An Educator by Chance

13 10 2010

The topic of the oncoming edition of the blog carnivalMedical Information Matters“, hosted by Daniel Hooker, is close to my heart.

Daniel at his call for submissions post:

I’d love to see posts on new things you’re trying out this year: new projects, teaching sessions, innovative services. Maybe it’s something tried and true that you’d like to reflect on. And this goes for anyone starting out fresh this term, not just librarians!

When I started as a clinical librarian 5 years ago, I mainly did search requests. Soon I also gave workshops as part of evidence based practice courses.

Our library gave the normal library courses PubMed, Reference Manager etc. We did little extra for medical students. There was a library introduction at the beginning and a PubMed training at the end of the curriculum.

Thus, when the interns had to do a CAT (Critically Appraised Topic), they had to start from SCRATCH ;) : learn the PICO, domains, study types, searching the various databases.  After I gave  a dozen or so 1-hour long introductions to consecutive interns, repeating the same things over and over, I realized this was an ineffective use of time. So I organized a monthly CAT-introduction with a computer workshop. After this introduction I helped interns with their specific CAT, if necessary.

This course is appreciated very much and  interns usually sigh: “why didn’t we learn this before?! If we had known this…”, etcetera.

Thus we, librarians, were very enthusiastic when we got more time in the newly organized curriculum.

We made e-learning modules for the first year, two for the second year, a Pubmed-tutorial, and a computer workshop (150 min!). In the 4th year we grade the CATs.

The e-learning modules costed me tons of time. If you read the post “How to become a big e-learning nerd by mistake” at Finite Attention Span you understand why.

We used a system that was designed for exams. On my request the educational department embed the system in a website, so students could go back and forth. Lacking any good books on the topic, students should also be able to reread the text and print whatever they liked.

I was told that variation was important. Thus I used each and every of the 10 available question types. Drop down menus, clickable menus, making right pairs of terms etc. Ooh and I loved the one I used for PICO’s, where you could drag words in a sentence to the P, I, C or O. Wonderful.

Another e-learning module consisted largely of Adobe Captivate movies. As  described in the above mentioned post:

Recognise that you are on a learning curve. First of all, it is vital that your software does not always remind you to save individual files before closing the program. It is especially helpful if you can demonstrate this three times inside a week, so that you end up losing the equivalent of about two days’ work: this will provide you with a learning experience that is pretty much optimised.

Swear. Vigorously.

Become a virtuoso of the panic-save, performing Ctrl+S reflexively in your sleep, every three minutes (…)

Correcting the callouts and highlight boxes and animation timings so they don’t look like they were put together by committee is complicated. Also, writing really clear, unambiguous copy takes time.

It sounds familiar. It also regularly happened to me that I started with the wrong resolution. Then I heard afterwards: “Sorry, we can only use 800×600.”

But workshops are also time-consuming. Largely because the entire librarian staff is needed to run 30 workshops within a month (we have 350 students per year). Of course it didn’t end with those workshops. I had to make the lesson plan materials, had to instruct the tutors, make the time tables, the attendance lists and then put the data into an excel sheet again. I love it!

The knowledge is tested by exams. This year I had to make the questions myself -and score them too (luckily with help of one or two colleagues). Another time buster. The CATs had to be scored as well.

But it is worth all the pain and effort, isn’t it?

Students are sooo glad they learned all about EBM, CATS, scientific literature and searching…

Well, duh, not really.

Some things I learned in the meantime

  1. Medical students don’t give a da do not care much about searching and information literacy.
  2. Medical students don’t choose that study for nothing. They want to become doctors, not librarians.
  3. At the time we give the courses, the students not really need it. Unlike the interns, they do not need to present a CAT, shortly.
  4. Most of our work is undone by the influence of peers or tutors that learn the students all kind of “tricks” that aren’t.
  5. It is hard to make good exams. If the reasoning isn’t watertight, students will find it. And protest against it.
  6. …. Because even more important than becoming a doctor is their desire to pass the exams
  7. If the e-learning isn’t compulsory, it won’t be done.
  8. You can’t  test information literacy by multiple choice questions. It is “soft” knowledge, more a kind of approach or reasoning. Similarly PICO’s are seldom 100% wrong or right. The value of PICO-workshops lies in the discussions.
  9. The students just started their study. They’re mostly teens. These kids will have a completely other attitude after 4 years (no longer yelling, joking, mailing, Facebook-ing, or at least they are likely to stop after you ask).
  10. Education is something I did by chance. I just do it “in addition to my normal work”, i.e. in the same time.
  11. Even more important, I’m a beginner and have had no specific training. So I have to learn it the hard way.

Let me give some examples.

This year I wanted to update one of my modules. I had to, because practically all interfaces have changed the last two years (Think about PubMed for instance).

