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Finding New Ways to Educate at the Faculty Mindwalk

By Mike Briddon | Monday, December 9, 2013

There's a good chance that Rishi Desai, MD, has taught you something. If not you, he's almost certainly taught someone you know. Desai, a pediatric infectious disease attending at Stanford University School of Medicine, creates content about health care and medicine for the wildly popular Khan Academy.


Desai, the Medicine Team Lead at the Khan Academy, humbly estimates that he's delivered about two million lessons. There's no question that he delivered an eye-opening one at the IHI Faculty Mindwalk on Sunday.


“It was really a two-way street for me,” says Desai. “We at the Khan Academy have a lot of experience and knowledge about how online education works in the classroom. What IHI brings to the table and what I want to learn more about is how their collective intelligence can use these tools to get better health outcomes.”


This year's annual Mindwalk — The Changing Face of Education — featured a keynote from Desai and an interactive exercise — “ShowMe Something: Exploring New Ways to Teach and Learn” — that introduced a new style of teaching to approximately 175 faculty and fellows in the audience.


“This was the best Mindwalk I have attended,” one faculty wrote on the evaluation sheet. “I was inspired and energized by the topic, and came away with lots of thoughts for new projects.”


Desai, 32, talked about how he got involved with the Khan Academy (he just kept emailing videos to the founder, Sal Khan) and what has made the education website so popular.


“I think people like the authenticity of the Khan Academy,” Desai says. “People are increasingly looking for a human connection when they learn. Humanizing learning is a great way to make it stick.”


Educators at the Khan Academy deliver content through videos, text, questions, and games. Videos and questions are the most popular tool among the 10 million unique users each month.


“We like to create a narrative so you're telling a story people remember,” Desai says. “With PowerPoint slides and bullets, people can jump around and skip things.”


Desai shared some lessons with IHI faculty about how he creates the videos, highlighting the need to have a conversational tone (“like you're telling something to a friend”) and the need to use visual images to help the learning stick. And he offered six concepts to keep in mind when creating lessons:

  • Be authentic and informal, and don't use jargon.
  • Cover one thing at a time. (And remember that pictures of faces can distract people.)
  • Central images are better than text.
  • Build the content in a logical flow that learners can follow.
  • Hear and see the idea. (“Make sure you don't say there are four things and then share three.”)
  • Make sure you provide a smooth, distraction-free experience.


Faculty spent the last hour of the session creating their own lessons using ShowMe, a free app that turns an iPad into an interactive whiteboard. Faculty chose groups, chose topics, put together creative storyboards, and gathered around iPads to create lessons about everything from hand hygiene to putting a tutu on a dog. One group even used sticks and a lanyard to teach a lesson about knitting.


“I had a lot of fun,” Desai says. “I've always loved education and I get to work with amazing teachers to help structure and organize our lessons at the Khan Academy. I learn from others just as much as I teach.”

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