Reflection on critical appraisal training

10 09 2012

Last week I delivered an ‘Introduction to Critical Appraisal’ training session to three occupational therapists.  It was the first time I had delivered the session in a long time.  A relatively new member of the library team asked me if she could observe the session for her own learning, and I recognised this as an opportunity to get some peer feedback on my training style and communication skills.  Even though this felt scary I knew that my colleague has a lot of experience in teaching and research methods, so this would be an invaluable opportunity for me to pick her brains too!

I updated the existing powerpoint slides and refreshed myself on the content and key messages that I wanted to communicate.  Here I’m hoping to reflect on what went well and what I could do better next time.

What went well

My approach to this subject is not ‘librarian as expert’; by no means do I see myself as an authority on critical appraisal.  The approach I took in the training session was as ‘guide on the side’, and I feel that worked well, since the group asked a lot of questions and if I’d professed to be an expert I would soon have been found out!  If there was something I didn’t know the answer to (which there was!), I suggested that we look and work out the answer together, or I asked the group what they thought and used the question as the basis for a wider discussion.

A member of the group unexpectedly brought along an article that she wanted us to appraise during the session and presented it to me at the start.  Panic!  When I’m appraising an article I always try to read it and make notes beforehand.  However, I could see the value that the group would get from appraising an article in their area of interest, so I dropped one of the exercises that I had planned and substituted it with a group appraisal of the article.  This ended up being the most valuable part of the session in terms of applied learning.  I felt that I dealt well with this unexpected and last minute change to the lesson plan but I don’t think my facilitation of the discussion was as good as it might have been if I’d been able to prepare properly.

The group dynamic worked really well; I’ve delivered training to this group before (a ‘Finding the Evidence’ session) so I already knew them and they were all colleagues so knew each other well.  This made it easy for me to make the session interactive – they were relaxed and contributed enthusiastically.  At the start of the session they were hesitant about critical appraisal jargon but by the end of session I could visibly see how their confidence developed.

Critical appraisal involves some pretty complex ideas that I always struggle to communicate in a straightforward manner.  I sometimes find myself rushing through the complicated bits to disguise my lack of confidence and hope that no-one will ask a question!  This time I forced myself to ask the group if they had any questions before moving on to the next part of the session, so I hope I managed to combat that bad habit (although I still lack confidence with explaining the complex bits!).

What could be improved

I find it difficult to strike a balance between admitting that I’m not an expert on the subject (to make the trainees feel at ease) and apologising so much about my lack of in-depth knowledge that I end up undermining my role as trainer.  I make it clear that I’ve had critical appraisal training and can pass on the knowledge and skills I possess, but I’m by no means a statistician or research expert.  In this session I feel I apologised too much, probably due to the fact that I was feeling a bit rusty.

Due to the last-minute change in lesson plan, my session ran over time, and the trainees were trying to escape from the room at the very moment that I wanted them to complete an evaluation form!  I compromised by emailing them the evaluation form that afternoon, but it wasn’t ideal.

My colleague who observed the session provided some really useful immediate verbal feedback, including some practical suggestions as follows:

  • Use communicubes as a way of assessing the trainees’ learning at the start of the session
  • Move around some of the slides into a slightly different order which may communicate your key points more clearly.
  • Allow more time to spend on the group activity – this was the most valuable part of the session.

My colleague also sent me some written feedback on my delivery of the session, which is really positive but also makes some useful suggestions for improvement.

Overall, I feel that I’ve got some useful practical suggestions for next time as well as some good feedback that I’m delivering the session well.  I was really pleased  that a scary situation ended up being so positive!