieu is different from students’ home and community background and when it is diverse and complex enough to encourage intellectual experimentation and recognition of varied future possibilities.”   

In other words, the real power to influence goes far beyond lofty mission statements and curriculum, and arises largely from developing an environment where students are able to interact both passively and actively with individuals who are “different” and therefore force new thought and new perspectives during this critical developmental phase.

Sociologist Theodore Newcomb carried out a series of studies and long-term follow-ups of Bennington College students between 1943 and 1991.  (Newcombe et al 1967. Persistence and change: Bennington College and its students after 25 years. New York: John Wiley and Sons), (Alwin et al 1991. Political attitudes over the life span. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press).  To medical folks, this is the sociologic equivalent of the Framingham studies.  He and his colleagues found that political and social attitudes were most likely to change and remain so in students who had encountered novel concepts and attitudes, largely through peer influences, while attending college, thus supporting Erikson’s theory and demonstrating long term durability of the early life experience. 

In the Gurin paper, the authors draw on the work of Jean Piaget and Diane Ruble in extending the concept of disequilibrium, to the early learning experience.  In Guerin’s words:

“Transitions are significant because they present new situations about which individuals know little and in which they will experience uncertainty.  The early phase of transition, what Ruble calls construction, is especially important, since people have to seek information in order to make sense of the new situation.  Under these conditions individuals are likely to undergo cognitive growth unless they are able to retreat to a familiar world.”

In simple terms (that even a cardiologist would understand) the greater the difference between the students prior life experience and the learning environment in which they find themselves, the greater potential for new thought, new concepts and personal growth.

The Michigan Student Survey (MSS) and Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) are longitudinal studies examining, among other things, how diverse education processes influence attitudes and career success.  The MSS is a single site study involving 1,582 students.  The CIRP is a national cooperative involving 11,383 students from 184 American institutions.  Both involved racially and culturally diverse populations of students assessed on the basis of their pre-university and university cultural environments i.e. their “diversity experience”.   For detailed description of results, I would refer the reader to Gurin et al. Harvard Educational Review 2002;72:330.  The key findings relevant to those considering diversity initiatives in university programs:

  • There was a positive relationship between diversity experiences and educational outcomes
  • The influence of a diverse educational environment was consistent across schools and cultural groups
  • “interactional” diversity was more influential than “classroom diversity”  

But are these effects also relevant to medical education, where one might suppose that students are older and further along developmentally, and perhaps pre-selected for cultural diversity and preparedness?

  • In 2003, Whitla and colleagues (Academic Medicine 78:460) reported on a study involving medical students at Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Francisco.  Students surveyed reported that contact with diverse peers enhanced their educational experience and supported ongoing affirmative action initiatives. 
  • A graduation questionnaire administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges to 20,112 graduates from 118 medical schools (Saha et al, JAMA 2008; 300: 1135), demonstrated that, for white students, attendance at a school with high proportions of peers from underrepresented minorities was associated with greater confidence in caring for minority patients and positive attitudes regarding equity issues.  These associations were not found for non-white students. 
  • Niu and colleagues (Academic Medicine 2012; 87: 1530) surveyed 460 Harvard medical students and found that those who reported spending more than 75% of their study time with students from diverse backgrounds or having participated in diversity related extracurricular activities felt more prepared to care for diverse patients.  

And so, it seems Mr. Black’s experience in 1931 was not simply an isolated event, but indicative of the potential for great things to emerge when open minds are exposed to new situations, new social constructs, new paradigms.  The value of Diversity in education is about much more than a need to exhibit “fairness” and some notion of social justice, but rather an active educational intervention capable of expanding the vision, imagination and therefore potential of students. 

