Educational research has realigned away from the delivery of information towards the enhancement of learning and construction of knowledge (Edmondson, 2001). The availability of information is no longer the limiting factor; the ability to process and rationalise the vast amount of information available is now far more important. As suggested by Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and re-learn.” Hence, it is important to consider ways to equip students with the skills for critical appraisal and life-long learning. Teaching strategies that engender a deep approach to learning by promoting active student engagement are key to these aims.
The recently launched Graduate Certificate in Small Animal Medicine is aimed at practicing veterinarians wishing to improve their knowledge and skills more specifically in this area. This post-graduate course requires students to develop and demonstrate higher order learning skills during the course of their studies. This project explores the use of an Evidence-Based Practice approach as a central theme for promoting active engagement and the development of higher order learning skills within this graduate programme. The overall aim being to promote a change in the practitioners’ approach to case management rather than just to present them with large amounts of factual information.
The learning approach taken by students during their studies is profoundly influenced by course design and assessment strategy (Biggs and Collins, 1982). Hence care needs to be taken to align these approaches with the desired outcomes. The students were initially introduced to the five-step approach to evidence-based practice, as recommended in the Sicily statement on effective teaching of evidence-based practice (Dawes et al 2005). Over the course of the programme they were encouraged to apply and build on this process in the clinical setting and to present their work on discussion boards for peer review and discussion. They developed critically appraised topic (CAT) reviews working both individually and in groups, and as their final capstone assessment presented a case report with an integrated CAT to defend one aspect of their case management. The preliminary findings of this work are that students valued and engaged extremely well with the overall process, which promoted active, structured discussion and a visible progression of their appraisal skills over the course of the one-year programme. The generation of a learning resource for later reference was an added benefit to this approach.