Education Quality and Accreditation office moves into support role

New assistant dean builds tools that empower faculty

By Sasha Roeder Mah

It has been four years since the University of Alberta's MD program was recognized by the governing bodies of both Canadian and American medical schools with a highly successful accreditation. This year, the MD program has undergone both an interim accreditation review and a quality assurance unit review. Much of the work done by faculty and students to see that accreditation come to fruition is a credit to the office of Education Quality and Accreditation.

With new assistant dean Hollis Lai at the helm-and the next accreditation process not due for four more years- the focus of the office is shifting somewhat. "Now is the time where we can actually make the improvement strides and embed the accreditation process within each of the programs so that they can do the work that they need to," says Lai. He envisions a move away from oversight and toward collaboration. "My passion is to make an impact on educational quality improvement (EQI), enabling and empowering all programs to deliver a higher quality of education."

To foster EQI, Lai is focusing on two streams: electronic infrastructure and tools that encourage active learning.

Much of the first stream involves the design of data dashboards. "I realized we need a better system to collect and store all of our faculty's accreditation information," he says, "to retain our vast amounts of business knowledge and have a continuous quality improvement process." Responding to that need, and in collaboration with his team and the Department of Computer Science, Lai custom-designed for the MD program a software accreditation management system to hold all information previously kept in unwieldy email chains and paper files.

Programs other than MD are beginning to express an interest in data dashboards, which enable aggregation, review and communication of vast quantities of information. "I'm passionate about cross-pollination, seeing the various tools that we've built benefit the entirety of the faculty and streamline their workflow," says Lai.

Dentistry is changing how they organize their clinic, and Lai has designed a dashboard to help them manage that. They piloted the system over the summer and will formally implement its use this academic year. And a computerized platform for administering assessments is now being used not just by the MD program, but also by Dental Hygiene, Dentistry and Pharmacy. It has also been adopted with enthusiasm by Postgraduate Medical Education in its new competency-based medical education, which involves more frequent and meaningful assessments of residents' work.

Lai customizes his tools to the unique workflow of each program, but one factor remains constant: The focus is always user-friendly, intuitive solutions that anyone can use without a great deal of training. As for how these tools benefit learners, says Lai, "with the shift toward customized learning, having all of the information in one easy-to-use place makes it easier to give timely, relevant feedback to our students."

At the same time, Lai is working to encourage faculty development in active learning. This student- centred method features two-way communication and takes the instructor out from behind a podium and into more of a learning-coach role. It invites students into the education process in ways that passively listening to a lecture cannot.

He worked with the office of Academic Technologies to design a card game that shares with instructors various active learning techniques and tools for lesson planning. Dentistry has taken the lead in trying the cards, he says, and he is now bringing a similar tool to the MD program and beyond. "We can design the best curriculum in the world, but at the end of the day, if we are still lecturing for a full hour, it is going to be difficult for students to keep up," he says.

"I feel like implementing active learning and blended learning is where the next big shift will be for our faculty."