So, what does all this psychosocial theory and American experience say to those of us engaged in medical education in Canada in 2014?  We might feel, with some justified smugness, that we are not faced with the same social divides and engrained class issues as our southern neighbours.  We might also take solace in the knowledge that our schools are uniformly committed to the concepts of equity, fairness and diversity in the workplace, and have rather rigorous policies in place intended to ensure the issue of structural diversity.  However, we might also see this as an opportunity to enhance our approaches to medical education, where the ability to effectively engage people of diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs would seem particularly relevant.  Finally, many in 2014 Canada might define Diversity as more of a socioeconomic as opposed to racial/ethnic issue, given the well-documented struggles of our First Nations and immigrant populations.  With all this in mind, I pose a few perhaps unsettling questions for consideration:

  • Do our students engage in medical school in the type of passive and active learning environment that theories and studies suggest could truly influences their development as physicians?
  • Do our policies, which focus largely on identifying numbers and proportions of various groups in our school relative to the general population, truly promote the development of that effective learning environment, or simply attempt to demonstrate token compliance with regulations?
  • Our students, raised in and drawn from a Canadian culture that promotes equity and fairness, are good and instinctively fair people, unfailingly tolerant of diverse individuals and eager to contribute, but do they develop a deep understanding of the issues of those less-advantaged, and are we, as the stewards of their education, doing all we can to develop a learning environment that will promote that understanding?

Can we do better?  Can’t help but think so. 

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Next article will focus on initiatives that were undertaken at that time, and then update on current evolving plans.

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Combining medicine & business: CEO for a day

By Andriy Katyukha, Meds 2022

“Maybe you should try Bay Street instead of medical school?” My interviewer’s acerbic tone gave the impression I was not the candidate they were hoping to admit when assessing medical applicants. Fortunately, I was admitted, and as a result of my experiences I am committed to dismantling entrenched attitudes in medicine that stifle progress and positive change.

Andriy Katyukha, right, with CHEO President and CEO Alext Munter

As I continue through my career, I remain steadfast in my conviction that functioning at the intersection of medicine, business, and policy is crucial to help move the healthcare system forward. As some of my sagacious mentors have pointed out, multi-disciplinary skill building, outside the traditional framework of what is deemed relevant for the practice of medicine, unfortunately is sometimes discouraged. Is it a lack of exposure to other skillsets or is it a profound fear that someone equipped with unique skills may threaten your position? Regardless of the reasoning behind this antiquated view, it falls on you to be introspective, decide what opportunities you will pursue, seek out mentors who inspire you, and work fervently to bring about the change you want to see in your field of work.

For me, this means seeking out opportunities that bolster my interest in strategy, governance, and health leadership, and that is how I found myself participating in the CEOx1Day program. Though I was apprehensive about applying to a competitive program geared towards future leaders in business, I submitted an application anyway. To my pleasant surprise, I was selected by Odgers Berndtson to work with Alex Munter, the President and CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

My day started with what now seems like a very prescient discussion with senior medical leaders and Alex­—COVID19 preparedness. From there, we departed to meet the rest of the executive team for their weekly Tuesday meeting. While the discussions were incredibly insightful, I am certain that the team would be surprised to hear what resonated with me the most: amidst the business of the day, they all stopped to recognize individual employees, of all seniority levels and positions, who made a meaningful contribution to the organization. This was their ‘kudos’ time, and I got the impression that employee recognition and appreciation is not a concept that is flippantly tossed into quarterly reports, but is the underpinning of the culture at CHEO. This is where I learned my first lesson: when it comes to transformational leadership, senior leaders who focus on results, and shift the emphasis from personal credit to team recognition, make the biggest impact.

Alex and I then connected with the CEOs of the Hospital for Sick Children and Holland Bloorview Rehabilitation Centre to discuss their partnership through the Kids Health Alliance, a network that aims to bolster patient and family-centered care in pediatric populations. We then proceeded to Alex’s CEO Information Session where he updated staff members about various projects and organizational achievements. It also served as a platform to once again recognize employees who made a difference at CHEO, and further encourage employees to use their personal insights to make improvements in their respective departments. In my professional life, I have yet to see such an emphasis being placed on promoting grassroots initiatives to fuel an organization’s success and progress. Through this, I learned my second lesson in leadership—empathy. A heightened ability to listen and validate employee experiences not only creates a positive work environment, but also empowers employees to use their experiences to change things for the better, strengthening the company in the process.

