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Using Student Focus Groups to Improve Faculty Performance

STEINERT, YVONNE PhD

Section Editor(s): ANDERSON, M. BROWNELL

ANNUAL FEATURE: IN PROGRESS: REPORTS OF NEW APPROACHES IN MEDICAL EDUCATION: VALUING TEACHING: Teachers as Mentors/Peers as Teachers
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SDC

Association of American Medical Colleges

MCGILL UNIVERSITY FACULTY OF MEDICINE

The author gratefully acknowledges Merck Frost Canada for supporting this initiative.

Inquiries: Yvonne Steinert, PhD, Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, 3655 Drummond Street, Room 529, Montreal, Quebec H3G 1Y6, Canada; e-mail: 〈steinert@med.mcgill.ca〉.

Objective: Student focus groups have often been used for undergraduate curriculum planning and evaluation. They have not, however, been used in the design or delivery of faculty development. The goal of this initiative was to use the results of student focus groups in planning a faculty development workshop for small-group tutors.

Description: Small-group teaching sessions were introduced into our undergraduate medical curriculum in a systematic way in 1994. In 1998, we began using student focus groups, designed to assess students' perceptions of effective small-group teaching, to plan a faculty development workshop and to give feedback to small-group tutors. To date, ten focus groups have been held with 86 students, representing the four years of the undergraduate curriculum. During each focus-group session, student representatives were asked to identify the characteristics of effective small groups, to highlight the positive attributes of small-group tutors, to describe the ingredients of effective cases, and to discuss strategies for student evaluation in the small-group setting. Student feedback highlighted the value of certain tutor characteristics, a nonthreatening group atmosphere, clinical relevance, and the use of pedagogic materials that encourage independent thinking and problem solving. Based on the results of the focus-group discussions, we developed the content of a faculty development workshop designed to improve small-group teaching and created appropriate teaching materials for small-group tutors (e.g., overheads and handouts).

Discussion: Faculty members' reactions to the students' feedback and suggestions were very positive. The workshop participants were intrigued by the students' insight, and many asked for copies of the workshop overheads, based on student feedback, to be distributed to colleagues who did not attend. In addition, a number of the workshop participants requested assistance in conducting focus groups with their own students. As faculty developers, we were impressed by the attention workshop participants gave to the students' comments and suggestions, which were remarkably consistent with the literature.1 The value of student feedback in this format was also demonstrated during our planning of a refresher course on effective lecturing, when several members of the planning committee suggested that we once again canvass student opinion by using focus groups. The results of this preliminary experience suggest that focus groups with students can be valuable in designing faculty development activities, that faculty members are responsive to student concerns, and that this method can be adapted to diverse settings. We would now like to conduct similar focus groups with residents and CME participants, and use this method to evaluate the success of some of our faculty development activities designed to improve small-group teaching.

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REFERENCE

1. Steinert Y. Twelve tips for effective small group teaching in the health professions. Med Teach. 1996;18:203–7.

Section Description

Annual, Peer-reviewed Collection of Reports of Innovative Approaches to Medical Education

© 2001 Association of American Medical Colleges