Monday, January 31, 2011

Successful Classroom Innovation

As a member of the Curriculum Management Committee I am often involved in assessing proposed changes in the Palmer instructional program. This may involve evaluating a newly proposed course, or considering changes in existing course objectives, among other decisions that must be made. And when we design such changes, there are lessons we might apply to our effort. The excellent text “Designing and assessing courses and curricula: a practical guide” (1) provides a number of characteristics that can help make your efforts succeed. These include:

Have a plan and follow it: The text offers a model for curriculum design that has been shown to be successful, and it recommends you follow it carefully.

Do not do it alone: Involve others in your design efforts. Include your chair, quite obviously, but also include others who may be affected by what you are doing. And include those whose expertise you may need, such as those with expertise in, for example, instructional technology.

Strive for the ideal: Focus not on what exists but rather on what ideally could be. This can also help reduce potential turf war problems and can lead to new and novel curriculum approaches.

Collect information before you begin. In my estimation, this often does not take place. People focus on the end result more than the tasks involved in producing the end result and often do not do sufficient preparatory work. The information you should collect should address the need for your innovation, it should allow you to test your assumptions and it can provide base data to measure change.

Create ownership and keep key individuals informed. You need to make sure you have support before you begin a change process. All affected need to be kept informed and you need to consider who it is that may be affected. Involve key administrators.

Be sensitive to human problems. Curriculum innovation and change can significantly affect others. Change can be an emotionally laden process and we need to keep mindful of that fact. Those who are affected may see this in a negative light, forgetting that this is about institutional need, not personal need. Use administrative help. Talk to people. Answer questions respectfully.

Do not reinvent the wheel. Keep abreast of what is new, what has been tried and what has succeeded. Model your efforts after that, and don’t waste time and resources uing approaches that have failed in the past.

Pay attention to support systems and logistics. This really means that you need to work carefully with the registrar’s office to see how what you are planning fits into what can actually occur and be scheduled.

This is just a short overview of some of the issues you need to consider when you decide to innovate. This is something we all wish to do. We just need to smooth the path for innovation to occur.

1. Diamond R. Designing and assessing courses and curriculum: a practical guide, 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA; Jossey-Bass, 1998:237-238

Monday, January 24, 2011

Selecting Treatments: Healthcare Education

While not all of us are going to be involved in training students in the use of therapeutic interventions and treatment, the work we do here is geared toward making that happen. In the evidence-based world, how does one go about selecting treatment? Sackett and colleagues (1) offer some thoughts.

They proceed from the decision that you have reached a point where you believe the patient’s condition does warrant treatment (and there are many reasons why you may not). And further, you have selected the goal of treatment; in the case of a chiropractic physician, it may be to decrease pain, to lessen disability, or something else. But now you need to select the appropriate and proper therapy (whether adjustment, exercise, counseling, or so on). According to Sackett, there are three ways to choose the intervention:

1. You consider your own uncontrolled clinical experience and of your colleagues and friends, or perhaps you extend certain concepts of mechanisms of disease so that you arrive at a therapy that “seems to work or ought to work.” This is an inductive approach to therapy.

2. You obtain clinical research papers, mainly comprised of clinical trials which are designed to expose worthless or dangerous treatments, and you select treatments that “are able to successfully withstand formal attempts to demonstrate their worthlessness.” This is a deductive approach to therapy.

3. You obtain recommendations from your teachers or colleagues, or from advertisements and you then accept the treatment “on faith.” Sackett refers to this as the method of abdication or of seduction.

Now, it will not come as a surprise that Sackett and colleagues prefers the method of deduction. They argue that using your own clinical experience carries risks that you may not be aware of, notably that what you are really doing is using “historical controls.” By this, they mean that when you compare your latest patient to those you have seen before and for whom you were able to treat successfully, you may be comparing your current and potentially new treatment to an older form of therapy. And if you are able to help the current patient, you judge this new approach as efficacious and superior. In this they see risk.

However current formulations of evidence-based care recognizes that clinical experience is one plank of a triple-planked construct: best available evidence from the literature, combined with clinical expertise and patient values. All are important. But as I see evidence-based care, we need to stay mindful that one of the most common reasons for using it is to determine what to do for a patient where we have questions about what to do; that is, for situations where we might not know what to do. In such cases, our past clinical experience may not be much of a guide. I like to use the example of Brucellosis (in fact, I will hear from a certain academic administrator cough cough Dr. Weinert cough cough for using this example). This is not typically seen in chiropractic settings, so when you are confronted with a patient with this condition, how would you proceed? You would not have clinical expertise in managing the condition. Thus, you would likely need to turn to the literature for best information. When you do have experience, well, that experience will tell you what to do.

