“Is there a make it better button in this software?”: A conversation with Derrick Martin, Learning Designer.

By Victoria Brazil (@SocraticEM)

The myriad opportunities (and risks!) for using technology in medical education can appear overwhelming. I’ve recently been assisting as faculty for the Technology for Education in Clinical Healthcare (EdTech) program run by the Monash Centre for Professional Development and Monash Online Education. One of the delights of this role is working with real experts – the ‘learning designers’ who are allocated to work with each small group on scholar projects.

Derrick Martin is one of the team, and kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us.

Tell us about your background and how you became an ‘learning designer’.

I originally worked in a library, so that’s a different background to many of the people who come to instructional design from a formal Education background.  I decided to take a jump into a new career as a multimedia teaching designer and did an Undergraduate degree in Multimedia.  During the degree I picked subjects and projects that were educational, and worked as a volunteer on a series of DVDs (now converted to online) Radiology for Students at the Alfred Hospital.  After graduating I became a lecturer in the Faculty of IT at Monash and taught many different classes over more than a decade, this gave me lots of hands-on experience and opportunities to try pedagogical approaches and technological solutions in teaching.  From there I moved to a Learning Designer role in a Monash University central Learning and Teaching team.

Why should clinician educators get more ‘tech savvy’?

One way of looking at technology is that most educators are already ‘tech savvy’; they are comfortable and familiar with emails, electronic documents, mobile phones, powerpoint, and most other ‘mainstream’ technologies.  I remember a time when I was helping professors attach files to emails, so the baseline of ‘tech-savvy’ moves every year.  We all need to keep improving our use of technology as that baseline shifts, we can’t sit still and think that how we learnt as students is an OK way to teach today.  Educators need to keep up-to-date with technology to take advantage of more efficient, effective, and faster ways to teach. Our students are often very comfortable learning using videos, podcasts, interactive simulations, and other technologies that are often now quite easy even for non-technological teachers to use.

What common mistakes do you see when clinician educators use technology for their online or F2F teaching?

There are so many common mistakes!  Using technology that is cool but doesn’t help learning, using technology that the educator isn’t comfortable with, using the wrong technology for the desired learning outcomes.

Underlying many common mistakes to try to use the same affordances and approaches with technology as a traditional didactic teaching mode.  Some teaching approaches do map one-to-one between technology and non-technology approaches, but many don’t.  An example is to replace a lecture with a video.  The logic from the teacher’s point-of-view is that these are almost entirely the same, the teacher is conveying information quickly and efficiently.  The learner’s perspective is radically different though: they lose any peer interactions they would get as a group, they don’t have any chance to ask questions, they lose the subtle physical clues that indicate important information, they lose the enthusiasm for the content that many teachers have.  Technology can improve online and F2F teaching, but it needs to be used appropriately and with a keen eye on the learner’s experience.

Are there some easy fixes?

I once had a student ask me “is there a make it better button in this software?”.  I wish there was a button like that for all technology!  There are fixes that we can use to improve our common mistakes, but I think calling these easy may be subjective.  Generally, even a small amount of technological training is useful for educators, because it improves their confidence to try different things and makes it much more likely they will find software that suits their technological level, their teaching goals, and their student needs.  The other easy fixes aren’t so much technological as just common teacher thinking that has held true since the dawn of teaching: to keep in mind the learner’s needs and experiences; to keep trying different approaches; and to be flexible because every student is different.

How can the average clinician educator keep up with new ideas in educational technology?

I think that every educator has different time constraints and preferences, so these suggestions may not suit everyone.  I personally recommend subscribing to a regular educational communication, in whatever format and timing suits you, to help get a curated list of new ideas and technology.  I get a weekly newsletter from Cult of Pedagogy that I find useful to inspire me with pedagogical approaches, along with a monthly one from the Monash Business/Economics faculty that highlights new technologies.  I have peers who make a habit to read a daily blog, some who listen to weekly podcasts when they’re driving to work, some who prefer to read webpages (eg. http://der.monash.edu/) that have a range of different podcasts, articles, and videos.  The best method is whatever one you can do consistently. It’s also important to remember that it’s almost impossible to keep abreast of everything, but that even small steps can lead to great teaching.

What are you watching right now that might be game changing for health professions education?

Right now I’m watching the Augmented Reality (AR) space, in particular how mobile phones are improving to the point where many students have the technology in their pockets to access virtual simulations and assistance.  AR (and Virtual Reality, VR) both have two major limitations for teachers: 1) it’s difficult to build teaching tools in these without learning quite a few technological skills and 2) we can’t yet guarantee all students can access the technology.  As mobile phones get more powerful, and we can safely assume that all students have a powerful phone, the second limitation will disappear.  In parallel with that, as more people use the technology for teaching, more research on best-practice and better (easier to use) tools will appear.  It is currently possible for a phone to recognise what it is seeing through the camera and offer relevant information.  If we can get to the point where the information is overlaid in real time for teaching purposes, we shift knowledge about spaces that currently exist either statically or inside people’s head, into a digital space.  As an example: large hospitals are notoriously difficult to navigate for newcomers, with different areas, buildings, and access points.  Imagine if you could simply tell your phone where you want to go, and it uses the phone camera to recognise where you currently are and create a virtual arrow.  Something as simple as that may seem like a small improvement, but it replaces the teaching and training that every new employee has to currently receive.  It would also be relatively trivial to also add in more space-specific training: emergency evacuation and disaster training would be more relevant, interesting, and memorable if you are creating a muscle and spatial memory in the trainee. 

 Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can find some blog posts I’ve written for my old team here: https://www.monash.edu/learning-teaching/insights-and-events/blog/idea-networks-with-concept-maps

One of our more recent projects was the online course material for this: https://www.myalliedhealthspace.org/allied-health-professionals/online-education-modules

Thanks to Derrick for his time and candour! Hopefully, its encouragement to seek out expert collaborators from various fields for our clinical educational endeavours.


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