Evidence-Based Instructional Practices (EBIPs): “The time has come…”
Experimental Design

I last left you in the Spring with an optimistic take on the long-term impact of the pandemic on veterinary education. Schools at all levels, with a summer to prepare (and in some cases, re-prepare), are trying a variety of instructional approaches ranging from all face-to-face to blended learning to all online.   The virus has its own agenda borne out most clearly in communities where the baseline infection rate is not low enough.  The result has often become a return to mostly online instruction.   So, where is optimism to be found now? I think it is in the resilience and innovation of faculty and students.

This has led me to think about how innovative ideas in veterinary education not only become reported, but also become widely distributed and applied.  And how we might celebrate such innovation.  VetMedAcademy and Merck Veterinary Manual teamed up to solicit submissions internationally from faculty who used innovative instructional approaches as they made the rapid move to online education this Spring (https://vetmedacademy.org/covid-educational-creations-contest-page). The fruits of their labor are currently on display in a learning module, the link to which is also found on that page.  

It was clear that many of the award-winning faculty had some prior experience with online learning, and beyond that, had already had experience with more innovative approaches in both face-to-face and digital education.  Two of the awardees were members regional veterinary school teaching academy, one was an Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, and others had shown a prior focus on instructional excellence.  It is also notable that they accepted the contest guidelines that their educational resources, all or in significant part, be shared via the VetMedAcademy platform.   

So, with a continuing need for the sharing best practices and resources for online veterinary education, I wondered what were the impediments for these 13 innovator teams at 11 institutions to engage faculty around them in using similar techniques.1  I have been in veterinary academia for 37 years and have served as a department head in a position to encourage faculty to consider a change in their didactic approaches, so I am also not naïve about the challenges and reward systems (including student evaluations) that often encourage inertia when it comes to newer teaching techniques. In the contest, we too encouraged the inclusion of student testimonials in support of the submission; obviously, the short-term opinion of the learner is important. The point is that evidence of instructional effectiveness should extend beyond popularity to outcomes.

Accordingly, I was happy to discover a recent educational research study from about 200 STEM faculty at 5 research universities that evaluated the process of dissemination of “evidence-based instructional practices” (EBIPs) beyond the originating faculty.   The investigators concluded that…”faculty who use innovative teaching practices preferentially talk to each other, suggesting that greater steps are needed for information about innovative practices to reach faculty more broadly.” Or as the title of the paper frustratingly summarizes “Innovative Teaching Knowledge Stays with Users.”

Chart from Lane et al.

Fig 1: Reasons Why STEM Faculty Speak to Colleagues (Ref. 1

Put in common terms, as shown statistically in Figure 1 and the title graphic, it seems that educational innovators are generally only preaching to the choir. Certainly, when it comes to techniques of online and blended learning during a pandemic, this approach is inadequate, and when there is evidence that broader application of the EBIP would lead to improved student outcomes, allowing only slow diffusion and adoption seems inappropriate. But this is why departmental, college or national teaching workshops are held, right?   The problem has been, that, as one EBIP study participant noted,  “…you quickly realize you have the same people who come to all those meetings.”2

With that background, let’s return to the current need for veterinary educational innovation. Recently, in a letter to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Peter Eyre, Emeritus Dean of the Virginia/Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and one of my favorite veterinary educational visionaries, noted:

Colleges must avoid hanker­ing for the “good old days” and instead use this situation as an op­portunity to improve operational efficiency and sustainability, keep­ing in mind that results must be thoroughly evaluated. Outcomes are what matter. In my view, veterinary educa­tion as we knew it is over and is not coming back. The future is go­ing to be different. How different will depend on us. 3

It is not the first time that Dr. Eyre has been so stark with his assessment of veterinary education Indeed, in a piece entitled “The time has come…” 10 years before the pandemic, he noted that the previous 25 years had seen 7 major national studies on the future of veterinary medicine, but he encouraged veterinary educators to feel a sense of urgency, and actually implement the advocated changes. He noted then:

Education, in all respects, is the undeniable foundation of the professions, and veterinary medicine is no exception. And, it is true and somewhat reassuring that veterinary education has evolved naturally over time to meet the changing needs of the profession and society. No doubt adaptations would continue no matter what. However, change on a scale necessary to address veterinary medicine’s current systemic challenges cannot be left to chance. It must be properly planned, managed, and evaluated. The veterinary community seems to find it difficult to accept the obvious reality of unprecedented, externally driven pressures on the profession and suffers from constant anxiety about its future. This agony and perpetual self-study, which mainly consists of rediscovering well-known facts, cannot continue indefinitely without harmful effects.4

To be fair, the last few years have seen an advance in the Competency-Based Veterinary Education (CBVE) initiative, and it has moved now to the Assessment phase, with only Implementation to follow.5  The point is that this work should not stall, but rather accelerate in these challenging times.   Curricular adjustments will be necessary at each institution and EBIPs are even more important to adjust instructional practices. 

So, this brings us back to how local faculty innovators can broaden their impact beyond other “believers.”  McMurtrie2 suggests some key steps summarized as follows:

  1. Encourage and reward co-teaching between EBIP innovators and less experienced (or more recalcitrant) instructors. Full teaching credit should be given for co-teaching.

  2. Co-teaching should mean working together in the classroom and not alternating days of instruction.  Instructional philosophy and approach need to be not only discussed but jointly implemented.

  3. Don’t “reinvent the wheel” with each teaching-related project. Encourage broadly available resources on campus.

  4. Leadership should encourage dissemination of understanding of and application of EBIPs. 

In summary, despite many false starts over the last few decades, there is now an even greater imperative for veterinary education to make adjustments that are implemented consistently and widely.  And the “science” of education should drive the process.

Do you have an idea that you’d like to disseminate beyond your institution? VetMedAcademy would like to help you get the word out by showcasing your ideas, and/or helping you develop a digital workshop about an evidence-based instructional practice.

As always, comments on these blog posts or stand-alone guest commentaries are always welcome.

Duncan C. Ferguson, VMD, PhD, DACVIM, DACVCP

Please email vma@vetmedacademy.org to suggest a contribution or provide a comment.

Highlighted Graphic: from Lane et al (2020).1


1. AK Lane et al (2020): Innovative teaching knowledge stays with users. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.2012372117

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND).

2. McMurtrie B: Teaching (2020): Why Is It So Hard to Spread Innovative Teaching Practices? Chronicle of Higher Education.


3. Eyre P (2020): COVID-19 and veterinary education: what have we learned? JAVMA 257(5): 477.  https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.257.5.476

4. Eyre P (2010): The time has come….JAVMA 236 (11): 1173-1175.

5. Competency-Based Veterinary Education.  website of Am Assoc of Vet Medical Colleges.