My day at CHEO finished off with Dr. Jean-Philippe Vaccani, a brilliant physician leader who serves as the Deputy Chief of Staff at CHEO. After a candid discussion about our careers, goals, and health leadership, I was struck by his encouragement and eagerness to promote discussions that underscore the importance of multi-disciplinary thinking in medicine. Professional mentorship is one of the best ways to give back to others, and just as I have benefited from kind and encouraging mentors, I also hope to make mentorship a priority in my own career.

I urge non-traditional majors and STEM students to embrace opportunities like CEOx1Day to not only learn from incredible leaders, but to also share their own invaluable insights to broaden leaders’ perspectives. Even if you do not see yourself represented in a field, seek out opportunities that allow you to be the catalyst for change.

Later that evening I had the privilege of joining Alex and his partner for dinner, where I not only got to meet his adorable son, but also Lola, the family dog and self-proclaimed “Queen of the House”. It was the perfect setting to further discuss our thoughts on a variety of topics and get to know each other a little better. Through our discussions about the healthcare system, advocacy, policy, and representation, I got an incredible sense that Alex’s successes are rooted in a deep sense of service. While he serves as CEO, to me he serves as a role model who has broken barriers for LGBTQ2S+ individuals, has worked to shatter the ‘glass closet’ that often exists in corporate leadership, and has instilled in me a deep passion to work tirelessly as an advocate and leader in healthcare. This leads me to my final lesson about leadership—service. Rooting your work in service, be it serving people directly or serving a mission that fuels your passion, lays the foundation for the most meaningful impact you can achieve as a leader.

CHEO is an absolutely incredible organization to work for and I applaud the efforts of Alex Munter, the senior leadership team, and most importantly the committed and passionate employees who work day-in and day-out to bolster pediatric care in Ontario. I would like to thank Kristen, Michael, Eric, and the entire team in the Odgers Berndtson Ottawa office for affording me this invaluable opportunity!


For more information about the Odgers Berndtson CEOx1Day program, check out their program site here: https://www.odgersberndtson.com/en-ca/ceox1day/about-the-program


A version of this post was previously published here: https://www.odgersberndtson.com/en-ca/ceox1day/news-media/bay-street-or-medical-school-a-glimpse-inside-a-ceox1day-at-cheo

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Planning your teaching in uncertain times

Summer is upon us and, with it, planning for fall semester teaching. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world these days vis-à-vis the COVID-19 pandemic – which has contributed to some uncertainty in planning for curricular delivery. At the School of Medicine, we have permission to run some learning activities face-to-face (such as clinical skills) with new restrictions in place to maintain social-distancing, but our traditional classroom-based teaching will be impacted as well.

The Education Team is here to support Course Directors and all teaching faculty as we face these new challenges. While we don’t have all the answers yet about room assignments and scheduling, there are still many things we can do right now to help with your planning and preparation for both your synchronous (all students learning at an appointed time, either in a classroom or via Zoom) or asynchronous teaching (students provided with learning materials that need to be completed by a certain deadline, but otherwise, they can learn on their own schedule and own pace). If we don’t have solutions to your queries, we’ll help find them.

Things we can help you with now:

  • Discovering options for asynchronous teaching

Course Directors have been asked to consider different avenues for asynchronous learning. While this already exists in many courses in the form of Directed Independent Learning electronic modules, there are other options, too. If you would like to increase the amount of asynchronous learning in your course – or just explore possibilities – we can help with this.

