Implementing Consistent Technology Use Across a Regional Program
School of Medicine
University of Washington
The Challenges of a Regional Educational Program
When Michael Campion, Director of Academic & Learning Technologies for the UW School of Medicine (SOM), was hired in 2008 to oversee the use of technologies in the medical student curriculum, the two buzz words for the task in front of him were consistency and commonality. Creating this consistency would be a considerable challenge, given the nature of the first and second year course framework at the SOM. The UW SOM is the hub for the WWAMI program, a regional educational program that stretches across a substantial distance, encompassing the states of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. In the first year, students are based in a university in one of the five states. All students take the same courses, but the courses are taught locally by faculty at each of the universities. In the second year, students are based in Seattle and take all their courses together. The second-year curriculum is extensive with over 90 credits to complete in just one year.
Campion began with a review of all educational technologies at the School of Medicine. He found that each faculty member was managing his/her own course Web site, usually with the help of a staff member in their department. For faculty, the process was somewhat mysterious and prohibitive in that they had to send their content to another person, who would then create the site. From the student perspective, each course Web site had a different interface and organized course materials differently, which meant they had to learn how to navigate multiple course Web sites and learn how to use a variety of online tools each quarter.
--Nancy Maizels, Professor of Immunology
Providing Feedback and Building a Relationship
Another driving force was the onsite support provided by Learning & Scholarly Technologies (LST). Campion stated, “The fact that the tools are here and local and continually developed, and that we weren’t just buying a product but entering into a relationship with LST was very important.” The provision of support locally means that faculty can get in-person help when carrying out tasks such as building a course Web site, uploading documents, or creating an online quiz. Finally, knowing that the School of Medicine would have some input into future development of the tools was a key factor. This collaborative relationship has already been put into action. Having received feedback from faculty and students that the lack of a calendar function in CommonView was an issue, Campion talked to the staff at LST about integrating the ability to view Google Calendar within a CommonView workspace. Within a couple of months, this functionality was developed and released, in time for the beginning of Autumn quarter classes.
Today, the SOM is using CommonView and GradeBook for all of the first and second year courses in Seattle, and for all courses at the first year WWAMI site in Spokane. Campion’s team is in the process of creating GoPost discussion boards for all courses with the intention of letting faculty decide how or if they want to use them. A number of courses are also using WebQ quizzes and Collect It dropboxes. The plan for next year is to implement the Catalyst Web Tools in each of the five other WWAMI sites.
Benefits to Students and Faculty
In terms of benefits from the student perspective, having a single place online to go to for all their course content has come as a refreshing change. Also, having some consistency in how course materials and content is organized and how the Catalyst Web Tools function from one course to the next means that students no longer have to take time out of their busy schedules to re-learn tool or interface functionality over and over again.
For faculty, Campion highlighted empowerment as the biggest benefit. Faculty appreciate having a structure that they can put their course content into, but they also appreciate having the freedom to work within that structure to suit their own teaching preferences and needs. As Peter Tarczy-Hornoch, Head and Professor of Biomedical & Health Informatics stated, “It’s like going from a manual transmission to an automatic transmission - though you may lose some degree of low level detail control over your Web pages, the trade off is that for the majority of non-technical faculty and staff the new tools enable them to do some very powerful things much more easily with tight integration across the Catalyst Tools.”