I made an appointment with the education department, because they had helped me enormously before.

Firstly I noticed that my name had been replaced by those of 3 people who hadn’t done anything (at least with regard to this particular e-learning course). Perhaps not so relevant here. But the first red flag…

The module was moved to another system. It looked much nicer, but apparently only allowed a few of those 10 types of questions. The drag and drop questions, I was so fond of, were replaced by irritating drop down menus. With the questions I made, it didn’t make sense.

The movies couldn’t be plaid fast forward, back or be stopped.

And the girl who I spoke to, a medical student herself, couldn’t disguise her dislike of the movies. First she didn’t like the call-outs and highlight boxes, she rather liked a voice (me speaking, deleting the laborious call-outs ?!). Then she said the videos were endless and it was nicer when the students could try it themselves (which was in fact the assignment). She ignored my suggestion that Adobe is suitable for virtual online training.

Then someone next to her said: Do you know “Snag-it”, you can make movies with that too!?

Do I know Snag-it? Yes I do. I even bought it for my home computer. But Snag-it is nowhere near Adobe Captivate, at least regarding call-outs and assembly. I almost mentioned Camtasia, which is from the same company as Snag-it, but more suitable for this job.

Then the girl said the movies were only meant to show “where to press the buttons”, which I repeatedly denied: those movies were meant to highlight the value of the various sources. She also suggested that I should do some usability testing, not on my colleagues, but on the students.

Funny how insights can change over times. The one who helped me considered it one of the best tutorials.

While talking to her, it stroke me that the movies were taking very long and I wondered whether each single call-out saying “press this” was functional. Perhaps she was right in a way. Perhaps some movies should be changed into plain screenshots (which I had tried to avoid, because they were so annoying Powerpoint like). If my aim wasn’t that students learned which button to press, why show it all the time?? (perhaps because Adobe shows every mouse click, it is so easy to keep it in..)

It is a long way to develop something that is educative, effective and not boring….

But little by little we can make things better.

Last year one of the coordinators proposed not to take an exam the first year but give an assignment. The students had to search for an original study on a topic in PubMed (2nd semester) and write a summary about it (3rd semester). The PubMed tutorial became compulsory, but the two Q & A sessions (with computers) were voluntary. Half of the students came to those sessions. And the atmosphere was very good. Most students really wanted to find a good study (you could only claim an article once). Some fished whether the answers were worth the full 4 points and what they had to do to get it. The quality of the searches and the general approach were quite good.

In good spirits I will start with updating the other modules. The first should be finished in a few days. That is… if they didn’t move this module to the next semester, as the catalog indicates.

That would be a shame, because then I have to change all the cardiology examples into pulmonology examples.

Gosh!…. No!!

Credits

The title is inspired by the  post “How to become a big e-learning nerd by mistake”.
Thanks to Annemarie Cunningham (@amcunningham on Twitter) for alerting me to it.

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7 responses

13 10 2010
finiteattentionspan

Hey!

Thanks for the shout-out, and thanks too for sharing your experiences with creating e-learning materials. It’s incredibly complicated and time-consuming, isn’t it?

I like that you wrote about the feedback you’ve had (maybe I’ll write another post once I have some!) … I guess the thing to remember is that it’s all useful information (even the stuff that’s hard to hear without growling :o)

One of the things I like about the slide-based format in Captivate is that it’s easy to re-use/repurpose slides/callouts/etc from other presentations. I’m doing this for two reasons: (1) to create a consistent look and feel (2) to save time! I suspect there are all sorts of ways to save time that I just don’t know about, though I bet I’m learning them much better by making mistakes …

Good luck! :)

Chris

17 10 2010
laikaspoetnik

Thanks for your response & your inspirational post.

You’re right: feedback serves a goal. Or as @lukask twittered recently: Failure brings progress! (http://twitter.com/#!/lukask/statuses/27445153759)

Not that the e-learning modules were a complete failure. They were less successful and effective than I expected.

The feedback already had some positive effects.

First, it motivated me to submit a proposal for a grassroot project to make better use of ICT in e-learning material.
If this project doesn’t make it, I will at the very least adapt the Adobe captivate movies or use it more economical (when really needed). The first part of the e-learning module (with a lot of quizzes/questions) will remain largely the same.

I agree that “slide-based format in Captivate is that it’s easy to re-use/repurpose slides/callouts/etc from other…. once you know it…

Personally I don’t like the spoken tutorials very much (which the student who helped me did). Here it is even more difficult to “play forward”.

What is your experience with Camtasia? I only have Snag-it (from the same producer), and contrary to Adobe Captivate, I find it very intuitive. Snag-it is also easy to use in other programs, i.e. upload to Youtube. I didn’t find an easy/cheap way to do that with Captivate.

All the best! Like to hear from your further experiences as well!

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