  • Learning techniques for interactive teaching via Zoom

We learned a lot from our two-and-a-half months of remote teaching using Zoom from March – May. If you’re concerned about how to keep your teaching engaging and interactive while “talking to a box”, we can help with this – and provide some practice opportunities, too, so it’s not so intimidating. Tools you may already be using in the classroom, such as videos and polling, are easily leveraged on the Zoom platform.

  • Exploring approaches to assessment

Your current assessment plan may be just fine, but there may be things you’d like to tweak given the logistics of remote delivery. We’ve sorted out quizzes, graded team assignments (GTAs), and proctored exams already, so we can address these and any other concerns you have and make any appropriate modifications.

  • Guiding you to resources

We can point you towards Faculty of Health Sciences and campus-wide faculty development opportunities and services that are available and talk about which approaches already fit with the UG program, and navigate through other possibilities.

  • Brainstorming and problem solving

While the landscape may have changed with the COVID-19 pandemic, our goals as your Education Team remain the same: we’re here to help you prepare for, deliver, and improve your teaching and assessment.

Please get in touch:

Theresa Suart theresa.suart@queensu.ca

Eleni Katsoulas eleni.katsoulas@queensu.ca

Rachel Bauder rachel.bauder@queensu.ca

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Zooming our way through pandemic remote teaching

On March 23 – coincidentally immediately after our students’ March Break – Queen’s UGME moved its classroom-based teaching to all remote learning to comply with social-distancing measures put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic..

This also coincided with the majority of faculty, and administrative and support staff moving to working from home, except for those deemed essential to university operations.

By the end of May, we’d conducted close to 250 learning events via Zoom that would have ordinarily been taught in our classrooms by dozens of faculty members. The Meds Video Conferencing (MedsVC) team, led by Peter MacNeil were instrumental in making this possible, providing technical support for every learning event.

Lectures were recorded to accommodate students who found themselves in different time zones (many having travelled home for March Break and subsequently stayed there rather than engage in unnecessary travel) and those with family responsibilities, for example.

Instructors faced the same challenges most have read about regarding online conferencing. As Dr. Jenna Healey, Chair in the History of Medicine, describes: “Technical issues, navigating the software, making sure there were no interruptions on my end—like my very loud cat meowing!”

Faculty sought creative solutions to previously-scheduled in-class sessions. For example, in MEDS 246 Psychiatry, there were two expanded clinical skills sessions scheduled which each included a Standardized Patient actor (SP) to help demonstrate aspects of psychiatric interviews. Course Director Dr. Nishardi Wijeratne led both sessions – the first before the switch to remote delivery and the second one via Zoom. Each session was 50 minutes.

Standardized Patient actor Mike Campbell and Dr. Wijeratne at lower left window, conducting a psychiatric interview demonstration for students, via Zoom.

“Having taught both at the SOM and fully zoom, I did not find a significant difference between the two as a teacher,” Dr. Wijeratne says. “Given that my clinical practice as psychiatrist has moved to mostly virtual care right now, the Zoom version actually felt closer to my daily clinical practice right now.”

She noted three aspects that helped greatly with the session:

  • MedVC staff to help with tech issues
  • Connecting with the SP about 10 minutes before the session to discuss goals and structure
  • Assigning tasks to the students ahead of the session to maintain engagement thoughout the 50-minute classes. Students observed the psychiatric interviews and documented mental status, identified risk factors, and considered possible differential diagnoses.

In addition to his own teaching, MEDS122 Pediatrics Course Director Peter MacPherson pitched in with a solution to a Clinical Skills session – about half the class missed their opportunity to complete a toddler observation session because of the pandemic restrictions.

“Usually, the medical students get down on the floor and play with a toddler while they infer the child’s real age based on their developmental achievements,” he explains. “We were able to cover the same curricular objectives remotely. The students were able to observe and interact with my toddler via Zoom in his ‘natural environment’ (aka our playroom) and do a similar assessment.

“It was a lot of fun to teach while playing dress up with my child!”

Dr. MacPherson shared his Zoom toddler development session experience on Twitter.

