’Cane Academy ‘Flips the Classroom’ on Learning

Greater student-teacher interaction, self-paced learning and improved educational outcomes are among the benefits of the innovative ’Cane Academy program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, according to faculty members who have integrated new concepts into their courses.

“Medical education continues to evolve, and our ’Cane Academy is leading the way in leveraging new technologies and strategies to engage students with different learning styles,” said Alex J. Mechaber, M.D., Bernard J. Fogel Chair in Medical Education and Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education. “An alternative to the traditional lecture format, ’Cane Academy ‘flips the classroom’ with an interactive approach to learning and retaining new content that gives the faculty more time to be a coach and mentor.”

Drawing on instructional concepts of the nonprofit Khan Academy — which offers dozens of free online classes — the Miller School program incorporates graphics and videos into short instructional segments. Students can review the content and test their understanding of key concepts in advance, and use the classroom time to ask questions, respond to the faculty and apply their knowledge to patient cases.

“’Cane Academy’s blended learning approach is a careful fusion of the best elements of online and face-to-face education,” said David Green, M.S., senior instructional designer, who works closely with Miller School faculty in adapting technology in their courses. “There is a national drive toward competency-based education, and ’Cane Academy’s active and student-centered learning environments are closely aligned with that vision.”

Back in the 1990s, UM was one of the first medical schools in the country to start archiving videos of classroom lectures, Mechaber said. “We realized that many students like the ability to be able to pause the lecture so they can look up a difficult concept or fast-forward through the material they know,” he said. “Our ’Cane Academy takes that interactive approach to a new level of learning.”

For the past two years, Green has presented the ’Cane Academy concept at several national medical education conferences. “In preclerkship medical education, we are on the leading edge of using educational technologies in this regard,” he said. This fall, Green is being assisted by medical education fellow Jared Senvisky, a third-year medical student at Northeast Ohio Medical University who has taken the year off to support ’Cane Academy.

“I am a liaison to the faculty in developing the modules,” he said. “I watch the lectures, gather the raw materials and discuss their learning objectives for the course. After we establish common goals, David and I design the ’Cane Academy style videos, including interactive web-based materials, to make sure they meet the needs of the faculty.”

Green says that a 15-hour lecture course can usually be distilled down to four or five hours of video instructional time, presented in “concept-level” 8- to 10-minute segments. While there is an upfront investment of faculty effort, once the videos have been created, they can readily be used in future courses.

The Miller School launched ’Cane Academy in October 2014 with a learning module for the one-week dermatology course.

“There has been an emerging trend to have students learn the basics on their own and then use classroom time for more advanced discussion and interaction,” said Robert S Kirsner, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman and Harvey Blank Professor in the Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, and Director of the University of Miami Hospital Wound Center.

“We liked the innovative ’Cane Academy approach and wanted to be the first dermatology department in the country to turn the concept into reality,” Kirsner said. “Our faculty members enjoy being able to have a higher level of discussion with students. Rather than fill their heads with knowledge, they can engage students directly and light the fire of learning.”

Dermatology students also liked ’Cane Academy right from the start, Kirsner added. “It’s a more adult approach to learning that gives students more flexibility in managing their time. They can cruise through concepts they learn quickly and go back and review material they might find confusing.”

Kirsner said faculty and staff need to commit extra time to preparing a ’Cane Academy course, but once everything is in place, it can have a long “shelf life” in the curriculum.

“Students really appreciate the learning benefits that result from watching the video presentations,” he said. “They can watch until they pick up the main points, and review the material later on before their tests or taking the boards.”

The flipped-classroom strategy is also popular for students taking the weeklong ophthalmology course, according to Chris R. Alabiad, M.D., associate professor of clinical ophthalmology and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs.

“They find the material is more fun, while being easier to learn,” he said. “The ’Cane Academy approach makes it easier for our faculty to assess students’ difficulty with certain concepts, and tailor our teaching to target those topics.

“Students, having gained the knowledge at home, come to class ready to apply their learning to clinical applications in two two-hour sessions. The first time they participate in a large group session, discussing six cases with a faculty member. They return later in the week for smaller group discussions of another six cases.”

Along with greater participation in class, the students also increased their test scores by five percentage points, Alabiad said.

“Our faculty also say that it’s much more fun to engage students who know something about the topic, rather than be faced with a sea of blank stares. So the outcomes are rewarding for both students and faculty.”

A video explaining the ’Cane Academy approach is available here.

For more information, visit the ’Cane Academy website.

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