Losing the ‘Sage on the Stage’ – Is it Time?


Photo from the Washington Post, July 29, 2017

Today’s article by Lenny Bernstein in the Washington Post describes the University of Vermont Medical School moving almost totally away from lectures in its curriculum. In fact, it is following the trend in medical schools started by Case Western University 13 years ago.

Medical School without the ‘Sage on the Stage’ – Washington Post
The key elements may be blended online/face-to-face learning, interactive discussions, etc., but the evidence shows, the lectures are not the most effective way to foster learning. Active learning needs to be a bigger part of what we do in veterinary medicine soon. Let’s keep an eye on the University of Vermont, discussed in this article, Harvard, Stanford and Case Western medical schools. We should be actively discussing how to overcome the impediments, for the sake of our students, and perhaps our profession. It is about creating student-centric collaborative learning opportunities for students. The reason that blended learning has gained headway is because the online platform allows customization of the student learning experience, adaptation to student needs, and embedding of formative assessment (Piehler, 2016).The expectation should be achievement of a certain level of competency,  and, ideally, would allow for differing rates of completion. 

Such  experiential learning has been shown to drive deep-seated long-lasting learning. In a meta-analysis of 45 educational research studies showed a 35% improved learning outcome in blended learning environments (p<0.001) when compared to purely face-to-face instruction. Purely online instruction was not different than purely face-to-face instruction (Means et al, 2013).
Research supports the approach. As outlined in the article, another team of researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the analysis of 225 studies comparing active learning vs. lectures. Active learning improved test scores about 6 percent, but what was more impressive was it reduced the tendency of a student to fail by 33% (Freeman et al., 2014). Isn’t part of our job as teachers to keep curiosity levels high, and to help students achieve a certain level of achievement?

It is coming to a veterinary school near you very soon….but who will be the first?  Perhaps the most feasible approach is to create blocks of instruction that employ blended learning, and allow the most interested faculty to demonstrate to their colleagues and students that the initial transitional effort is worth it, even if it just increases the level of student engagement (i.e. curiosity and student-centered learning). Given academic promotion systems at most Research I universities, each institution may need to rethink how it defines successful teaching. Is it only by high student evaluation scores, or is it by the demonstration of longer term learning, through the sometimes uncomfortable processes (for both “sages” and students) of allowing students to drive their own learning through interactive case scenarios or collaborative problem-solving? Isn’t that what they’ll need to do as graduates anyways?

Freeman S, Eddy SL, McDonough M, Smith MK,  Okoroafora N, Jordt H, Wenderotha MP (2014).  Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proc Nat Acad Sci 111(23):8410–8415. URL: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/23/8410.full; accessed July 29, 2017.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R., and Baki, M. (2013). The effectiveness of online and blended learning: A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Teachers College Record, 115 (030303): 1-47.

Piehler C (2016) Three ways blended learning improves student outcomes. The Learning Counsel, URL: http://thelearningcounsel.com/article/3-ways-blended-learning-improves-student-outcomes. Accessed July 23, 2017. 

Adoption of Innovative (and Effective) Instructional Technology is limited by “The Fear of Looking Stupid”


This article in Times Higher Education reports on a study by anthropologist  Lauren Herckis of Carnegie Mellon University that concludes that many faculty, despite evidence of positive learning outcomes, avoid innovative instructional technology because of “The Fear of Looking Stupid.”

Times Higher Education article

As most academics are researchers and evidence is held as important, it is disturbing that the fear of a downward bump in one’s student evaluation scores seems to give faculty pause, even when improved learning outcomes are potentially possible.  So, my question is two-fold:  1) How do we raise the academic value for faculty who seek and achieve improved learning outcomes, and over what timeframe (1 week, 1 month, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years?) and 2) How do we balance the instructor’s student evaluation scores by putting them into this perspective?

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”


Thoughts of a Learning Entrepreneur


Elliott Masie is a learning entrepreneur.

He has run his “Learning XXXX” programs for over 25 years, usually in Orlando, FL. Here are the plans for the latest one:

Learning 2017

David Tollon and I had the pleasure of attending in 2014 and 2015. It was the first time I ever saw educators treated like rock stars.  I think he also single-handedly legitimized the process of finding, and reviewing (yes, “vetting”), and collecting existing educational materials on the Internet, calling it “curating.”  His meetings are known for their myriad of slogan buttons and one I proudly collected was one claiming that I was a “CURATOR”.   THOSE highlighting Masie’s highly produced programs we attended included Salman Khan of KhanAcademy , Logan Smalley of TED Ed and co-founder of Apple Computer, Steve Wozniak, as well as popular entertainers who discuss the role of continual learning in their professions.

As Elliott Masie is a thought leader in education, training, and often muses over the potential educational role of evermore pervasive digital technology, I thought it would be useful to pass along his July 5 newsletter projections as a direct quote (italics added):

* Learners as Designers: Our learners are designing and producing more and more of their own learning pathways.

* Open Content Expands Radically: Content from “open” sources like TED, YouTube are growing radically.

* Duration of Learning Activities Shrink: Classes, webinars, video and even coaching gets smaller and concise..

* Learning Systems Stretch Beyond LMS: Talent, learning apps and other systems push LMS down under.

* Machine Learning May Evolve Design: Can AI and machine learning shift the creation of learning activities.

* Shoulder to Shoulder Learning Comes Back: OJT (On-Job Learning) and OJL (On-Job Training) are re-emerging with workplace job aids.

* Video Chat Extends Social Collaboration: Click and connect with colleagues anywhere.

* User Experience Spins the Process: Creating learning with user design elements at the core.

* Curation Empowers the Learner & Organization: Content and context from anywhere for everyone.

* Curiosity, Mobile Devices and Search Engines for Learning Everywhere! YES!

Veterinary medical educators should be paying attention to these trends if we are to keep up and to continue to motivate our students. Help move the needle!