Webinar Follow-Up: Incorporating Active Learning into IACUC Training

In 2016, PRIM&R convened two Train-the-Trainers Institutes (TTIs) for IACUC leaders and educators to learn how active learning techniques can enhance the effectiveness of their training programs. The TTIs were hosted as part of the multiphase Interagency Collaborative Animal Research Education (ICARE) Project. The goal of the initiative is to enhance the functioning of IACUCs by reducing noncompliance and self-imposed regulatory burden and enable greater focus on animal welfare through the incorporation of active learning techniques into IACUC training. The resources and materials developed by TTI participants are now available online, and IACUCs may modify and use these resources to fit their educational needs.

To further disseminate the materials and lessons from the ICARE TTI, PRIM&R hosted the free webinar Incorporating Active Learning into IACUC Training. The webinar was presented by Alison D. Pohl, MS, RLATG, CPIA and Trina M. Smith, BS, MS, CPIA, two IACUC professionals who attended an ICARE TTI in 2016. After the webinar, speakers responded to some of the questions time didn’t permit them to answer live. We’re pleased to share those responses with the readers of Ampersand.

Q: Our IACUC seems resistant to adopt active learning strategies at our institution. Did you encounter this situation? If so, how did you overcome it?

Alison Pohl (AP): I was very lucky that my institutional official (IO) was as ready to implement active learning as I was. I felt it would make the training better for the learners, so he was on board. My IACUC was on board, too. They felt that if the right information was taught to the learners, and active learning would lead to better retention of the information, great!

I understand, however, how you may be met with some resistance. Before I went to the ICARE training, I might, myself, have had the feeling, “things are working fine the way we currently conduct our training; why change it?” and I don’t think I would have been unique to that position—especially when you think of the time and effort active learning requires.

It is worth giving your resistors information that shows how valuable this method of training can be. The 2004 article “Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research” by Michael Prince is a nice overview of the research that supports the effectiveness of active learning and shows that the techniques do lead to greater mastery of the subject material by students. The 2014 article “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics” by Scott Freeman found that students in traditional lectures were 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in courses that incorporated active learning techniques.

You might have to find a champion at your institution. Hopefully you can find someone as great as my IO was, with enthusiastic support for this idea.

Q: How would you convince an IO, scientist, or attending veterinarian to do  pre-work in advance of IACUC training? These individuals’ work schedules typically do not permit such advanced preparation. Will active learning still be successful if the attendees have not prepared?

Trina Smith (TS): I would pitch this training as an active learning experiment and I would prepare course handouts/reading materials, rather than requiring actual written work. They may be more likely to find a few minutes here and there to read over material before the training, than to sit down and do handwritten work. This material could be emailed to the participants beforehand  with the understanding that it will provide the participants with an idea of what they will be learning during the IACUC training. And/or assignments sent to them in advance  could serve as their first in-class assignment. In the email you might also notify them that they will be tested on the material on the day of the IACUC training. This may give them an incentive to at least skim over the material before they arrive. Then, when they arrive at the training, you can give a pre-test (perhaps five written questions) to test their knowledge. Proceed with the training, incorporating some of the active learning techniques discussed in the webinar, and then re-test at the end of the training. You could try using “Think, Pair, Share,” for instance, to gauge how well they learned the concepts after having attended the training.

There are many different active learning techniques one can utilize in trainings, so I feel that trainings can still be successful even if the attendees have not prepared ahead of time. Most of your veterinarians and scientists know how to take care of and handle animals; however, as the instructor, you may want to try a more creative approach than a traditional lecture to relay this same information to the participants.

For example, say you want to teach your class how to report an incident of pain and distress. In a traditional lecture the instructor may simply tell you the signs to look for in an animal, or point to the course textbook to show how to diagnose whether the animal is in pain and to whom to report this information. If you wanted to teach this same lesson using active learning, you could do what our group did at the ICARE TTI and actually have an exciting and fun experience by role-playing the situation. We were each assigned the roles of the technician, veterinarian, or PI. (We even dressed the parts!) To show our humorous side, we named ourselves after characters from the popular TV show “the A-Team,” and named our hypothetical institution “A-Team University.” In our scenario, the technician, “Mr. Hannibal,” walked into “Dr. BA’s” (the PI’s) room that housed mice after regular hours, looked into one of the cages, and saw that one of the mice had red and yellow spots all over its body. Mr. Hannibal picked it up and upon further examination noticed that the mouse was very warm and felt much lighter than the other mice his age and size. Mr. Hannibal immediately assumed it was “ICARE Pox.” After he couldn’t get the lab contact, “Mr. Murdock,” on the phone, he filled out the “Sick Animal Report Form” and made a call to the clinical staff after-hours veterinarian on call, “Dr. Templeton Peck,” who came in and assessed the situation. This was a fun way to learn how to report an instance of pain and distress that went beyond traditional lecturing or textbook review.

Q: What are some considerations for identifying other facilitators to help out with the training? Do you need facilitators with knowledge of IACUC administration?

AP: I don’t think that you need to require facilitators to have the same level of knowledge about your topic as the subject matter expert—whether that be the IACUC administrator or a biosafety officer, if the topic of your training is safety. However, I do think that facilitators need to be somewhat familiar with the topic; they should not be strangers to it. At our training, the facilitators moved among groups when group work was being done to answer questions and occasionally offer suggestions or points to consider, and their background knowledge helped them do this. I don’t think your facilitators should be completely naïve about the topic at hand.

Q: How many concepts can be learned in a day of training? For example, do you think you could deliver to your audience in a one-day period the charges of the IACUC (as detailed in the USDA regulations) with confidence that they would be able to go back to their institutions with a strong comprehensive working knowledge of the responsibilities?

TS: I think it depends on what specific material you want to cover and the audience you’re teaching. I would say the following concepts could be successfully taught in a one-day training that incorporates active learning: the protocol submission process, protocol review process, USDA inspection process of rabbits in a lab setting, the composition of the IACUC, how to report animal welfare concerns, and possibly occupational health and safety procedures. As for covering the charges of the IACUC, and having confidence that the individual could go back to their institution with a strong comprehensive working knowledge of the responsibilities after one day of training, I would probably have to answer that question with a “no.” Mastering the regulations takes time and usually requires individuals to actually perform these tasks over a period of time in order to completely understand and grasp the full picture of what is required of the IACUC and your responsibility as an IACUC member. This is why it’s important to incorporate summative and formative assessments into your training. This will help ensure your learning objectives are realistic and defined, and that you have a method for gauging your participants’ retention of the concepts during the training itself.

PRIM&R would like to thank the speakers for sharing their experience with incorporating active learning techniques into IACUC training.

The recording of this webinar is available for individuals to watch for free.