On July 2 and 3, Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology and Pathology Patrick Bankston, Ph.D., the director and assistant dean of the Indiana University School of Medicine – Northwest (IUSM-NW), will deliver a two-part keynote address at a major international conference, “Constructivist Learning Theory Meets Medical Translation,” at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.
In his presentation, Bankston will discuss the medical school’s success with Problem-Based Learning (PBL) curriculum, a teaching technique in which students learn their course material by working together to solve questions or explore case studies under the guidance of IUSM-NW faculty members.
Several years ago, this innovative approach to medical education caught the attention of Professor Joachim Kornelius, Ph.D., who runs the University of Heidelberg’s Seminar on Translation and Interpreting. Kornelius visited IUSM-NW on multiple occasions to study PBL as it was utilized to teach medical terminology to medical students.
“This method … is based upon constructivist learning theory, and clearly shifts the learning process from the traditional ‘passive’ style of learning, in which students generally sit and listen to professors’ lectures, to a team-oriented and much more personally involved education,” Kornelius explained.
“As a linguist, he was impressed by the way that our students were learning medical language,” said Bankston, who is also the interim dean of the IU Northwest College of Health and Human Services, in which the medical school is a partner. “The medical terminology they learn is really comparable to a foreign language. At some point, he decided that this approach could be applied to learning languages.”
Subsequent research by Kornelius and one of his doctoral students, Wencke Orban, revealed that cooperative learning groups tended to produce higher-quality translations than lone translators.
“In this way, our results seem to parallel the results that Prof. Bankston consistently achieves at Indiana University,” Kornelius said. He noted that, in the European Union, where many different languages are represented, there is a need for highly skilled translators in a variety of professions.
Bankston said he was flattered by Kornelius’s invitation to speak at the Heidelberg conference, but he expressed some trepidation that he would feel like a “fish out of water” at such a prestigious gathering of educational theorists.
“It’s really, totally unexpected, but I am thrilled to do it,” he said.
IUSM-NW’s embrace of PBL, Bankston explained, arose from the need to better engage its medical students in their science curriculum by relating it more directly to the kinds of work they would do later on in their careers. IUSM-NW officials did not anticipate playing a role in the development of a larger educational theory, he said.
“We’re proud of it,” Bankston said. “And we’re proud that we can be a source of inspiration in bringing this innovative learning technique to other fields.”