What a Concept! Conceptualizing Highly Technical Course Content Through Media to Increase Student Comprehension

Concurrent Session 9
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

When newly-admitted students have varied technical skillsets and backgrounds, program planning and course design must have a strategy to ensure that curriculum is innovative, engaging, and relatable, while maintaining academic rigor. This interactive session focuses on marrying technology with design to create innovative media that conceptualizes highly technical course curriculum.


Dr. Wojtusiak is an associate professor of health informatics in the George Mason University Department of Health Administration and Policy, and the Division Director of Mason's Health Informatics program. He also serves as the director of the GMU Machine Learning and Inference Laboratory, and the director of GMU Center for Discovery Science and Health Informatics. Dr. Janusz Wojtusiak obtained with honors his Master's degree in Computer Science from Jagiellonian University in 2001, and Ph.D. in Computational Sciences and Informatics (concentration in Computational Intelligence and Knowledge Mining) from George Mason University in 2007. After completing his PhD he became a post-doctoral fellow in the Mason's Department of Health Administration and Policy. Dr. Wojtusiak's research interests include development and use of intelligent systems in healthcare. In particular he focuses on creating artificial intelligence algorithms for clinical decision support and knowledge discovery in medical data, and supporting health services research. Specific methodologies include machine learning, evolutionary computation, and knowledge mining. He authored or co-authored about 100 research publications and presentations in these areas. Some of his current research include work on prediction of patients' functional decline over time, generation of realistic synthetic patient data, interpretability and transparency of machine learnign methods in health, and prediction of wandering patterns in People with Alzheimer's Disease. Dr. Wojtusiak collaborated with multiple national and international institutions including University of Louisville, University of Bremen, Germany, and AGH University of Science and Technology, Poland. In 2007, he has been a fellow of Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg (Hanse Institute for Advanced Study), Germany. Dr. Wojtusiak chaired Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining Working Group (KDDM-WG) in American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) in 2013-2014 term.
Jennifer Park is a Senior Learning Designer with Wiley Education Services, a division of Wiley. She brings over 10 years of instructional design expertise to the programs and courses that she works on. Jennifer obtained with honors her Master's degree in Organizational Development and Leadership from Saint Joseph's University in 2017 and her Bachelor's in Applied Management from National American University in 2014. In addition, Jennifer has worked on the creation of media assets for multiple levels of online course development. She has a multitude of experience with scripting, storyboarding, producing and presenting utilizing video, scenarios, and graphical assets. Jennifer prides herself on developing strong relationships with both internal and external stakeholders to ensure trust, collaboration and maintaining the integrity of the project at hand. She is a strong leader and problem solver with initiative to exceed goals, adhere to deadlines, utilize creativity and innovation and has a passion for developing colleagues in her mentorship opportunities.

Extended Abstract

When newly-admitted students have varied technical skillsets and backgrounds, program planning and course design must have a strategy to ensure that curriculum is innovative, engaging, and relatable - while maintaining academic rigor. Wiley Education Services, a long time provider of higher education services and technology solutions, and George Mason University, Virginia’s largest public research university, are partnering together to provide this interactive session focusing on the marrying of technology with design to create innovative media that conceptualizes highly technical course curriculum, despite differing levels of learner’s technology experience.

As one of the fastest growing job sectors in the healthcare industry, technology is one of the major driving forces behind improvements in healthcare. The relationship between technology and healthcare has flourished in recent years, since technology impacts all touchpoints of the healthcare industry, including patients, providers, and policies. As new technologies are introduced, the relationship between healthcare and technology grows increasingly complex, delineating the need for educators to adapt their curriculum to that complexity.

The number of students with undergraduate degrees in health information technology is growing consistently, and the overall mix of students will continue to change over the next decade. However, the majority of students in the program come with health-related backgrounds (nurses, health administrators, pharmacists, clinicians, lab technicians, etc.), as well as those with technology backgrounds (IT, computer science, engineering). In addition, some students have backgrounds unrelated to the program (biology, psychology, etc.). This diverse mix of technical experience levels creates a challenge for educators: how can we conceptualize this technical course content so learners can comprehend material regardless of experience?

