TRP Up-Close: Pre-existing Conditions
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MHSc in Translational Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it unprecedented challenges. We, at the TRP, have adapted swiftly to ensure that the program continues to be delivered smoothly. This is a personal memoir by our Program Director Joseph Ferenbok, talking about how the TRP went virtual. 

Joseph Ferenbok, TRP Program Director, May 2020
For years I have been involved in eLearning discussions, taskforces, tool development, and curriculum design. Throughout the years I have had some interesting successes and been involved in some monumental failures. I have tried many strategies of integrating technology-assisted learning into my thinking about teaching and learning.
In one of my first experiences as a teaching assistant, I ran a forum for my tutorial sessions that ended up having more than triple the number of posts than the other seven TA’s combined—and at the time, I was absolutely convinced of the power and potential of the internet as a learning tool. But then I tried to build an entire learning community online. The system that was designed had more bells and whistles than virtually any of its contemporaries—it represented a monumental achievement of coding and development for its time. The problem is that no one signed up. No one wanted to use it. It was pretty but too complex and unfocused.
Learning from that experience I tried the opposite approach—to work with people to develop technologies that supported learning objectives. But the push back, the reluctance to change even when it would mean less work and improved learning experiences forced me many times to abandon even this participatory strategy.
If there is one thing that may be seen as a positive of the COVID pandemic in the context of education and curriculum design, it might be this: it has forced people, students and instructors alike to disrupt their entrenched ways of doing things. It has forced us to try and adopt models of delivery and engagement that were inching forward because of sunk costs and established momentum. Virtually overnight everyone went to online content and delivery, and the resistance, the culture, and pressure that defends the status quo were systemically removed leading to accelerated adoption.
The COVID situation has provided conditions to experience technology-assisted learning and has forced us to rethink the pedagogy driving learning, and it is likely that this shift will leave a lasting impression on educational practices, efforts at sustainability, and the deployment of hybrid approaches to learning. At the end of the day, it was not the readiness of the technologies, nor the underlining politics or economics that created the circumstances for innovation, but the removal of cultural practices and barriers that made rapid change possible. Buy-in from people has again proved to be the most influential preexisting condition for the adoption of innovation.
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Joseph Ferenbok
“Translation is a social good, and through Translational Thinking, we are on a mission to expedite the transformation of knowledge into health benefits for society.”
Driven to improve patient care, Joseph catapults projects forward with passion, wisdom, and a contagious chuckle. He is Co-Director of the Health Innovation Hub, a Faculty of Medicine initiative intended to connect, align, serve, and facilitate the translation, innovation, and commercialization of ‘Health Matters’.
Here at the TRP, Joseph is our inspirational Founder and Program Director. He is also a Course Director for Foundations in TR and for Methods in Practices and Contexts, and the Instructor for the Translational Thinking module.