One part of the classroom experience that’s more challenging to achieve remotely is direct interaction with students as a class. “In particular, it is rather difficult to judge the level of understanding of the class,” MEDS245 Neurosciences Course Director Stuart Reid notes. “It cannot provide the personal contact that comes with in real life interaction.”

“On the other hand, it has been an invigorating challenge.  We introduced more online learning modules and sought creative approaches to making distance learning both active and interactive,” he adds. One such creative approach was a “Jeopardy” style game in place of a hands-on expanded clinical skills session. It didn’t replicate the face-to-face session, but it actively engaged students in the session.

Dr. Healey echoes Dr. Reid’s comments about missing that face-to-face factor. “I very much miss interacting with my students in class. As an instructor, what I have found most challenging is not being able to see student’s faces. I didn’t realize how much I relied on non-verbal communication to adjust my pacing or gauge the level of student’s interest or understanding.”

Dr. Healey started encouraging students to use the Zoom “raise hand” function more often in her classes. “I want students to feel comfortable interrupting me if they have questions or comments.”

Dr. Reid speaks for all of us at UG when he notes that the students were a key factor in the success of our remote curriculum delivery: “They have been patient, accommodating, and enthusiastic enablers of our altered circumstances. Many thanks to them!”

At the end of the semester, the Education Team conducted several focus groups with Year 1 and Year 2 students to get additional feedback on what worked well, what didn’t, and suggestions for improving this type of remote learning. This, combined with the course evaluations (which included additional questions about the new required remote learning activities) will be used to inform teaching decisions in the coming academic year, as the COVID-19 pandemic situation continues to evolve.

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The Legacy of George Floyd – What will it be?

We watch, horrified, recordings of the last few seconds of George Floyd’s life. We hear his last words– “I can’t breathe”. The symbolism of the white, uniformed figure whose knee is at this neck, unresponsive to his pleas, could not be more stark. For many, George Floyd is the most recent, most poignant example of a history of racial subjugation, mistreatment and killing that spans the past four centuries. For many, it’s a sad reminder that similar crimes and protests of five decades ago were not the final expression of that discontent. For us all, it forces a confrontation with the reality that the dream of Martin Luther King “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” has, sadly, not yet been realized.

Locally, we have been challenged by these events to consider what, if any, implications they have for each of us personally, and for our school. Many faculty and students have expressed very clearly their concerns, their discontent and have called for change. In the interest of exploring this further, I met recently with our student leadership and medical students. Those discussions were candid, sincere and highly illuminating. They expressed realities about the experience of Black medical students at Queen’s with clarity and openness. The tragic killing of George Floyd, it seems, has opened a discourse and raised to the surface issues and concerns that are not new, but not previously expressed as bluntly. It has also, it must be said, caused all of us to listen with greater sensitivity.

Out of those discussions, a number of themes and practical measures are being developed and advanced. I have since had opportunity discuss these with our current Dean Dr. Reznick and our incoming Dean Dr. Philpott who are both very supportive.

  • All medical schools have a responsibility for social accountability. The exact nature of the commitment, expressed in a Diversity Statement, is school specific and should reflect the regions served and values of the particular school. That statement should drive a variety of school activities, including curriculum, recruitment and admissions. In the light of recent events, it seems appropriate to re-assess our Diversity statement. Our Diversity and Equity Committee, chaired by Dr. Mala Joneja, will be charged to draft a renewed statement to be considered by our faculty council
  • Our curriculum should prepare our students to provide comprehensive care to patients of all ethnic and racial backgrounds. This should be reflected in both the content and delivery of the curriculum. Our Curriculum Committee will be charged with re-assessing both aspects through the lens of the Black population. It will also be asked to ensure that opportunities exist for open and constructive dialogue between students for discussion of difficult and contentious topics.
  • The Black population of Canada is under-represented in our medical school. This is despite the fact that our admissions processes are scrupulously unbiased with respect to racial considerations. In fact, I realized as we discussed this issue recently that it was impossible to even determine the racial make-up of our incoming class, simply because this information is in no way documented or considered. The under-representation of Black people is almost certainly a complex and multi-factorial issue. Our Admissions Committee will be tasked with giving consideration to what factors may be active and to consider how they might be addressed.
  • Very concerningly, and despite numerous (and I believe very sincere) efforts to address this over the past few years, our students report a lingering perception within the Black applicant community that Queen’s is an unwelcoming environment. This no doubt contributes to the under-representation issue and merits deep consideration at all levels.
  • It seems clear that the promotion of mentorship opportunities for our Black students and applicants would be of benefit and should be pursued actively, both within our schools, and through effective collaborations outside our school.

