Learning and Teaching

Interview with Drs Anna Ryan and Michael Pianta.

Senior Lecturers Anna and Michael talk about new innovations in teaching and preparing our students to become future leaders

Hear more about learning and teaching in the Faculty in this short video.

It may sound counter-intuitive to suggest that computer technology and data could improve classroom teaching, but this is the hope of Medical School researcher and teacher Anna Ryan, who has been delving into the benefits of giving students more detailed feedback about their test results.

Traditionally, when medical students sit a test they look at their mark – perhaps feel relief if they have passed – and then move on. But if they could receive detailed information about what they have not understood, then they would have a chance of filling in a knowledge gap. The vision is to build a database of all test results across the Faculty to help teachers and students identify areas of strength and weakness.  What could be taught better? What areas of study need more work? Building the database will require significant investment, but Ryan is excited about the potential benefits – for students, and for their patients down the track. “Uncovering hidden misconceptions in knowledge could have important implications for patient care,” says Ryan.

We try to produce leaders, and a quality of leadership is having the courage to challenge the status quo.

Michael Pianta, a director of teaching and learning in the Melbourne School of Health Sciences, is also interested in how online data can improve professional and teaching practice. With senior lecturer Laura Downie, he has developed CrowdCARE, an open access database that allows practitioners to rate the quality of the evidence-based research they use in their practice. “It’s a tool that allows clinicians to identify the most important sources of evidence,” he says. Students are also taught “how to do a critical appraisal” of research, adds Pianta, and have access to the database too. The model allows clinicians to share their experience and can be used by other disciplines. “Any practitioner can do it,” he says.

Both Ryan and Pianta believe students across the Faculty need to be given the skills not only to provide quality healthcare – but to change poor practices in the real world once they have graduated. “We try to produce leaders,” says Pianta, and a quality of leadership is having the courage to challenge the status quo.

Medical students organise their own conference each year – an example of practical leadership that has been taken up by optometry and physiotherapy students. Students have even developed their own experiential learning sessions within the student conference. Game of Hospitals (a play on Game of Thrones) is a student-developed conference session designed to make learning about the healthcare system fun and engaging.

Ryan believes a growth area in teaching will be inter-professional education. Medicine is becoming more team-based, she explains. Knowing how to work with other health care providers is highly valued because it improves patient care.

Pianta says the rise of the e-portfolio, which has been adopted in nursing, speech pathology and optometry, is a good preparation for the workforce and fosters a more balanced approach to study. In optometry, e-portfolios are not graded (students either pass or fail), changing the focus from marks to a reflection on learning throughout the year.

He is pleased about the strategic plan’s emphasis on the importance of teaching, and says the process of consultation throughout the Faculty has been positive. Ryan agrees: research and teaching complement each other, she says. Both have the potential to enrich the other.