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Creating a Foundation for Success

Health sciences education is a results-driven industry. As institutions, we obsess over results in key areas that determine how those outside of our institution evaluate us: licensure exam passage rates, student enrollment and retention, and accreditation status. While these results matter, we can become so intensely focused on them that we ignore the processes that need to be in place in order for us to find deeper, ongoing success.

There are no shortcuts when pursuing programmatic success.

Whether we’re starting from square one or implementing changes to improve licensure exam scores, a solid game plan needs to be established. Equally as important is the execution of that plan. In higher education, execution starts with having faculty, staff and leadership all looking forward in a common direction to accomplish the goal. This common direction must be built on a strong foundation of clear organization and communication. Otherwise, our goals have little chance of being met - and all our stakeholders pay the price. 

Before even creating a plan of action, we must define which outcomes will represent success. And we’re not talking about the program’s goals that we have written down and filed away. Nor are we talking about just clearing the threshold for success set forth by our accrediting bodies. Rather, we need to focus on the measurable goals we want to achieve for the benefit of our students and our overall program.

Of course, these desired outcomes should begin with our definition of student success. Student success centers on preparing students for the next phases of their academic and/or professional careers. In the health sciences, this really comes down to two primary measures: licensure exams, and the student’s future career in healthcare. In this regard, the simpler, more measurable goal related to students remains licensure exam pass rates. Additionally, having students who are well-prepared for their clinical experiences makes them a positive asset for the location hosting them, which is also a measurable goal worth tracking. Gaining and maintaining the best possible clinical rotation sites for our students will only improve their learning and preparedness for professional practice.

Here’s the real beauty of student success - it permeates the rest of our program.

Student success quickly translates to faculty success. For all of the courses created, teaching methods implemented, assessments given, feedback provided, and remediation sessions delivered, the payoff are those measurable areas of student success. This obviously reflects well on the faculty and their efforts, which in turn points to curricular success. Faculty can be effective instructors, but impactful instruction depends on the curriculum being designed in a way that the appropriate content is covered at the relevant point in the student experience. Finally, a successful curriculum is indicative of an administration that has created the optimal teaching and learning environment for their faculty and students. This will, of course, lead to the recruitment of top students and instructors to continue to advance the profile and overall success of the program.

Now that the targets for success have been established, it’s time to start planning. This is the portion of the process that so many overlook because we are already focused on the end goal.

The Significance of Organization

The first step is getting organized. While this seems easy, many do not put sufficient time and energy into the vital step of actually developing an organized process. Of course, in health sciences programs, there are so many moving parts and players within any process (raise your hand if you’re on more than 3 large committees) that, even when an organized process is initially established, it can still take a chaotic turn at any time.

There is no process in health sciences education that requires sound organization more than curriculum mapping.

Let’s be honest, there are likely too many cooks in the kitchen to ensure this runs smoothly without the occasional misstep. And missteps are a normal part of the process; everyone has to make changes as the curricula evolves. The key is being able to proactively identify when these changes need to be made. That’s the hard part. But what if the same program that serves as your learning management system is also a leading curriculum mapping tool? 

“Work smart, not hard” is a common mantra for many people, but why not work smart and hard? Curriculum mapping tools that promote sound pedagogical planning for your program allow us to work smart, while the system itself does the hard work. Leo, powered by DaVinci Education, will not only map your curriculum but it will also increase the effectiveness of your courses. That’s because Leo provides a dynamic, organized curriculum mapping system that allows users to quickly identify the unplanned redundancies and content gaps that are bound to happen within all programs. As things change in your curriculum, so too can your mapping - without an increased time investment from your faculty and staff. Not to mention, this is of ultimate value to your students - we can remove the risk of having even one student cohort go through a course or semester without learning the content they need to succeed.

Missing content and unplanned redundancies will happen when we do not implement the necessary tools. Not long ago, I sat in a faculty meeting for a team-taught course, where we were planning its third iteration. One of our subject matter experts spoke up, asking where a very common disease (and board relevant topic) was addressed in the course. We quickly realized that it was not addressed in the course in any capacity. For two years, students had matriculated through this course without receiving vital information - something that could have negatively impacted their licensure exam performance and even worse, their treatment of a patient. Unfortunately, at the time we did not have Leo to keep us organized.

This seems like it should have been an easy teaching point to catch, but it took us three years to actually catch it. Even the larger concepts can slip through the cracks. It was moments such as this meeting that spurred our adoption of Leo. Curriculum mapping for accreditation is vital, but we also could not risk a future disservice to our students like this again, not even for one semester or course. With Leo in place to keep our curriculum organized, we had the peace of mind of knowing that we weren’t missing any content because Leo’s gap analysis reports quickly showed us what needed to be corrected.

