Care and Keeping of a DVM Curriculum

Jan 31, 2020 / Message from the Dean

[Dr. Christopher Seals]

This message will appear in the Spring 2020 issue of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association Epitome. Above, Dr. Christopher Seals relaxes in the college’s Learning Commons.

Curriculum Map Delivers Diagnostics

The data show that the Illinois DVM is highly valued in marketplace.

Introduced in 2009, our innovative competency-based curriculum features 20+ weeks of clinical rotations in the first three years of study. For the past eight years, candidates for admission cited the curriculum as the No. 1 reason they applied to Illinois, when the question was put to them on Interview Day.

What’s more, the percentage of non-resident applicants accepting initial offers of acceptance from the college has more than doubled: over the past four years, the out-of-state acceptance rate has averaged 56 percent, up from an average of 26 percent over the previous 10 years. And this is at a time when the number of U.S. veterinary colleges has increased, expanding applicants’ options.

There’s a Specialist for That

Like every responsible owner, our college invests in the ongoing health and well-being of the living entity that is our curriculum. And so, in 2018 we hired a specialist: Dr. Christopher Seals. Dr. Seals has a PhD in educational psychology and educational technology from Michigan State University. He has a dual appointment as a tenure-track professor and as the coordinator of curriculum and assessment in the Office of Academic and Student Affairs.

“My mission, in a nutshell, is to use data and assessment to strengthen the curriculum of the college,” says Dr. Seals. He’s one of a growing number of educationalists based at professional colleges, including a handful of other veterinary colleges.

Mapping the Curriculum

One of his first steps in this new role has been to lead our faculty in the monumental task of creating a comprehensive map of the curriculum. The map will allow faculty to see when and where content is being taught, and thus to recognize errors, omissions, and redundancies in what we teach.

“The curriculum map uses learning objectives as its data points,” Dr. Seals explains. “During my first year at the college, I met extensively with faculty to help them articulate three to five specific objectives for each hour of lecture and for each clinical rotation.

“Then, last summer, two veterinary students worked for me full time. They matched each of the thousands of learning objectives with the relevant identifiers: nine learning outcomes developed by the AVMA Council on Education, 32 competencies in nine domains in the AAVMC’s rubric for Competency Based Veterinary Education, and the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning (from “remembering” to “creating”).”

Over winter break, Dr. Seals had assistance from other graduate students in entering all this data into special software for mapping curriculum. Once the data are entered, the curriculum map will provide a basis for evaluating how well the curriculum addresses the areas identified by AVMA and AAVMC. It will facilitate collaboration among faculty who teach similar content.

Faculty Focus, Student Benefit

In addition to his role in creating this useful tool for evaluating and improving the complex organism known as our curriculum, Dr. Seals eagerly pursues his true passion: working with educators to put innovative teaching theories into practice. He will focus on helping faculty integrate motivational aspects of learning into the classroom and the clinic.

“Not all students learn the same way. I’m excited about bringing new approaches, such as the flipped classroom, active learning, and team-based learning, to the veterinary faculty so they can reach varied learners,” he says.

Though Dr. Seals’s key audience is faculty members, the true beneficiaries are our students.

“I believe the effort that goes into creating the curriculum map and introducing new pedagogical methods to faculty ultimately will make the Illinois DVM program more efficient and effective,” he says. “Students will feel appreciated and understood when their education is delivered to meet diverse learning styles and focused on their needs as Day One practitioners.”

Spotlight on Student Success

The Office of Academic and Student Affairs recently created a 50 percent appointment for an assistant dean for student success. By the time you are reading this column, we expect to have named one of our faculty to this position. The role’s chief responsibilities will be to provide leadership in the recruitment and retention of veterinary students and in advising veterinary students about career development.

As with our highly regarded curriculum, we intend to invest in improving student success even as the data suggest our graduates already achieve high measures of success. Employment rates reported by Illinois students to the AVMA Senior Survey, taken at/just before graduation, have been consistently higher than the national average, with a five-year mean rate of 97 percent for Illinois students vs. 93 percent nationally. Illinois also boasts an above-average NAVLE pass rate.

Enhancing the diversity of our student body will be a priority for the new assistant dean for student success. Although our current freshman class is our most diverse ever, with one in five students identifying as part of an under-represented group and 28 percent representing the first in their family to attend college, we seek to improve those numbers.

When our students succeed, our alumni and the Illinois professional veterinary community also benefit. Thank you for working with our college and supporting our students as we pursue our vision of excellence.