Faculty Pursue Big Ideas in Education

Although last week was spring break for our PharmD students, the faculty were still hard at work! Seventeen faculty and graduate students from both campuses gathered for the afternoon to share in dialogue about advancing education through the use of some promising new educational approaches. This first of its kind event was structured around creating conversation around the next steps of our curricular evolution, educational research, and strategic plan.

Dr. Kristin Janke started the afternoon by explaining that the idea for this session came out of conversation with faculty members.  Many of us are engaged in similar and related work, but we often don’t have the formal venue to share ideas and thoughts with each other in a meaningful way. This afternoon would be a place to share current research and start generating conversation for future scholarly work.

Dr. Claire Kolar was the first to share her work on threshold concepts and the patient care process. From last week’s MinneSOTL post, Dr. Kolar describes, “[t]hreshold concepts are the concepts, or big ideas, a learner must master to transform his or her understanding of the discipline.” These threshold concepts are not only important for individual student progress, but they also have the potential to shape the way we approach curriculum and curriculum design. Once we’ve identified the threshold concepts, we can make these the “jewels of the curriculum” defining and highlighting these powerful, transformative points. Also, students aren’t going to all cross the thresholds at the same time. The curriculum should be recursive and excursive – we may need to think outside the box of a linear approach to learning.

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Dr. Claire Kolar explaining threshold concepts.

Dr. Gardner Lepp continued the afternoon with transformative learning, which involves a learner changing their frame of reference and evolving the way they view themselves and the world around them. This learning typically occurs through a ‘disorienting dilemma’ — an event or piece of information that doesn’t mesh with your existing thoughts or frames of reference. From there the learner undergoes critical  reflection and engages in dialogue with others, often resulting in revised assumptions and a new outlook. This type of learning recognizes and builds upon past life experiences. Encouraging students to create these new frames of reference may be essential in helping them frame their identity as a professional and as a pharmacist.

Finally, Dr. Amy Pittenger closed out the afternoon sharing her work on Entrustable Professional Activities where the UMN-COP is one of the early adopters. EPAs are used as an objective framework for assessing students’ progress through the curriculum.  They are based off of a preceptor’s level of trust for a student completing observable pharmacy functions (e.g. interview a patient) either under supervision or independently.  AACP has identified a set of Core Entrustable Professional Activities for New Pharmacy Graduates. There is strong alignment between the patient care threshold concepts and EPAs; it may be helpful to explore this interface further. It may be that threshold concepts help to define the transformation students undertake in becoming practitioners; EPAs help assess their progress in doing so.

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Participants discussing Entrusbable Professional Activities presented by Dr. Amy Pittenger (standing left). 

One of the big themes that came out of these conversations is that learning can be messy and that it’s not always going to look like the same journey for every student. Threshold concepts, transformative learning, and EPAs can contribute to  identity – how students “think, feel and act” as pharmacists at graduation. These conversations reinforced the need for continued collaboration across the curriculum between faculty members from all areas and interests.

As part of our afternoon, participants were reflecting and writing notes to some thought provoking questions;  so we will ask you, our reader, some of the same questions: What are some possible directions for working together and influencing the curriculum? What should we explore?

Continue to follow along and join us as we continue some of these conversations at our weekly SOTL Journal Club and on this blog!