Bringing a new perspective into focus

Saad Chahine, PhD

“We are looking at ways to change our assessment practices to be authentic, capturing the complex skills that trainees are exhibiting and do it in a way that demonstrates a learning progression.” —Saad Chahine

By Jennifer Parraga, BA’93

Saad Chahine, PhD, has always been fascinated by architecture.

As a high school student he drew sketches of buildings to understand complex mathematical concepts. During his graduate studies, he embraced photography as a hobby focusing on unique architectural patterns and structures.

With experience he began altering his positioning, perspective, and exposure and watched how the same building could come to life looking completely different. Frame by frame, what began as a way to pass time, began to influence his approach to his research and studies in developmental psychology and education. “When I was looking at my research, I started to look at concepts from different angles; this influenced my analysis and I began to see a more holistic view of people,” he said, explaining the influence photography had on his work.

As the newest scientist at the Centre for Education Research & Innovation (CERI), Chahine has brought his passion for mathematics, education and photography, along with his well-honed analytical skills to his research studying the evaluation and assessment processes for learners. His work has become particularly important now with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada’s new 2015 competency-based training framework.

Chahine’s research is looking at how educators can make more accurate decisions about the performance of trainees, and their levels of competency. He believes that the rating scale, which is currently used, doesn’t do justice to the complex skills that trainees are required to perform. “We are looking at ways to change our assessment practices to be authentic, capturing the complex skills that trainees are exhibiting and do it in a way that demonstrates a learning progression,” he said.

Lorelei Lingard, PhD, director of CERI, said that Chahine has the theoretical and methodological expertise to move the Centre forward in understanding how to achieve new assessment standards locally, and how to improve the science of workplace-based assessment globally.

It was Chahine’s interests in mathematics and passion for education that led him to this relatively new area of research and eventually to CERI.

After completing his undergraduate degree in mathematics and physical education, Chahine began teaching math at the high school level in Toronto. He decided to pursue a master’s degree with a focus in Theory and Policy Studies. His supervisor was Lorna Earle, PhD’86, and a world-renowned educator with a focus on policy and program evaluations. Earle introduced him to Ruth Childs, a quantitative psychologist, who supervised his PhD.

Chahine began working as a research scientist with CERI in September 2014. And he is well placed to be undertaking his research as an associate professor with the Department of Medicine, and Western’s Faculty of Education.

Chahine’s hope is that his research will help identify more realistic assessment processes for students and trainees. Ultimately, he would like to see processes that provide more useful feedback, in a much shorter timeline. “We want to define and design a much more accurate picture of where people are in their learning,” he said.

Straddling the theoretical and applied research streams, his work is expected to have immediate implications for how workplace assessment at Schulich Medicine is conducted. According to Lingard, it will also have longer-term implications to understand the benefits and limitations of new approaches to assessment.

Chahine is optimistic about the potential application of his research. He credits CERI’s spirit of collaboration for helping him to advance his work. “The team is the most cohesive, collaborative group I have ever worked with,” he said. Through this environment, and the continued and positive influence photography has on his work, success is a certainty.

“I anticipate that Saad’s work will not only begin to reshape our own assessment practices in the next few years,” said Lingard, “but it will also start to radically reframe how the assessment community is thinking about valid and reliable clinical assessment in the longer-term.”