CONNECT Module 3: Using CONNECT Modules to teach graduate students how they can use evidence based practices

by Susan Fowler

Susan Fowler, Professor in Special Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
shares some of her insights on using Module 3: Communication for Collaboration to teach about evidence-based practice.

I am teaching a graduate class in special education for teachers (early intervention through post secondary education) and they are reading about what constitutes evidence based practice and how to translate research articles into practice or implications for practice.   This past week I demonstrated an evidence based practice (EBP) using the Communication module as my example.  I really like it for a number of reasons and so did my students!

  • The user can easily find the research summary on communication practices for collaboration. Right away, the user knows that the module was built on a literature review which relied on the findings of 15 studies  looking at the relationship between health care providers and parents and 8 studies  that looked at strategies or improving communication.  I could pull the literature review  (Nobile & Drotar, 2003) for additional background and to assess the quality of studies reviewed. So the evidence base for the practice was accessible.
  • The module provides the three categories of communication strategies and clearly defines the practices (3 or 4) that make up the strategy.  I really like the three tables and the clear presentation with practice, function and examples in Handout 3.1.
  • The module provides a checklist for identifying if a strategy and its practices are being used. This is great for recording number of  actions during a collaboration conversation and for describing examples.  My students and I could use it to score a videotaped conversation and reach consensus on the definitions.  This meant, we could define and measure a behavior that many at first thought was hard to assess in the abstract. 
  • The separation of  10 practices into 3 strategies helped my students see how they could teach or coach better communication.  They could start with one practice or a set of practices for one strategy.  Once they mastered a practice or a set, they could move on to the next one.
  • The module was clear enough that the students wanted to use it with themselves as a self-reflection tool before they tried to use it with a colleague. The “How am I doing” sheet was a big eye opener for them.  
  • The policy advisory section gave them the information that some thought they would need to convince their school administrators that the evidence based practice of communicating for collaboration merited future inservice training time.
  • Finally, they all appreciated the dilemma video example and how it drew them into the module.  They also liked the opportunity to choose how much of the module to explore.  They didn’t have to go through everything unless they wanted to do so.
  • After our discussion of the Communication Practices for Collaboration, each student found a different internet module on a promising or evidence-based practice mainly outside of CONNECT Modules.   They were far more critical of what they believed should be in the module, having experienced the CONNECT Modules example.  Some EBP modules did not provide references for the evidence base.  Some did not show how to measure and record the implementation of the practice, or ways to teach the practice.  Students reported that some took several hours to work through because they had no choices to skip sections.  None referenced legal policy  and the importance of teaching certain skills or behaviors.

Next semester the students will be implementing an evidence based practice in their classroom or agency. They have identified a practice already and written the literature review.  Many plan to use the format of CONNECT Modules for developing recording sheets to measure implementation of the practice and outcomes.  They also are looking at how they may need to adapt the practice based on their knowledge of their students or setting and cultural concerns.   Finally they need to address issues of sustainability of the practice over time and its social validity.

About the Author: Susan Fowler's research has focused on the lives of young children and their families between birth and age 8.  She looks at programmatic and policy factors that influence family involvement in the delivery of services to their young children, who are at risk for disabilities or identified as disabled.  She examines factors that influence professionals in their delivery and coordination of services.  Her research fits three clusters:  research and development of intervention strategies to enhance language, social and cognitive development in young children; development of guidelines and practices to help communities and programs coordinate delivery of services to young children and families, particularly as they leave one service system for another; and, increasing practitioners’  understanding of the roles that cultural and linguistic diversity may play in family’s participation in services. Susan was past President of Council for Exceptional Children in 2008 and former Dean of the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from 2000-2006.

Community Questions

  • How do you teach  students about using evidence-based practices?
  • How have you used Module 3: Communication for Collaboration?
  • How do you envision using the module?

Comments

deciding on parts and whole

I appreciated Susan's simple for thorough review of the module with her graduate students. But it prompted for me a questions i have struggled with on any of the Connect Modules.. How do you decide.. and hat are the pros and cons of using parts of the module having students spend tie on the whole module?
For example I am currently preparing for my annual offering of my Family-Centered Services course that is taken by both ECSE majors and others in Special Education, School Psych and Speech Pathology... and practitioners in the field who walk in as Resource Teachers K-12, administrators, and dedicated service coordinators. ... The course is not to be limited to ECSE issues/practices... and I see this Communication Collaborating module as an attractive module for the course, with ECSE as an example setting for application..
However I already have a format for the course syllabus, and have a successful outline for topics by week and some activities that have worked over the past 20 years... We use the Turnbull text and Marilyn Friend's text on Interactions and Collaboration. So could the use of the just the videos, embedded into to my weeks on Communication and Collaboration skills, active listening etc be useful independent of the rest of the module? And how much time should I allow/expect if I ask the students to review the Evidence-based Research section as well? ?
The beauty of the module is its cohesiveness and comprehensive nature. Can it be used in parts? or does the building of a patchwork quilt result in less appreciation for the individual module components I select?
Thanks for this forum and your offer to dialogue. Great resource .

