Designing a New Translational Health Sciences PHD: The Challenge of Integrating Disciplines and Pedagogical Approaches in a Blended Program of Study

Concurrent Session 6

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Brief Abstract

We review our approach to designing an interdisciplinary, blended doctoral program in Translational Health Sciences, addressing curriculum design and a process for developing a shared mental model among faculty for course design and delivery.  We solicit audience ideas on innovative ways to evaluate interdisciplinary, blended programs of study.


Paige McDonald is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Research and Learning at The George Washington University. She is currently working to promote blended learning and develop blended courses in Health Professions education. Paige's research interests include blended learning, collaborative learning, reflective practice, and course design for higher levels of learning.

Extended Abstract

In August 2016, the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) launched an interdisciplinary PhD in Translational Health Sciences (THS).  The PhD in THS strives to develop skills that will enable graduates to change health care culture through innovation, develop and apply new products and technologies, and apply discovery to practices and policies that will serve the larger health care community (Doctoral Handbook: PhD in Translational Health Sciences, 2016-2017). The program promotes application of principles of collaboration and teaming in order to foster an appreciation for cross-disciplinary research and practice. Designed as a blended, low-residency program of study, the curriculum integrates three key knowledge area--implementation science, collaboration science, and translational research—to develop translational practitioners and researchers who can integrate knowledge across disciplinary boundaries while engaging in research within community of scholars dedicated to translational research and practice.  Moreover, it employs active, integrative and transformative learning models (Kolb, 1984; Mezirow, 1997; Miller 2005) within a blended delivery model (McDonald, 2014; Picciano, 2009) to promote knowledge integration and the generation of new knowledge required to meet these goals.

“Interdisciplininary” (Klein, 1990; Klein & Newell, 1997) has become a buzzword in higher education, particularly with regard to health professions education in which graduates will have to work in interdisciplinary teams to optimize patient health in increasingly complex contexts.  Yet, little guidance is available on how to achieve “interdisciplinary” in doctoral programs, particularly with regard to integrating disciplinary perspectives and curricula to develop measurable competencies; developing a shared mental model among faculty regarding course design and delivery in an interdisciplinary, blended program; and identifying methods by which to evaluate achievement of cross-disciplinary competencies and knowledge generation.  

In this session, we will address how our approach to developing an interdisciplinary doctoral curriculum to include: identifying and defining components of the conceptual framework we used to establish integration competencies and describing our process for creating a shared mental model among faculty regarding course design and delivery to achieve competency benchmarks within a blended delivery model. We will also share learning artifacts demonstrating knowledge integration in the first semester of our program. However, we are still challenged with new and innovative ways to evaluate achievement of interdisciplinary knowledge generation and cross-disciplinary competencies.  We hope to have an open discussion with our audience to generate new and innovative approaches to program evaluation.

Session Objectives:

-Review an approach to interdisciplinary doctoral program design which integrates competencies across three key knowledge areas

-Review a faculty team-based approach to curriculum design and delivery promoting knowledge integration across three Semester 1 courses

-Discuss how the blended model of delivery supports integration of disciplinary knowledge and cross-disciplinary knowledge generation

-Discuss methods for evaluating achievement of program competencies cross-disciplinary knowledge generation