College Station, Texas, United States
Nowadays, numerous subjects can be taught via e-learning tools such as online content and materials, video assignments and voice recordings, to name a few. There are many advantages to online learning, one of which is that students can always go back to the content and put it into practice at their own time and pace. In the case of veterinary medicine, which requires very precise skills that are dependent on practical application, e-learning might not be used as frequently as in other fields, or can it?
The Center for Educational Technologies (CET) at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences works with faculty to develop a means of integrating e-learning into their curriculum. Tim Ponderand and Dr. Jordan Tayce are both instructional designers at CET, and together with their team, they have designed and created e-learning courses that faculty members can use to enhance their teaching methodology.
Ponderand and Dr. Tayce began by determining which courses could benefit from blended learning. Each course is designed following the Backwards Design model, first starting with course goals, followed by determining what the students need to know or be able to do by the end of the course. The team then works to determine which technologies might adequately augment their learning. As Dr. Tayce explains, “It is really important to develop projects that use technology with a purpose in mind, not just for the sake of using technology.”
Among the most popular e-learning courses they have created is a course on core surgical skills. When one thinks of surgery, one typically thinks about fine movements and tactile sensations, which are difficult to present through an e-learning environment. As a result, CET designed this course using a blended learning strategy. Students first learn basic theory, such as how to hold a scalpel blade, on their own time. Then the students can go to a face-to-face class and apply what they learned in a hands-on laboratory environment. Ponderand and Tayce agree this approach is successful due to the blended component, where a faculty member can advise the students on their technique and correct them as needed.
Interestingly, 10 other veterinary schools around the United States are now using this course, demonstrating its effectiveness. CET is able to host over 20 courses and 75 instructional videos using Blackboard Open LMS. Both instructional designers agree that Blackboard Open LMS provides flexibility that adapts to any curriculum, along with many useful plugins to extend functionality which faculty can modify and customize to fit their needs.
In fact, using a learning management system has had a great impact on teaching and learning at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. CET designed a teaching approach they refer to as Collaborative Case Based teaching, which makes the classroom more student-centered. In this method, the professor divides the class into groups and begins walking the class through a case study; for example, a dog comes into the clinic presenting with a cough. Each group is provided questions as the case unfolds and submit their answers via Blackboard Open LMS. The professor is then able to see class answers in real time and can alter his/her lecture accordingly. If all of the groups get a correct answer, then the professor can move on to the next subject. However, if only a handful of the groups answer correctly, the professor knows to spend more time discussing the topic at hand. The team at the CET has worked with faculty to develop over 45 case studies to use in the curriculum.
Ponderand and Dr. Tayce hope to keep advancing the work at the Center for Educational Technologies and to help every faculty member to dig deeper into what e-learning is, and how they can benefit from it. According to Ponderand, the blend between e-learning and face-to-face classes is vital, as their primary goal is to ensure that students are getting the best education in the best possible way.
*Timothy Ponder, instructional technologist and Dr. Jordan Tayce, instructional designer at the College of Veterinary Medicine (TAMU).
*Photos by: AFP Julia Robinson