deciding on parts and whole

Really interesting comment. I think its possible to use parts of the communication modules. I didn't have a packed syllabus, like you Chris, since I was revising the class and focusing on how to translate research to practice--so I used the whole module. But I know from feedback (my students cover the gamut of ECSE to post secondary) that they found the set of skills helpful as a tool and they liked the potential recording system. So I think you could break it apart, but let those who want to do so, go through the whole module. I think this one is robust enough to be "fractured" into parts. My guess is that I had students who spent 120 min (max) and others who spent under an hour going through the module ---they didn't watch all videos or check out all options. Hope this helps

deciding on parts and whole

Thank you Susan for your comments they helped me a lot. I am a graduate student who is taking a class on adult supervision and education. I enjoyed this module because the module helped me to understand better how to incorporate research into my practice. I was unsure if I needed to take all the knowledge from the module and apply it or just the areas that could benefit from the information. I also appreciated not having to go through everything in the module if it did not relate to your practice.

deciding on parts and whole

I'm glad to hear that it worked well for you to select from the module the parts that related most to your areas of need. I think the format of the model is a great professional development format, particularly for teaching others to assess the effectiveness of their communication --it has great videos, easy to use checklists. MOst of my students who used it as a template for their practice (e.g., implementing a transition planning program or teaching a young child to use visual scripts) benefitted from the way in which the CONNECT module carefully defined the practice, provided a summary of the evidence base and then provided implementation recommendations and assessment of fidelity.
Glad my post was helpful!

deciding on parts and whole

Thanks for a great question, Chris, and for your insightful response, Susan.
I think the answer depends largely on the characteristics of the students. Students in graduate courses should have a foundational understanding of the topic (communication for collaboration), but may appreciate having a framework for organizing various communication strategies by function and seeing examples of these skills in practice. So, parts of the module could easily be used to complement an existing course on this topic. The idea of solving a dilemma in practice may be less relevant for a grad student than it might be for a student who has little or no practical classroom-based experience. On the other hand, gaining insight into the 5-step process (e.g., facing a dilemma in practice, posing an answerable question, consulting the evidence, integrating sources of evidence to make a decision that applies to a particular situation, and creating a plan for implementing and evaluating it) is something that all students likely will benefit from, given that an EBP habit of thinking is one that most of us (faculty and students alike) are still trying to acquire.

deciding on parts and whole

Thanks for your comments and perspective.... I hope I can use parts successfully.

deciding on parts and whole

Chris, Thanks so much for posing the question....keep us posted on what you decide and how it works out for you and the students.

Great activity ideas

Hi Susan,
Seems like you and your students appreciated having the research at your fingertips, opportunities for self-reflection and having the information in digestible chunks.
I really like your follow-up activity where the students critiqued other online modules. I also am interested to learn how the implementation of the evidence based practice goes and also how the students develop measures for implementation of the practice and outcomes. Thanks for sharing!

Great activity ideas

I'd be glad to share what the outcomes are next April when they've finished the project. IN the next two weeks they will be presenting their literature reviews and formulating with their peers how best to implement a practice based on what they've learned from the lit review as well as how they may need to adapt it to fit the context in which they will be field testing it. We're describing the venture as action research and each one will be keeping a personal log (reflection) on what they do,the changes that they make and why, and what the outcomes are. It is great to have the Connect modules as a model. I think most of the students really see themselves now as research/practitioners.

Time it takes to get to know a module

Susan, Thank you so much for sharing how you used the module and the students' reactions. The fact that students see themselves as researcher/practitioners is exactly the kind of outcome we were hoping would occur.
A question that we sometimes get from faculty is about the amount of preparation time they should devote to familiarizing themselves with a module in order to decide if and how to use it. Do you remember the process and amount of time you spent getting to know module 3?

Time it takes to get to know a module

Great question. All together, including the powerpoint I made to summarize key points, I probably spent 3 hours. So I went through the module on my computer, printing out forms I especially liked, watching the videos and thinking about how to present it to my class. Since this was the "exemplar" module, i wanted to point out what I really liked about it and what they should look for in other modules. I have spent more time on other modules, but the one on communication was really perfect for a class of grad students who represented the life span of people served through special education. Communication for collaboration is an issue for everyone, so they weren't concerned that the examples were ECSE. I also spent about 8 hours ( during the summer when I was planning the class) checking out other web sites with EBP modules or models. My class meets once a week for three hours and I typically spend about 20 hours in the summer on background information and then about 3 hours a week preparing for class during the semester. Hope this helps.

Time it takes to get to know a module

Very helpful. Thank you.

Using CONNECT with graduate students

You've included such wonderful ideas here for how to use the CONNECT modules when teaching graduate students. I also teach courses for graduate students in Special Education (specifically on Educational Research and on Collaboration), and I have found the evidence-based practice aspects of the CONNECT modules to be particularly useful. I appreciate the depth and variety of approaches that you used. This post has given me some great ideas for how to expand my work with graduate students. Thank you!

Using CONNECT with graduate students

Thanks! I'm glad it was useful. Most of the students enjoyed the process of evaluating an online EBP module as a way of thinking about how they could present their work next semester. The CONNECT module set a standard that they really appreciated for evaluating other modules. I'll be curious next semester to see how closely they follow the five step process in CONNECT when they write up their practice--they have some latitude. I know the "task analysis" of communication helped them the most in parsing out a complex set of behaviors into parts that could be taught and then measured by a simple checklist--it helped the light bulbs go off in terms of their own EBP choices and how they might implement the practices next semester.