None of this will occur if efforts are restricted only to a vocal minority who have themselves been the subject of racism in their lives and therefore need no convincing of its existence. It is rather for those of us in the “silent majority” of society who abhor racism but have not been its direct victims to take stock. We need to listen and, in those ways that are available to us, act.

Many will question why a murder in Minneapolis, tragic as it is, should influence the discourse and decisions at our small, somewhat secluded and seemingly tranquil medical school in Kingston, Ontario. I will admit to initially sharing that skepticism. I have come, through reflection on my own experiences with racism and through discussion with our students, to a different perspective. I would now say to those people who question these directions that no community in the western world can consider itself immune or unaffected by racism. I would say that injustice of any form diminishes and affects us all. I would say that we bear a collective obligation to the memory of George Floyd, to all the George Floyds of the past and to every person today afraid to jog alone through a park or be pulled over for a minor traffic violation. We owe it to them to take whatever action is in our power to take. We act for them but, in the end, we are acting for us all and for those who will follow.

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The Event Was Virtual. The Graduation Was Real!

In its 166 year history, the Queen’s School of Medicine has no doubt hosted many memorable events to mark the achievement of graduating students. None, I’m sure we can assume, compared to last week’s celebration.

For the past few months, a small committee let by Drs. Renee Fitzpatrick and Andrea Winthrop has been meeting and struggling to develop some appropriate way to recognize the graduation of our Meds 2020 class, given the limitations imposed by the pandemic. The result was a “virtual” event made possible by Zoom technology, our dedicated MedVC team and coordinated by Jacqueline Findlay, UG Program Manager.  

Dr. Harry Chandrakumaran, Meds 2020, and parents”attending”, with hood provided by Mrs. Chandrakumaran

Our virtual graduation celebration was “attended” by 300 sites that signed in, as well as an unknown number live streaming the event. Attendees were located in cities all across Canada, as well as several in the US and Europe.

Dr. Heather Murray, in full regalia, attending from Grant Hall

It featured an opening welcome to families and supporters of our graduates, followed by individual recognitions of each graduate. Dean Richard Reznick paid tribute to the class, challenging them to make a difference. Dr. Susan Moffatt was selected by the students to provide remarks on behalf of faculty. Drs. Heather Murray, Erin Beattie and Brigid Nee were selected by the graduates to receive the prestigious Connell awards for outstanding lecturing, mentorship and clinical teaching. Dr. Akshay Rajaram was selected by the students to receive the award for outstanding teaching by a resident.

Dean Richard Reznick addressing Meds2020
Dr. Susan Moffatt, Faculty Speaker

Dr. Cale Templeton and Julia Milden were selected by their classmates as Permanent Class President and Class Valedictorian.

Dr. Cale Templeton, Permanent Class President, Meds 2020
Dr. Julia Milden, Meds 2020

In her address, Dr. Milden spoke of the gratitude of her classmates for family, friends and teachers. She acknowledged admiration for her classmates and the bonds of friendship that had developed during medical school and would persist through their careers.

