July 18, 2023

Heersink Family Active Learning Center marks a milestone in UAB medical education

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ALC 1In fall 2023, the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine opened the doors of its Heersink Family Active Learning Center to students, heralding a new era of teaching and learning for UAB medical students. The curriculum utilized in this space with first and second-year medical students employs a flipped-classroom education model and an emphasis on peer education. Novel teaching modalities such as team-based learning and case-based collaborative learning represent a departure from the lecture format of traditional medical school curriculum.

Located in the newly renovated second floor of Volker Hall on UAB’s campus in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, the Active Learning Center was made possible by a generous donation from the Heersink Family Foundation. Because of this gift, UAB’s medical students will be able to experience cutting edge education through modern teaching methods and advanced technology.

The flipped classroom method, with students actively engaging in the learning process, is core to the Active Learning Center’s vision for medical education. “In team-based and collaborative learning, students are going to work together to answer questions and solve complex medical problems,” says William Brooks, Ph.D., Assistant Dean for Preclinical Education, “working on communication and teamwork but also digging deep into the information and applying basic science facts, like anatomy, pharmacology, and microbiology, to real clinical problems.”

ALC 2The learning space is comprised of 35 tables that seat six students in small groups. Each table offers a digital screen that allows students to mirror content from their own devices during virtual laboratory sessions. The instructor can then highlight that content on all classroom screens, connecting members of small groups across the lab space. The screens can also display class material from the instructor, such as “Questions @UAB” (QAB), where multiple-choice, board-style questions are posed for students to answer anonymously through electronic polling. If less than 80 percent of the class selects the correct answer, time is provided for group discussion to work toward the correct answer. The question is then repolled, with the goal of higher mastery throughout the class. Each small group table within the space is also equipped with a microphone that can broadcast to the entire classroom, empowering students to ask questions and ensure understanding of concepts.

Brooks notes, “The students can be together, with faculty walking around interacting to engage them throughout these collaborative learning processes. The room is outfitted with all kinds of technology – it’s one of the most advanced rooms across the whole campus.” From the technology installed in the room to the curriculum employed during classes, student development and effective learning processes inform how the Active Learning Center will be utilized moving forward.

ALC 3Marnix E. Heersink, M.D., his wife, Mary, and his family are longtime supporters of UAB’s medical programs. Since 2017, Mary Heersink has served as a member of the Heersink School of Medicine’s Board of Visitors. Additionally, three of their children have earned M.D. degrees from Heersink School of Medicine, another child earned a Master of Public Health degree from UAB, and another graduated from UAB School of Dentistry. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held later in fall 2023 to commemorate the milestone the Heersink Family Active Learning Center represents and to celebrate the advancement in medical education UAB is employing because of the philanthropic gift and support from the Heersink Family Foundation.