Conversations such as this are important in understanding the basis for modern practice, and the literature is replete with them. I heartily urge readers to look into the philosophical basis for evidence-based practice.

1. Sackett DL, Haynes RB, Guyatt G, Tugwell P. Clinical epidemiology: a basic science for clinical medicine, 2nd edition. Boston, MA; Little, Brown, 1991

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Stages of Survey Development

Over the course of the past week or so, I have had several contacts from faculty related to surveys they are in process of developing and for which they wish guidance on IRB application. As a result of looking over some of the proposed surveys I thought I would offer a few comments about the nature of developing them. Czaja and Blair, authors of a fine text on survey development (1), suggest a 5-step process for developing and completing a survey and I thought I would use their approach in offering these comments to you.

Stage 1: Survey design and preliminary planning. This stage specifically looks at the research problem and the research questions that the survey is designed to address. What is your goal in doing this survey? Is it to test a hypothesis, to test a causal model or to estimate the proportion of people who hold certain beliefs or attitudes? In asking this question, there are important issues embedded in it. For example, who is our population of interest? Is it all students at PCC, for example, or a particular trimester, or a specific subgroup from one of these? What is the sampling frame, since it is unlikely we will be able to capture every student in our target population? How will we contact them? In our initial planning, we also need to consider the kinds of questions we will ask, how much time we will need, and how we will analyze the results.

Stage 2: Pretesting. This is where we begin testing our initial design decisions. We need to think about how to reach our sampling frame, what kinds of records we will use for collecting information, how to word questions and so on. We have to draft an initial version of our questionnaire, and it is okay to borrow them from other past research, ensuring that we contact the originator for his or her permission. But keep in mind that past use in a different population is not a guarantee of success in using it in ours. Ru our draft past others for their comments, and incorporate them. Then we need to pretest the questionnaire in a small population of individuals. For example, in the PCCR we might use our research fellows to pretest a questionnaire. Once done, we gather information from that group, either via written comments or via personal interviews and/or focus group meetings, and from their comments we revise our questionnaire accordingly. We need to feel that we are asking what we think we are asking; pretesting helps to accomplish that goal.

Stage 3: Final survey design and planning. This is revision of our initial draft based on the input we have collected. It may also lead us to revise who our sampling frame is or how we analyze the data (we may find that a question we felt was close-ended is actually better asked as an open-ended question, shifting us from a quantitative analysis to a qualitative one.

Stage 4: Data collection. In this stage, you must monitor the results of the sampling and data collection activities. You should also begin coding your answers and preparing your data files ( for example, if you have a “yes- no” question, are you coding the yes response as “1” and the no as “2” or something else? Are you using Excel or SPSS or something else? What do you do with non-answers or double marks? Are you using double data entry, having a second person also code the data for reliability purposes?

Stage 5: Data coding, date-file construction, analysis and final report. This is now where you ensure all your data was properly entered, that you have coded it properly for analysis, that it makes sense when you do if you are looking at anything more than a simple descriptive analysis (how many answered each question).

All of these steps ensure that in the end you collect data that answers questions you are interested in clearly and without miscomprehension of your questions. These are necessary steps; please consider using them as you develop your own surveys.

1. Czaja R, Blair J. Designing surveys: a guide to decisions and procedures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 1996:11-30

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Leadership Challenge

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about leadership: what makes a good leader, how are leaders trained, and so on. And in considering this, I have come across what appears to be one of the leading, if you will, texts on this subject, The Leadership Challenge, by Kouzes and Posner (1). Their text has been a best seller and it proposes 10 commitments to leadership that good leaders follow. These comprise the main part of the book, and they discuss each commitment and offer tactics to help you learn and assignments to help you understand them. But these 10 commitments are built around 5 practices which Kouzes and Posner feel are essential for good leadership. I thought I would briefly note each one.

Model the Way: We can easily translate into vernacular: walk the walk and talk the talk. It is your behavior which earns you respect. We need to act in a way we would like to see others act. The authors note that to effectively model behavior, you have to be clear about guiding principles, and you must clarify values. Leaders do not speak for themselves; they speak for their organization and for its values. But words only go so far; deeds matter even more. What you do is important; I can’t ask you to write papers, for example, if I do not do so myself.