“I am struck today reflecting on what exactly it means to be called a doctor, the thrill and duty of carrying this new title and the letters MD. This particular moment in time seems to make incredibly clear the power and responsibility of this role. On the wards or on television, writing orders or writing policy, doctors of all kinds are illuminating the challenges of their patients and of the system, and working together to help shape what we do as a whole world to take care of one another.

So what gives us this influence?

I think it’s the message we send when we say ‘I’m a doctor’ – to whomever we’re meeting, it means: I’m listening, I respect your wishes and your opinions, I know how to learn and am motivated to investigate your problem,  and I will do everything in my power to help you.

And most remarkably, the skills and qualities this social trust is based on are ones that we have right now: our willingness to listen, and our ability to care.”

Certainly, we must acknowledge that the event was decidedly not what anyone envisioned when Meds 2020 began medical school one September morning over four years ago. Nonetheless, it was every bit as real as the degrees earned by our graduates and received by them last week. It occurred because of a very real refusal to allow any mere pandemic to diminish the significance of what these young people have accomplished, nor overcome our desire to express our pride and extend our good wishes.

To them, our admiration and congratulations…really.

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Balancing Social Responsibility and Personal Rights in a Time of Crisis

Reading the New York Times these days can be a rather jarring emotional experience. It is replete with stories of people and families devastated by the COVID crisis. Excruciatingly detailed and poignant accounts of people dying in their homes or hospitals, isolated from surroundings and those who have been significant to them. Married couples dying within hours of each other leaving shattered families behind, all deprived of the end of life processes that would normally help with the grieving process and achievement of some emotional closure. Hospital workers struggling to provide some modicum of solace and dignity before having to move along to the next patient.

Turn the page, and you read accounts of protests by those decrying the restrictions that have been imposed by their governments, claiming their rights to choose to assemble and assume personal risk.

Protesters at Queen’s Parki on Saturday, April 25 demand an end to public health rules put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

These stories are not limited to New York or even the United States. They come from Italy, Britain, Mexico, South America, the Far East. It seems no place is spared, although the impact and time course varies considerably.

In our own characteristically muted fashion, the same dramas are playing out in Canada. Political leaders, hearing loud and clear from all constituencies and all perspectives, struggle to strike a balanced and responsible approach.

All this serves to highlight two great realities of this pandemic. Firstly, it is affecting virtually every human being on the planet. The sheer scope is mind boggling and it’s difficult to think of any prior catastrophe that even comes close. The second reality is that its very nature is such that it renders each of us both a target and a mechanism for spread. We are simultaneously potential victims and potential perpetrators. We are all therefore forced to make choices, and those choices are expressed not through words so much as through our actions.

For the vast majority, the choice is clear. Simply remaining secluded and abiding by social isolation directions from authorities is not only in their personal best interest, but also their means of contributing to the public good. It can be inconvenient, unsettling and, depending on personal and family circumstances, very demanding. It also requires a degree of trust and faith that decisions are being made with best information and with the best of intentions. It requires political leadership that evokes that trust. But most importantly, it requires a willingness to endure some degree of personal hardship for a perceived greater good.

For those who provide essential services, the choice is very different. For those people, the greater good is to continue their duties while exercising appropriate precautions. The willingness of health workers and the many essential service providers who allow our society to continue to function in these very challenging times is a testimony not only to their dedication and courage, but to their belief that they have a role in contributing to the welfare of others. They are nothing short of heroic. 

All of us are affected. All of us are making sacrifices that require us to balance our personal interests with our obligations to those around us. Our fundamental values, both individually and collectively, are being exposed. The ideological and moral differences between individuals, communities and even countries are being laid bare in the face of this crisis. The early results are largely positive and even inspiring. But the real test is yet to come. As the acute crisis abates to some extent, and it becomes clear that a complete return to “normal” is a long way off, how will we engage this “new normal”? Our leaders and governments are making decisions that require them to determine the very nature of what constitutes “common good”.  What seems clear is that what will determine success is not our ability to protect our personal interests, but the extent to which we are willing to sacrifice those personal interests for that common good.

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