Development and evaluation of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) in the veterinary curriculum: a foundation for a new undergraduate certificate in veterinary medical education
Stansbie, Nigel Huw
A definition of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) widely accepted with in the published literature is: ‘people from similar social groupings, who are not professional teachers, helping each other to learn and learning themselves by teaching’ (Topping 1996). PAL has been used informally as a teaching methodology in medical education for many years, but has grown in popularity in more recent times due to the general acceptance among the medical profession that teaching students is an essential part of a junior doctor’s job description. This view has been formally recognised in the UK by the General Medical Council (GMC) (GMC 2003). PAL has been used as a teaching methodology at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies over a number of years in a range of contexts, both informally and formally as part of the veterinary undergraduate curriculum. The aim of this project was three fold; 1) To evaluate the perceived effectiveness and popularity of PAL as a methodology for teaching equine and canine clinical examination skills among veterinary undergraduates using qualitative post-intervention feedback data. 2) To quantitatively analyse the results of a multiple choice question (MCQ) study designed to test whether experiencing PAL improved the knowledge of veterinary undergraduates relating to canine clinical examination. 3) To introduce and test the concept of an Undergraduate Certificate in Veterinary Medical Education (UCVME) amongst potential stakeholders and evaluate the programme at the end of the first year. Qualitative feedback data relating to the equine and canine clinical examination skills PAL intervention has been collated annually since 2010/11. This project came into being in part because analysis of this large body of data was considered to be a valuable addition to the current published literature pertaining to PAL. Analysis of the post-intervention feedback data obtained from 1st year/Graduate Entry Programme (GEP) tutees and 4th year tutors showed that PAL was perceived as a valuable teaching methodology. The results also suggested that the PAL clinical skills course provided a valuable opportunity for tutors and tutees to enhance their examination and tutoring skills and knowledge. Tutee feedback also suggested that, at the point of execution, 4th year tutors were perceived by their tutees to have the skills required to deliver effective PAL interventions. The MCQ study, devised as an attempt to quantify any improvements in the student’s knowledge as a result of experiencing the PAL intervention, was implemented to build on the analysis of the qualitative feedback data. The body of published literature describing attempts to quantify the benefits of PAL in relation to the academic performance of students, is considerably smaller than that relating to the qualitative benefits of PAL and therefore the results of the MCQ study had the potential to be an important addition to the literature. The MCQ study comprised a crossover study design that incorporated a control group. 1st year/GEP tutees and 4th year tutors were asked to complete one set of multiple choice questions before the canine clinical skills PAL session and a different set of questions immediately after the intervention. The results from the study were inconclusive with regard to demonstrating a change in knowledge, but did highlight several areas for future research. While the importance of developing teaching skills in undergraduate medical students has been formally recognised, the number of published articles describing formal teacher training programmes run by medical schools, while growing, is still small. There is also large variation in the format, content and duration of the programmes that have been described. The concept of the UCVME was introduced to provide a structured teacher training programme and formally recognise development of teaching skills in the undergraduate veterinary curriculum. The hope of the R(D)SVS, if the UCVME is successful, is that the veterinary governing bodies will, like their human medical colleagues, formally recognise the importance of developing teaching skills in veterinary undergraduates. A needs analysis was undertaken with veterinary undergraduates and members of the veterinary profession to inform the content, design and perceived value of the UCVME. This indicated that the concept of the programme would be well received and considered a worthwhile exercise across all the cohorts surveyed. Uptake levels amongst eligible students, combined with the positive feedback received from students who have completed the first year of the programme, supported the findings of the pre-UCVME survey. Evaluation results identified suggestions for minor changes and modifications to the UCVME, however overall, feedback from candidates suggested that the design and implementation of the UCVME had been well received.