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As the Chair of Michener's Chiropody Program, Catharine Gray is always looking for opportunities to bring more meaning and deeper engagement to her students' learning experience. Occasionally, however, an opportunity finds her.
That's exactly what happened last spring when a group of occupational therapy and physiotherapy students from the University of Toronto, who had shadowed chiropody students at Michener, were surveyed on their interprofessional experience.
"The OT and PT students learned so much about chiropody, which changed their whole view of how chiropodists fit in with other professions," Catharine says. "I realized that we had a chance to learn something similar about our own chiropody students' experience, which we'd never done before."
The first thing Catharine did was contact the Applied Educational Research Department (AER), which focuses on collecting and analyzing data needed for decision-making and quality improvement at Michener.
Working closely with Michener faculty and program Chairs, AER gathers data to interpret and report on Michener's key performance indicators, such as student, graduate and employer satisfaction, course evaluations and studies that support continuous quality improvement and strategic planning. AER's goal is to support evidence-based decision making by providing accurate and value-added data to members of the Michener community.
As Emily MacLeod, AER Research Associate, explains, "we're helping faculty respond to real trends and real issues as opposed to hunches. They can see what's clearly working for the learners and what isn't."
This past March, AER worked with Catharine to design a survey for third-year Michener students in chiropody, which focuses on disorders of the foot, ankle and lower extremities. She was hoping to gain a better understanding of the students' interprofessional experience while on their external clinical rotations.
The goal was to uncover how prepared these students were to interact with other professions while in the clinical setting, how well they understood the other professions and how prepared they were for an interprofessional rotation in general.
For Catharine, being able to measure the experiences of chiropody students is an invaluable resource. The initial surveys illuminated some crucial gaps in what they needed to know to succeed in their clinical placements and as future health care professionals. This lets faculty improve training so that students are better prepared for interprofessional situations.
And, as students become increasingly accustomed to evaluating their own experiences, collecting and measuring this kind of data becomes routine, which will make educational improvements easier to achieve.
"Data collection can help shape the tools that instructors use to advance students' progress. If we want to train evidence-based practitioners, we need to be an evidence-based school," Emily says.