Untraditional teaching tool underscores importance of MRI safety for radiology trainees

Applying an alternative deep learning, assessment-based approach to radiology education could help trainees better retain information for use in future work, according to a study published in Radiography this month.

“One of the most important influences on which approach students adopt to their learning is the design of the assessment strategies used,” O. Kalthoff, the paper’s first author and a staffer at the Heilbronn University of Applied Science in Heilbronn, Germany, wrote. “Studies have shown that students are more likely to take a deep approach if they see the relevance and importance of what they are being required to do.”

Without that approach, Kalthoff and Australian co-author H.M. Warren-Forward said, students will likely revert to surface learning and neglect to process the actual weight of the material they’re reading.

Instead of focusing on trendy education initiatives like virtual reality or mobile applications, Kalthoff and Warren-Forward turned to Chris Rust, a retired Oxford professor who touts sustainable assessment as a key to effective student learning. Rust also underlined the importance of real-world tasks to connect students to their work, an element of choice in the learning process and a link between assessments and activities.

“The literature informs that students are more likely to engage with learning tasks if they are going to be assessed,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, some form of assessment is necessary at the conclusion of a learning experience. For educators, the challenge is how to get students to do academic work and to facilitate their ability for critical thinking and understanding.”

Kalthoff and Warren-Forward developed a three-step assignment for 179 students enrolled in a first-semester, second-year Instrumentation Course in Medical Radiation Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia. The task focused on MRI safety and started with students reading an article on the topic before writing and submitting five short answer questions around what they believed to be the article’s most important concepts of understanding. The course’s professor then chose 15 of those questions for a final assessment.

“The assignment task was able to provide a greater depth and breadth of information than what could have been effectively communicated and retained by students in a one-hour lecture,” the researchers said. “It provided students with an educational resource and allowed narrowing of information to the most important concepts of MRI safety as viewed by the course coordinator.”

When asked about the assignment in an accompanying questionnaire, just 18 percent of participants said they believed a traditional lecture would have been a more effective mode of learning, the authors wrote. Seventy-nine percent said the assignment was both a positive learning experience and helped them gain insight into the topic, and all students reported that, after the class, they understood why MRI safety was important.

Kalthoff and Warren-Forward said the incentive to complete short answer questions knowing a handful of them would be on a final exam was successful, as more than half of students admitted they wouldn’t have read the safety paper if it wasn’t examinable. The written questions also demonstrated increased understanding, as they were deep learning-centered rather than surface questions.

The task also proved ideal for large groups of students, the authors wrote, since the professor only had to grade assignments once during the process.

“The design of this assignment task can be used in any course where student learning and understanding is critical,” the authors wrote. “While the ultimate summative part of this assignment was exam-based—shallow learning of facts—it was envisaged that the students experienced higher levels of learning through the development and answering of the questions before the examination.”