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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

The Transition of an Undergraduate Medical Course from Didactic to a Blended E-Learning Model

two female medical students

Presentor: Lindsay Davidson, Queen’s University-Kingston

As with most Medical Education courses taught to first year med students, the musculoskeletal course at Queen’s University used to be taught using the systems based approach over the course of 19 sessions each term by upwards of 27 instructors from multiple departments. During these sessions the students sat passively in a lecture hall as the instructors didactically presented their materials. One of the issues that arose with this approach was that the students felt that if the lecture content was not a bullet point on a slide, then they didn’t need to know the information. The failure of the students to cull some of the pertinent information from the course caused the school to rethink there approach to delivering the materials and call for a redesign of the course. Lindsay Davidson, Course Director and Pediatric Orthopedic specialist, accepted the redesign challenge.

For the first attempt at redesigning the course Dr. Davidson compiled the slides of all 27 instructors and made them into PowerPoints which were then printed out as handouts and placed into a course pack. These materials were eventually migrated to WebCT which essentially created a “notes delivery system.” The early student surveys noted that they didn’t like the course notes, primarily because faculty changed their slides but didn’t update the notes. The school also had some reservations about this approach because the intervention still did not address the issue of student passivity.

For the next redesign cycle Dr. Davidson deconstructed material into four thematic units and implemented several active learning techniques. The WebCT course shell was revised to include all required readings, self-study activities, strategically placed PowerPoints, case histories, and quizzes. The class meetings moved away from lectures, utilized group activities and allotted more time for individual study. Survey results for this version of the course were much more positive — students liked the web-activities and materials but did not like the navigation restrictions of the course delivery system.

In an effort to address the navigation restriction and to allow students to refer back to the modules in their 4th year clinical, the course materials were removed from WebCT and placed on a publicly accessible website ( The website design chunked the data into segments of 20 pages or less and provides reinforcement exercises for every 3 – 4 pages of content. This current design of the course brought with it many positive outcomes. The student’s felt that less is more when it came to resources, and that there was a nice balance between the difficulty of the online materials and what they were expected to know in class and for exams. They also noted that they derived a great deal of benefit from the in-class group activities.

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This entry was posted on September 6, 2006 by in MERLOT 2006.

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