Physician Assistant Degree Program
Dr. Maureen Gottesman, Faculty of Medicine
WHAT IS THE INNOVATION THAT YOU HAVE INTRODUCED TO YOUR TEACHING PRACTICE?
Our biggest innovation is presenting traditional medical content in an online environment for the Physician Assistant degree program. This involves developing clinical reasoning skills, critical thinking and going beyond the knowledge and recall aspect of learning. The other innovative aspect relates to engaging students who are located across the province to ensure that we have an ongoing connection with the students in a close knit cohort. A model for online problem-based learning has been developed using Blackboard, Skype and Go-to-Meeting, a licenced platform supporting synchronous collaboration.
The sense of community and connection is an important aspect of our program. Our current cohort of 18 students participates in online synchronous and asynchronus components representing 65% of the total program time. The remainder is allocated for face-to-face, clinical practice and other activities.
WHAT RESEARCH INFORMS YOUR WORK IN THIS AREA?
Our overall curriculum model follows an existing model already implemented by the Physician Assistant program at the University of North Dakota. This accredited program provided a basis for design of the UofT program. We have an evaluation and assessment committee in place and as the program continues we anticipate ongoing research on the effectiveness of the innovative aspects of the program. The existing body of research on Problem-based Learning (PBL) informs our curriculum design, but in addressing specific program needs we are taking student engagement to a new level.
PLEASE DESCRIBE THE IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS? WHAT WAS INVOLVED?
Initially the program team needed to become familiar with the Blackboard Learning System. There was a turning point when faculty became comfortable and they moved to a new level beyond understanding the basic functionality. We have found it has been very important to develop common course templates and terminology. Because of the short timelines to implementation we could not plan everything in advance. As a result we have in part developed the program as we go along, taking student feedback into account as we make improvements and adjustments.
WERE THERE ANY OBSTACLES THAT NEEDED TO BE OVERCOME?
One of the important aspects has been maintaining currency in Blackboard system tools as new upgrades have been implemented centrally. We have also experienced some challenges with the limitation of the discussion board for asynchronous discussion. Given the nature and sensitivity of subject matter in a program for direct health care providers we have needed to have high quality synchronous tools.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO THE LEARNERS IN THIS PROGRAM?
One of the main benefits is that the scheduling is flexible for students. Our system usage tracking shows they are online at various times and not necessarily between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm. This allows students to stay in their in their home communities.
WERE THERE ANY SURPRISES OR UNEXPECTED OUTCOMES?
We were surprised at how connected the students are to one another. They talk to each other regularly and have formed a strong community. We have also found opportunities to be creative in ways that engage learners and as a result they become more excited than they would when in a lecture. This is evident in feedback from learners.,
DO YOU HAVE ANY PLANS FOR THIS PROJECT IN THE FUTURE?
Ongoing work will focus on improving the courses that we have developed date. We are using instructional design planning software to map out the curriculum and outcomes and will be continually checking against the profile against the expectations of the accreditation body.