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New center to support novel teaching methods

Its goal is to enhance the learning experience for students and elevate the status of teaching.

Gary Leydon, Rick Haeseler, Janet Hafler, and Richard Belitsky
Photo by Terry Dagradi
Gary Leydon, Rick Haeseler, Janet Hafler, and Richard Belitsky lead the new Teaching and Learning Center, which opened in February. The center’s goals are to enhance students’ learning experience and recognize excellence in teaching.

A new center opened in February in a handful of rooms on the second floor of Harkness Building A. The Teaching and Learning Center was created to address two issues at the heart of the School of Medicine’s effort to review its medical curriculum and bring it in line with the practice of medicine in the 21st century. One issue is the place of new educational technology; the other is the long-standing tendency in academic medicine to reward research and clinical care over teaching.

“We want to enhance the learning experience for our students and elevate the status of teaching by putting in place the kind of support and expertise our faculty can use to develop new teaching methods,” said Richard Belitsky, M.D., deputy dean for education and the Harold W. Jockers Associate Professor of Medical Education, who is developing and overseeing the center.

The center is a direct result of the School’s Strategic Plan for Medical Education. A planning committee report issued in 2010 was unambiguous in determining that teaching should be a top priority. “The need to better recognize, support, and reward teachers and educators has emerged as a central theme and clear recommendation of this strategic planning process, just as it had in each of the four prior strategic planning efforts,” the report stated.

The Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) has a conference room, offices, and computers. It will offer programs, seminars, services, training, and consultation in three areas: educator development, assessment, and technology. The center will provide help with assessment methodology and interpretation of evaluation data in student learning, curriculum effectiveness, and quality of teaching.

Belitsky sees the TLC as an important step toward “fulfilling the promise of the strategic plan.” To be leaders in medical education, he said, “we need to think carefully about the learning strategies of our students. They are highly influenced by new technologies, so we need to make sure our faculty is facile with them, too.” One example is the school’s recent decision to give iPads to all students. The electronic tablets enable students to download the entire curriculum and will be used increasingly by professors as a teaching tool to engage students in new ways.

The center will have four associate directors. Janet P. Hafler, M.Ed., Ed.D., will serve as the associate director for educator development; Frederick D. Haeseler, M.D., FW ’76, is the associate director of learning and technology; and Gary B. Leydon will be the associate director for technology services. A national search for an associate director for learning and assessment is under way.

Haeseler says he views his new role, which Belitsky describes as “marrying technology and pedagogy,” as an outgrowth of his work as director of the Standardized Patient Program and as founder and director of the Primary Care Clerkship. Haeseler expects that the strategic plan will inspire the integration of a variety of pedagogies into the medical school’s new curriculum. The TLC could help facilitate this process by adapting such innovative technologies as electronic medical records, cloud computing, handheld devices, asynchronous learning, distance learning, and low- and high-fidelity simulation. Haeseler also brings to the TLC a team of seasoned standardized patients, who participate in a variety of teaching venues throughout the first three years of the medical school curriculum. He expects that the standardized patient program, with its many illness scenarios and its emphasis on patient-centered communication, will continue to evolve to meet the needs of faculty and students in achieving the school’s overarching goals.

Still, with all the focus on new technologies, new pedagogies, and new ways of teaching and learning, Belitsky wants to make sure the old ways aren’t abandoned. He says he’ll be watching closely to make sure that whatever is introduced is “consistent with the Yale system and the learning environment we all cherish.”