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May 20, 2015

Kathy Doig: Designing curriculum is a bit like jazz

May 20, 2015

Kathy Doig is a professor and director of the clinical laboratory science program in the Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics Program. She is an expert in medical laboratory science curriculum design and has been honored by the College of Natural Science for her teaching and academic advising.

My first two years of college were at the University of Michigan. I thought I wanted to be a physician, but within one semester, I discovered that I just wasn’t happy there and I figured medical school would be the same way.

In those days, we had paper course catalogues, so I flipped from “medicine” to the next page, which was medical technology. I had considered other health careers such as pharmacy and dentistry, but then I saw the courses I would take in medical technology, like parasitology, and I thought, “That’s cool.”

My fiancé at the time was going to Michigan State, so I transferred here. I received all three of my degrees from MSU and except for about five years, I’ve spent my entire career here.

Curriculum design was something that I got into partly by accident. In my first position in the Biomedical Laboratory Diagnostics Program (then the Medical Technology Program), the curriculum was set and I learned how to teach and deliver content. Sharon Zablotney was hired as the new program director and she challenged us as faculty members to think about the curriculum and whether it was doing what we wanted it to do.

We developed a whole new clinical laboratory science curriculum from scratch and that is the major for which I am now the director. It was in place for about five years when I moved over to the College of Human Medicine and helped them implement a brand new first-year curriculum. My job was to work with faculty members on implementing the new curriculum.

Since that time, the BLD Program curriculum was redesigned one more time, and now, in 2015, we’re working on revising it again.

Revising curriculum is a huge job. I’ve found the best way to do it is to chop it up into little pieces so it’s not so daunting. Reworking curriculum is a bit like jazz in that it’s not very linear. You go off on one line of thinking and then come back to the center. It’s also very creative and exciting to do. You have to be very forward thinking and consider what students will need and want to know five or six years from now.

But it’s really people that make curriculum strong. You can assign various people to teach the same content with vastly different results. It depends on a person’s ability to implement instructional methods and understand which concepts students will have a tough time acquiring. Good instruction is designed to head that off and support students.

In my classes, whether there are 20 or 200 students, I try to anticipate the areas of content that are going to be confusing and focus on those more. You definitely get a vibe when students aren’t following what you’re saying.

Being active in my professional organization was very important to my career and had a big impact on my thinking about curriculum through the years. It opened the doors to my research on entry-level job requirements for medical laboratory scientists and the curriculum that supports that. The conversations I had with people at other universities and in industry were invaluable. I encourage all my students to get involved; these societies can open enormous doors of opportunity for new graduates.