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22st Annual OLC International Conference
November 16-18, 2016 | Orlando, Florida | Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin Resort

OLC Innovate 2016 - Innovations in Blended and Online Learning
April 20-22, 2016 | New Orleans, LA | Sheraton New Orleans Hotel

Blending to Connect the Classroom, Clinician, and Community At Large in Health Professions Education

Paige McDonald (The George Washington University, USA)
Karen Schlumpf (George Washington University, USA)
Additional Authors
Howard Straker (George Washington University, USA)
Debra Herrmann (George Washington University, USA)
Jacqueline Barnett (George Washington University, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 9:15am
Technology and Emerging Learning Environments
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Blended Program/Degree
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Information Session
Southern Hemisphere V
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Concurrent Session 5
Virtual Session

Session participants review how blended learning connects the classroom and clinic to create communities of learning in the Physician Assistant Program at George Washington University

Extended Abstract

The demand to educate increasing numbers of healthcare practitioners combined with the need to equip future clinicians with the knowledge and skills required to "hit the ground running" when entering the work force (Costello et al., 2014, p. 15) requires adoption of innovative learning models in Health Professions education. These models must be able to negotiate resource and time constraints while providing authentic learning experiences which develop skills in technology, higher order thinking, and collaborative problem-solving to prepare graduates for the demands of future practice.

This session reviews how the Physician Assistant Program (PA) at George Washington University (GW) is adopting a blended course model to connect the classroom, clinic and community at large (C4Tech) to facilitate higher levels of learning and negotiate challenges regarding time and space.

PA education must incorporate innovative pedagogical methods that prepare students to engage in knowledge generation to solve complex patient problems. The knowledge generation process must consider social determinants of health and other factors to reduce disparities and to improve public health and health outcomes. Failing to adopt innovative models of education aligned with the needs of future practice will prevent PAs from fully participating in collaborative problem-solving as members of healthcare teams working to improve patient care.

Skill in collaborative problem-solving can be acquired by participating in communities of inquiry (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2003) which facilitate higher level of learning through online collaboration with more knowledgeable peers or instructors. In these communities, students and faculty can safely negotiate the meaning of controversial issues in relation to future practice, such as health disparities, leading to reflection, critical thinking, and the generation of new knowledge. PAs and other health professionals will need to negotiate the social environments in which they work to critically evaluate patient interventions aimed to improve health outcomes. Promoting communities of inquiry in PA education through the blending of online technologies and traditional face-to-face class sessions will provide students with additional opportunities to experience the negotiation and critical thinking vital to future practice.

Online collaborative inquiry can also facilitate active learning (Kolb, 1984) when discussion and collaboration builds on: (1) authentic, concrete experiences that allow reflection upon the experiences from different perspectives; (2) opportunity to interpret the experience in relation to concepts presented in a course/program; and (3) active experimentation with novel conceptualizations in new and differing situations (Kolb, 1984). The current model of PA education separates the clinical and didactic years, which inhibits students' ability to draw upon the authentic environment of the clinic in the generation of new knowledge and in the application of this knowledge in differing situations, particularly students with no clinical experience. Collaborating with practicing clinicians to address first-hand problems encountered in clinical practice related to social determinants of health during the didactic year would better prepare them to deliver care which improves patient outcomes during the clinical training year and in future practice as licensed PAs.

In this presentation, we review our model for connecting the classroom to the clinic in order to create online communities of inquiry in an introductory Physician Assistant course: Health, Justice and Society (HSJ). HJS is a two course sequence offered in the fall and spring semesters of the PA program that introduces students to social determinants of health. The model we will discuss builds on research conducted on previous attempts at "blending" the course. The integration of technology in the first semester of the course has led to higher levels of student learning (McDonald, Straker, Schlumpf & Plack, 2014). However, some students consider topics presented in the course sequence as "soft" in part because a lack of clinical experience makes it difficult to imagine the manifestations of social determinants in clinical settings or to anticipate how the social interaction between clinician and patient may be influenced by those determinants. As a result, students do not perceive the courses as offering "clinical" learning experiences which teach skills they readily apply in future practice. The current model aims toward a more "authentic" learning experience.

The current course model integrates online technology in a way that connects the classroom and clinic to provide students "hands-on" opportunities to work with clinicians to address actual disparities within the clinics' populations while learning about diversity and disparities in the classroom setting. These connections will ground the courses in real-world experiences, even if at a physical distance, and allow students and clinicians to experience the value of technically mediated communication in professional collaboration and problem-solving.

Research on this blended model is guided by the following questions: How does connecting the classroom and clinic through online technology influence 1) student awareness of the impact of the social determinants of health, 2) students' and clinicians' perceptions of their ability to use online technology for collaboration and problem-solving, and 3) the creation of student/clinician team projects integrating classroom and clinical knowledge to address social determinants of health and healthcare disparities.

To study the adoption of this model, we will implement a case study approach (Yin, 2009). The case is bound by the two semester course sequence of HJS in which student/clinician teams will collaborate. Multiple forms of data will be collected to facilitate triangulation across data sources. Data collection and analysis will be ongoing over the course of two semesters of HSJ. Potential data sources include reflection journals, Blackboard Collaborate recordings, online discussion board postings, student-clinician projects, and student and clinician perception surveys. An overview of ongoing data collection and preliminary results will be provided.

Session Objectives
-Review how blended learning can negotiate challenges in Health Professions education
-Explore how technology can be used to create authentic learning experiences which connect the classroom and clinic
-Review a method for researching the effectiveness of a blended model

Lead Presenter

Paige McDonald is the Director of Health Sciences Core Curriculum and Visiting Assistant Professor of Clinical Research and Learning at The George Washington University. She is currently working to promote blended learning and develop blended courses in Health Science disciplines. Paige's research interests include blended learning, adult learning, reflective practice, and course design for higher levels of learning.