George Mason University developed their Master of Science in Health Informatics program with this growing complexity in mind. The goal of the Health Informatics graduate program is to not only teach students the necessary skills, but also to teach them why those skills are essential. This approach requires strategic planning for the entire program in order to accommodate the different experience levels that newly-admitted students may have. The complexity that Mason was mindful of during program development was not only the diverse professional experience of the admitted students but also the varied career paths those students will take.

The program planning and online course development process is an ongoing collaboration between the MASON faculty development team and learning designers at Wiley. This process relies heavily on expertise in content and online course development in order to form a cohesive course. In the initial stages of developing the Health Informatics program, Wiley and Mason determined that there was an opportunity to utilize media to teach the highly technical curriculum through organized content and illustrated case scenarios. Multimedia learning has been known to work well for students [1], and in the case of Mason’s program, it proved specifically useful for student learners working on computing and programming content.

Mason and Wiley were able to custom design the media approach for each individual course in the program. This custom multimedia approach enabled students to fully immerse themselves in the topics of study and gain real-world context with the technical requirements. To address differing skill levels of students entering the graduate program, most of the media in the first course is instructor-generated, such as screencasts, modeling videos, and professional narratives. Successive courses in the program provide a thorough sense of why the skills taught are imperative, and how they relate to current issues in the healthcare field through real-world examples. 

During this interactive session, Wiley and Mason will:

  • Discuss how Mason’s Master of Science in Health Informatics program was structured for student success despite varying levels of technology experience students initially had.
  • Share the methods used to teach highly technical course content, whether quantitative or technological in nature, by utilizing media as a design tool for conceptualization.
  • Provide practical solutions to bridge the gap between students lacking the necessary technology experience and/or those with too much experience for introductory courses.
  • Demonstrate techniques used to successfully engage students including videos, illustrated case scenarios, and learning modules.
  • Discuss how Mason’s program fosters student self-learning and experimentation with new technologies, research techniques, and concepts through practical exercises.
  • Conduct an open discussion with the group on other successful pedagogy or techniques for teaching technical course information.

Upon conclusion of the session, attendees will gain an understanding of how the incorporation of different media types can increase learner engagement and comprehension, despite differing levels of initial experience.

Engaging the Audience & Structuring Group Discussion:

The presentation portion of the session will provide the basis for discussion where all participants can voice their opinions and share experiences on teaching diverse groups of students in technology and science domains. The discussion will start with what techniques have worked for Wiley and George Mason University, and move to what has worked (or has not worked) for those in the room. The group discussion will have the ultimate goal of sharing ideas and information to preserve the integrity of technical curriculum in the online space.

Participants will be encouraged to share ideas, ask questions, and participate in an information-sharing environment. They should expect to walk away with an understanding of how important it is to conceptualize highly technical content in order to influence student engagement and comprehension.

Target Audience:

This session will benefit faculty members, program leadership, instructional designers, and instructional technologists. Attendance is encouraged for those involved with curriculum that is technical or quantitative in nature.

Requested Resources:

Presenters would need a projector and audio capabilities, there will be slides presented and made available on the conference website. Participants would need energy, the desire to engage in brainstorming,, and supplies with which to take notes or sketch ideas.


1. Hibbert, M. C. (2014). What makes an online instructional video compelling?. Educause Review Online.

2. Zak, P. J. (2014). Why your brain loves good storytelling. Harvard Business Review, 1-5.

3. Mayer, R. E. (2014). Principles for multimedia learning with Richard E. Mayer. Harvard Institute for Learning and Teaching.[online]. Available from: http://hilt.harvard.edu/blog/principlesmultimedia-learning-richard-e-mayer.

4. Koulouri, T., Lauria, S., & Macredie, R. D. (2015). Teaching introductory programming: a quantitative evaluation of different approaches. ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE), 14(4), 26.

5. Chapman, B. E., & Irwin, J. (2015). Python as a first programming language for biomedical scientists. In Proceedings of the 14th Python in Science Conference (SCIPY 2015).

6. Koc, D. (2017). Designing a Technical Teaching Approach for Python Programming Language. Journal of Multidisciplinary Developments, 2(1), 25-27.

7. Czerkawski, B. C., & Lyman, E. W. (2015). Exploring issues about computational thinking in higher education. TechTrends, 59(2), 57-65.