We all know identifying gaps in our curriculum is key in curriculum mapping, but let’s not forget about those unplanned redundancies, too. I was recently visiting a medical school classroom as a faculty member was setting up for their upcoming lecture. Students were filtering into the classroom as the overhead projector was warming up, slowly starting to reveal the title slide of the upcoming presentation. The moment the slide became visible, a student in the front of the classroom politely informed the professor that students had already had a lecture on this very topic. Caught off guard, the professor began to flip through their slides and ask the students if the content they were presenting was in fact redundant. At this point, students in the back of the large lecture hall began to slip out of the room while the students at the front confirmed they had already been lectured on that exact content. This was one of those unplanned redundancies that we could not position ourselves to identify, even with our robust academic support staff. As with the reports that quickly identified gaps in our curriculum, we were able to depend on the mapping and reports in Leo to catch these types of issues as well. Leo takes all the moving parts of a health sciences curriculum and shows you how they relate to each other - an extremely difficult and time-consuming task if done manually. But with Leo, the hard work happens in the system itself.

Communication is Critical

Communication is the other foundational pillar on which a successful institution is built. As noted in the paragraphs above, communication can be quite challenging. This is especially true in health sciences where there are so many individuals involved in the curricular creation, implementation, and maintenance processes. While communication is of the utmost importance, it is very rare to find an educational program that truly believes they communicate in a way that is an actual asset to the curriculum. This lack of effective communication is why schools and other organizations consistently invest their time and money in communication software. Of course, those tools are still reliant on the users to play their part in communicating with their peers. Successful programs create a curricular communication plan for faculty, staff, students, and administrators that look beyond the individuals and see what processes can be put into place to standardize communication. This is especially necessary with the increase of teaching topics as part of integrated courses instead of independently.

AAMC survey results on medical school course structure

Leo is the communication driver needed to lead institutional and student success. Through the calendar-focused interface, all necessary information on each event is available to each user who needs it. And yes, this certainly includes students. Each class session has its own event time on the calendar, and with the click of a button students can access all necessary resources, location, dress code, pre-class assignments...you see where this is going. Any information needed for an event can be added or edited in a customized way to make sure no details are missed. Automatic notifications to students and faculty when changes occur makes communication that much easier, because Leo takes care of it for you. This helps eliminate scheduling mistakes and meeting location issues. Most importantly - it ensures students have all the information needed to be prepared for class.

Not to mention, information in team taught courses and integrated curricula is more easily communicated between faculty. We can also be mindful of student workload over a given period of time because all the information is right there for us to view. Additionally, this empowers faculty to be in the know on content that is being taught before and after their class sessions. Without any additional communication needed, Leo informs faculty in advance of their time with students so there isn’t another situation where lectures are duplicated, which we all know is a major frustration for faculty and students alike. Through the improved communication provided by Leo’s calendar-driven interface, all involved in the curriculum - administrators, students, staff and faculty - can be on the same page and appropriately prepared for each day. Now, this other key pillar for success is dependably in place.

Strong, clear, and consistent communication is essential to drive a healthy program and curriculum.

Often lost in this process is the need for students to be able to communicate with faculty and even with the curriculum itself. As we know, health sciences curricula move fast and much is expected of our students in this high-stakes environment. Therefore, students have to be mindful of how they create their study plans. Through Leo, students can quickly search for content without needing to remember the exact class session in which it was taught. This ability to use Leo to quickly locate necessary content streamlines student study time while also improving their ability to self-remediate content areas in which they struggle. No more searching for PowerPoints or lecture capture videos, no more emailing faculty and hoping for a quick response, no more digging through the syllabus or course schedule looking for topics. One quick search of curricular content is all it takes for students to benefit from the organization established through Leo’s curriculum mapping and calendar structure. When faculty and staff use Leo to proactively map the curriculum, it can directly affect student performance by allowing them to save one of their most valuable commodities - time. Therefore, Leo allows us to put our curricular mapping into action in a way that has a direct and tangible influence on student outcomes.

Building for Success

When these foundational curricular elements are in place, the path to success for current and future students is much more attainable. Structuring a well-organized and clearly-communicated curriculum can be a heavy lift, but that’s where Leo can help shoulder the burden. In addition to having a strong foundation in place, faculty have now established the flexibility to appropriately adjust their teaching as needed to continuously meet student needs. 

The power of the curriculum mapping and calendar in Leo stretches far beyond those two functions to deeply influence how we teach, what we teach, when we teach it, and how we provide information to students. Curriculum mapping with Leo is more than just preparation for accreditation preparation; it is a tangible asset in the creation and maintenance of an effective curriculum. Programs are able to identify curricular issues in real time, which means helping students immediately instead of having to wait to make changes until after the semester ends. As noted, student success for each cohort is the most important measure of success in health sciences programs. Through a partnership with Leo, institutions are laying that critical foundation to ensure that their healthcare education programs will be successful in the long term.

Association of American Medical Colleges. Content Documentation as Independent Course or Part of an Integrated Course. AAMC Curriculum Inventory, 2017-2018. https://www.aamc.org/data-reports/curriculum-reports/interactive-data/content-documentation-independent-course-or-part-integrated-course. Accessed 9/30/2019.