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Welcome to the Academic Affairs “News and Views” Blog!

The goal of this monthly newsletter and blog combination is to update the Brody community with ideas and changes related to medical education (undergraduate, graduate and continuing ed) at Brody and nationally. For the next several months, I will be conversing about those items that relate to our work on preparing for our accreditation site visit in October. Beyond that, topics will be based on issues of topical interest in medical education, by virtue of a broader national dialogue, or by request from students, staff, and faculty in our own Brody community. From time to time, we will have guest columnists – let me know if you are interested in writing about an educational topic for News and Views. I welcome your feedback and ideas – just ping me at

This month’s blog is on Active Learning. Simply defining “active learning” can be challenging, and has led to some interesting conversations around the table at curriculum committee meetings. Of course, all learning is, in a sense, active – it is impossible to truly learn something passively. While that is true, it doesn’t get us very far toward understanding active learning and how it can be applied in medical education. Wikipedia says that active learning is an umbrella term that refers to several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning on learners. Additional definitions focus on requiring students to regularly assess their own degree of understanding and skill at handling concepts or problems in a particular discipline; the attainment of knowledge by participating or contributing; the process of keeping students mentally, and often physically, active in their learning through activities that involve them in gathering information, thinking, and problem solving. Active learning stands in contrast to “standard” modes of instruction, in which teachers do most of the talking and students are simply listening.

The LCME Standard that speaks to the importance of Active Learning is ED-5-A: A medical education program must include instructional opportunities for active learning and independent study to foster the skills necessary for lifelong learning. In their last site visit with us, the LCME found that: The curriculum density in the basic science years limits students’ opportunities to become involved in independent student learning. The pedagogy in Year 2 is heavily weighted to a lecture format, resulting in limited opportunities for active learning.” Beyond regulatory requirements for accreditation, why is this an important finding for us to recognize?

First and foremost, we need to prepare our students to thrive in a rapidly changing world of continuous addition of new knowledge. As medicine has become more complex, the need for our graduates to learn how to identify their own learning needs, locate evidence-based information sources for answers, and apply those answers to a clinical situation or problem is imperative. Secondly, the effectiveness of employment of student-centered, active learning pedagogy is well supported by evidence, with relevant data emerging from a number of different disciplines.

Yet, just knowing that active and engaged learning is better does not make it an automatic or easy thing for faculty to do if they have come along in a lecture-based world in higher education. So, how can we at Brody try to move toward a more learner-driven, active learning curriculum? A few examples are listed here:

  1. Building on the work that Drs. Adams and Shaw have done in the M2 Intro to Medicine course with case-based teaching and TBL, this year we added Problem-Based Learning to the M1 and M2 curriculum. PBL is a student-centered approach that uses carefully constructed and undifferentiated clinical problems as a context for students to define their own learning needs, conduct self-directed inquiry, integrate theory and practice, and apply knowledge and skills to develop a solution to a defined problem. It is the purist form of active learning, since students face a completely undifferentiated problem and
  2. In addition, Dr. Christie introduced Flipped Classrooms in the Pathology Course. Both PBL and Flipped Classroom preparation is time intensive and requires a very different set of faculty skills.
  3. More courses are adding Simulation to their teaching repetoire: Physiology has done this, as has Pharmacology. Students tried it out in the Doctoring Course last year, with good feedback.

So, what can you do as a faculty member who typically provides lectures if you want to increase the engagement of our students in their own learning? A page full of links to quick and simple ideas that don’t require a complete revamping of the ways you have grown comfortable teaching can be found at

A few examples from this site include:

One Minute Paper. Students write down their answer to an open ended question then hand it in, so you can check the level of concept formation in the class

Muddiest Point. Students write down what they had trouble understanding and hand it in at end of class

Active Review. Teacher poses question and groups of students work on flip chart answer which is then posted so entire group can see.

And, if you want to really get more involved in active learning and work with faculty who have already done this, try out Problem-Based Learning for the 2013-2014 academic year. Just get in touch with Rob Carroll at He’ll get you set up for training in August and co-facilitating a group with another faculty member.

Now, Let’s Blog…

What ideas do you have about releasing the energy of students to be more active in their own learning? What have you read or heard about, or even tried, in your own classroom teaching that you would be willing to share with others? Keep the conversation going by adding your own ideas to this blog.