2022 JoVE Educator Innovation Award Winner: Dr. Joanne Pennock ‘The successful Daily Definition Challenge and a suite of animated videos were inspired by the needs of a new and more diverse cohort of learners.’

Raveena Khatri
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The 2022 JoVE Educator Innovation Awards have paved the way to highlight the use of video resources to support learning outcomes and increase student engagement in STEM education. 

Below you can read the winning entry by the 2022 JoVE Educator Innovation Award winner, Dr. Joanne Pennock, Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester in England. Dr. Joanne Pennock shared how the engagement needs of a diverse cohort of learners inspired animated videos.

Free content available online makes learning accessible from anywhere in the world. However, real engagement and deep understanding in healthcare mainly come from social interaction. At the University of Manchester, we delivered several postgraduate pre-pandemic workshops to help non-clinical healthcare students develop their non-specialist communication skills. It included inviting patients onto campus to talk about their healthcare journeys in the context of the student’s research projects. 

The overall feedback was good; one cohort pushed back on the teaching content. Several students were themselves disabled and had chronic conditions. They disagreed with our summary of the public’s understanding of scientific words and felt we were ‘dumbing down’ scientific content and patronizing patients. This completely undermined their engagement with the course. We realized that we had overlooked the diversity of our student population in trying to help them understand the diverse nature of a non-scientific audience. We risked losing precisely the type of people we were trying to reach. We rationalized that by presenting evidence for the public understanding of commonly used words, we would be able to re-engage our student audience and demonstrate our commitment to their learning experience through a direct response to feedback. The project was planned for the 2019-2020 academic year. Our patient representative canvassed our student population for scientific words they thought the public would or would not understand. These words were then discussed with a patient forum within the University of Manchester to prioritize 22 words for analysis. 

During the COVID-19 lockdown, we designed the ‘Daily Definition Challenge.’ This was a daily quiz-style challenge on social media to canvas the public on the healthcare words chosen by the students. Each social media post linked to an online survey that asked a short series of questions about the word for that day. A new comment was launched for 22 days, and we received 1100 responses, 50% of respondents had studied or worked in healthcare-related fields.

Responses were analyzed qualitatively and put into themes to gather the public’s general understanding of the words. There were some surprising results! Many wpublic’s students thought the public would understand were not perceived as healthcare-related words. For instance, 44% of respondents associated the word protein with food, and 27% thought that morbidity meant death. This resulted in better outcomes than we had hoped for. 

We created animated videos using Doodly to summarise the public understanding of a few words and re-developed lesson plans for the academic year 2020-21 to incorporate videos for student feedback. We also created short surveys for the students before and after watching the videos to assess the impact. 

The immediate impact on student learning

We asked the students before and after watching if they thought the general public would understand the words presented. In almost every case, students revised their perceptions of public understanding downwards. 

  • 8.2/10 felt that the video had improved their awareness of the need to consider language when communicating with the general public. 
  • 8.4/10 had improved awareness of the types of misunderstandings that can happen when communicating with the public. 

These videos were used with cohorts of students in different fields, such as genomics, biochemistry, audiology, and bioinformatics, with similar results. Since then, we have used the video with 2021-2022 cohorts of postgraduates on additional programs, with the same results. Over 400 students have seen the videos in a teaching setting. 

Impact on the student experience

The use of videos has transformed student engagement. When used at the start of a workshop, it prompts open discussion. It allows sharing patient journeys, individual life experiences, and education, influencing our understanding of healthcare-related words. The videos create empathy with patients and the public, moving the discussion away from frustration and annoyance toward motivation to communicate a clear message. 

Impact on student outcomes

After discussing the videos, students are keen to interact with the patients in subsequent events. In addition, because the students are more engaged, their plain English writing assessment has improved year on year. For instance;

when considering the same assignment across different cohorts, we have seen the number of students achieving merit for lay abstract writing shift upwards from 23% (2019-2020) to 39% (2021-2022) with the introduction of the video content. This improvement reflects a movement from a median mark of 55% to 62%. This is particularly significant as the 2021-2022 cohort contains 50% of students who do not have English as their first language. 

Impact on staff

It wasn’t easy to hear the student feedback in 2019. However, the feedback helped us achieve a practice change that promotes inclusivity and recognizes our diverse student and patient audiences. Most importantly, we have seen increased respect for our patient representatives amongst the students after watching the videos. The videos also support a scaffolding teaching strategy across the academic year: by engaging students right at the start, enabling discussion and peer learning, we build confidence towards the final patient/student event, where they put everything into practice. 

Why does this matter? 

This project uses source data to demonstrate the need to communicate clearly with a non-specialist audience. During the pandemic, we saw a massive improvement in accessibility of government health-related communications, but we still have a long way to go. By engaging the next generation of scientists and clinicians, we hope to highlight the importance of plain English and its inclusion in their continuing professional development. 

Want to hear more from Dr. Joanne Pennock? Register for our upcoming webinar featuring 2022 Educator Innovation Award Winners’ stories to learn why videos are an indispensable tool in STEM teaching & learning.