UNE launches new center dedicated to team-based, collaborative education

Students from various colleges within the University of New England work together during a collaborative learning activity.
Students from various colleges within the University of New England work together during a collaborative learning activity.

The University of New England has established a Center for Excellence in Collaborative Education, providing a university-wide hub for cross-disciplinary education and collaborative practices across academic disciplines.

The new center evolved from its predecessor, the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC), which was established almost a decade ago by founding director Shelley Cohen Konrad, Ph.D., LCSW, FNAP, director of the School of Social Work, to specifically promote interprofessional education (IPE) among the myriad of health professions offered by the university. Programs developed under IPEC foster experiential team-based learning, enabling students from different health professions to better understand one another’s role as a member of a health care team and to work more effectively through collaboration to improve patient care.

Serving all six of the university’s colleges and reporting to the Office of the Provost, the Center for Excellence, under Cohen Konrad’s direction,  will use those same principles of collaborative, cross-disciplinary learning and will apply them to programs throughout the entire university — not just to those in the health professions fields.

 “UNE has been ahead of the trends in interprofessional education for more than a decade,” said UNE President James Herbert. “We have made it our mission to create learning opportunities that emphasize collaborative, team-based practice no matter the patient, person, population, or problem that is being addressed. With the new center, we have the ability to broaden the scope of collaborative education and extend its utility to a wide range of programs and opportunities.”

IPEC’s success launched UNE into a leadership role in the realm of interprofessional education, garnering national and international recognition for the university. Among its offerings to health professions students is an Interprofessional Team Immersion (IPTI) program that brings together students from different disciplines to manage simulated health care cases in UNE’s Interprofessional Simulation and Innovation Center. Students from all UNE programs have opportunities to learn in collaborative clinical settings at partner institutions, such as MaineGeneral Health in Augusta; engage in a unique IPE student mini-grant program that funds student-generated projects that engage at least two different disciplines; and participate in a weekly interactive event or presentation covering a wide array of relevant topics.

While all of these programs will continue under the new umbrella of the Center for Excellence in Collaborative Education, expanded efforts will be made to cultivate other programs to bridge the health professions, other centers, institutes, and colleges across the university.

The new center fulfills several of the goals outlined in UNE’s strategic plan, “Our World, Our Future,” which calls for advancing collaborative learning opportunities, integrating such opportunities into the curriculum, fostering a collaborative learning campus culture, providing resources for collaborative education, and expanding the scope of interprofessional clinical and community-based opportunities for students. According to Kris Hall, program manager of the center, “the goal is to achieve the embodiment of collaborative and relational skills that will benefit UNE’s students in their future employment regardless of their area of study.”

The inclusiveness of the new center will extend to its community partnerships. Cohen Konrad shared that a community advisory team will help identify what is needed among those serving the public. “We’re very interested not only in clinical sites but other sites that are serving people in the community and bringing together different disciplines,” she noted.

Cohen Konrad says research will be an area of focus for the new center as well. Some of that research will revolve around taking an evaluative look back on IPEC’s work. “After performing this work for ten years, we now have capability to conduct research into the impact of interprofessional education on the workforce and to examine if it makes a difference in team-based care,” she explained. “Programmatic evaluation is ongoing, and now we’ll be able to engage our community partners in helping to ensure that curriculum aimed at collaborative practices is effective in readying our students for the contemporary workforce.”

Regardless of the endeavor, Cohen Konrad is firm about the fact that projects stemming from the center will be driven by what stakeholders want. She describes the center’s non-prescriptive approach: “We’re not in the business of creating things in a bubble; we’re in the business of finding out what people need in order to achieve better outcomes. We have no interest in developing programs that people don’t want or didn’t decide on themselves,” she said, adding, “… because what we’re really interested in is collaboration; that’s at the heart of what we’re doing.”

Read more from the Portland Press Herald and Mainebiz.

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