Objective: Although online discussion groups are being used with increasing frequency in undergraduate and postgraduate education, their usefulness in faculty development has not been explored. The goal of this innovation was to offer an online discussion group following a faculty development workshop in order to reinforce workshop concepts and to allow participants to seek advice related to specific teaching and learning problems. We also wanted to assess the benefits of this educational tool.
Description: We originally wanted to implement an online discussion group following a one-day workshop “The “Problem” Resident: Whose Problem Is It?” However, once this proposal was presented to our academic administrators, they asked us not to implement the discussion group because of concerns related to confidentiality and due process. They were worried that an online discussion might replace the faculty's evaluation and promotion guidelines, that teachers might no longer go to the “right” person to discuss a problem, and that we would give teachers a false sense of security. To respect these concerns, we changed the discussion topic and decided to implement an online discussion following a workshop “Promoting Interaction in Small-group Teaching.” We chose this venue because it was less “emotionally charged” and because online discussions are seen as a potential adjunct to small-group teaching. We introduced the idea of a facilitated WebCT group discussion at the end of the workshop, and gave faculty members clear instructions on how to access the discussion group. Most of the workshop participants liked the idea of a follow-up to the workshop, but they preferred an e-mail listserv. We therefore decided to offer the WebCT discussion group to half of the participants, and an e-mail listserv to the others. To initiate the discussion, we posted several issues for both groups, and we awaited the participants' responses. To our surprise, only two individuals (8%) responded on the e-mail listserv, after several attempts to stimulate discussion.
Discussion: In looking back at our “medical experiment” we were disappointed that our efforts to facilitate an online discussion following a faculty development workshop were not successful. However, based on personal reflections and conversations with a number of the workshop participants, we feel that some important lessons were learned. Time and competing demands clearly pose a major barrier. In addition, the “perceived need” of the initiative is critical. Our faculty members did not see the need for discussing interactive small-group teaching techniques online. Faculty members' comfort with technology must also be considered. Many of our teachers were not familiar with the potential uses of online learning. Moving faculty development beyond workshops also remains a challenge. With these lessons in mind, we plan to initiate another online discussion with faculty members, based on a need that they have defined around a topic that they have identified as critical to their own development as faculty members. We continue to believe that follow-up activities are essential in faculty development and that we need to further assess the potential value of this educational method.
Peer-reviewed Collection of Reports on Innovative Approaches to Medical Education