Inspire a Shared Vision: Leaders have a vision of what can be, not just what is, and they believe in what they see and what they think can happen. They are confident they help people get there, and they see opportunity and possibility. Some of us do this every day; we see where we want our students to be, and we help them get there; we see their future. We need to enlist others in common vision, speaking in a common language, and have others’ interests at heart. We excite others, and they then will follow us as we go forward.

Challenge the Process: we all face challenges. Perhaps it is declining enrollment; perhaps it is challenges from a competitor, or something else. We cannot keep everything the same forever; we need to change, and we need to look at what we do in order to change. Leaders venture out, says Kouzes and Posner. They do not wait for fate to smile on them, but they actively work to address challenge; they search for opportunity to innovate and grow. Our students, for example, come to this college with excellent skills in using technology; we need to answer that new challenge by learning how we can yoke the technology to better educate them. No longer can we simply stand still. Leaders create ac climate where we can feel free to try innovation, and where we can even feel safe if we fail. Leaders understand risk but accept it.

Enable Others to Act: In order to get things done, we have to act, and our leaders allow us to do so. No, they encourage us to do so. And to do so, leaders foster collaboration and help build trust. Teamwork results and we all engage. We are empowered. You will hear leaders not use “I” very much, but you will hear them use “we.”

Encourage the Heart: We are all in this together and we have all been at this a long time. I have spent, for example, 31 years in academic chiropractic, and it is always possible we can become exhausted or disenchanted (I have not, let me be clear!). Leaders encourage the heart, they care about those who work with them, and they help draw people forward. A simple note of thanks can do wonders to the person thanked. Recognizing the contributions people make is important, and celebrating them collectively is critical.

In the end, leadership is a relationship that can be developed. We are leaders in the classroom, in our professional lives, and in many other ways. There are skills we can use to become better at this, if we but take the time to do so.

1. Kouzes JM, Posner BZ. The leadership challenge, 4th edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass 2007

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Innovative Teaching

Let me first offer you my best wishes for the new year. I hope that during the past couple of weeks you were able to catch your breath, enjoy your time off and spend time with friends and family during the holidays. I know I very much appreciated the time off; we have all been working hard and this will help clear out the cobwebs and set us on the road for a great 2011.

While I was off, I was sent links to a site which featured the well-known statistician Hans Rosling. In viewing one of the clips I got to thinking about innovation in teaching methods and I have some thoughts to offer on that, in the context of commenting of a few of the clips I watched over the break. Let me begin by offering this link:

200 Countries, 200 years, 4 minutes:

Now, I know that we do not have access the kind of technology seen in this clip. But stop a minute and think about what you see here. Note that what Rosling does is intriguing. First, he is obviously passionate and animated about what he is discussing, and he has obviously planned out what he is going to say and the movements he makes in order to synch them properly with something he cannot actually see, since that has to be edited in later. But also note that his use of this technology helps him pass on an important learning message that would otherwise take far longer to present if he were to simply lecture or even use bullet points in PowerPoint. He has been able to show you the relationship between life expectancy and income (wealth) for 200 countries over a period of 2 centuries. And he has done so in just 4 minutes- and I think everyone who sees this could tell me what that relationship is. The key point he makes is this: “Having the data is not enough; I have to show it in ways people both enjoy and understand.” He has done so masterfully.

New Insights on Poverty:

Another clip with Rosling. Note again how he combines passion, humor and data to present an engaging and informative lecture. Not only does he use his animated projections, but note how he integrates video clips and panoramic photography to illustrate points. And note his subtle humor about PowerPoint at around the 14.50 mark here! And I absolutely guarantee that youw ill not foget the end to this presentation. Guarantee it!

Animating the Cell:

Another use of graphics to illustrate complex points. Imagine accessing this for use in class, or even learning how to do something like this. (PS. is a great source of informative and educational videos).

The general idea, of course, is to use innovation in our teaching. Other ideas exist as well; Drunk History, which can be found in youtube, presents clips from American history through the lens of a purportedly drunk person discussing historical episodes and then has them acted out by famous actors. I will not post links due to the profanity on them, but I list it here as yet another novel method for presenting information. I hope to encourage us all to look for new ways to present information; new technologies do exist and we need to remain up to date with them and then use them to help our students learn more effectively.

Welcome back!