, Ph.D., joined the UNLV School of Medicine in 2015, as the director of learning and performance and professor of neuroscience and neurology. Mark has played many key roles from helping to develop core elements of the curriculum, especially related around learning optimization, to chairing search committees, to teaching a course in the UNLV Honors College that introduces students to the medical school.
Recently, Mark became the medical school's associate dean for faculty affairs. During this process, I worked closely with Mark and learned more about his educational path. All of his experience is now helping the medical school build an exceptional culture for faculty, students and staff.
Mark received his Ph.D. at Auburn University in 1991 in cognitive psychology and human performance. Cognitive psychology is the study of the mind, including all types of higher-thought processes such as memory, learning, attention, language and decision-making. When cognitive psychology is combined with human performance, it looks at specific factors that impact performance both positively or negatively.
The UNLV Department of Kinesiology in the School of Allied Health Sciences recruited Mark as an assistant professor. UNLV's School of Allied Health Sciences teaches health professions, such as physical therapy, nutrition, radiology, and radiation physics. As a faculty member, he built a research center to examine optimized learning, performance, communication and leadership. During this time, he received outside funding for his research and produced several important publications.
In 2006, Mark took a sabbatical year at Harvard University, and then took leave for a year to work at Zappos to apply his research. He published a theory, called "Challenge Point Framework", that demonstrates how the level of challenge you exert or give a learner impacts their ability to improve their performance. The amount of learning and improvement can be improved up to three or four times by assessing what is exactly the right amount of challenge - not too little or too much.
He also has applied "Challenge Point" to athletics. Right now he is working with the UNLV golf team. As he explained in a simplified way, if you are a good putter, then you need to challenge yourself by putting from various spots on the green that are different each time, to hone your skills. If you are not a good putter, then this challenge would prove too difficult, and it would not help you improve. In that case, you would need to putt over and over from the same spot until you master it, and then move to another. This matching of level of expertise with appropriate challenge helps learners to succeed. Mark has written papers on how this simple matching of level to challenge with performance can improve performance with surgeons.
Good, Better, How.
Mark also uses a technique to improve leadership skills and group culture that is called
Good, Better, How
. Though the approach is simple in design it has a strong science foundation. Feedback is critically important for consistent improvement but not all feedback is equal. According to Mark, if feedback is given correctly, it not only helps a person to improve, it also can build strong relationships. A simplified example of how this works is as follows: You ask a student what was good about their last six weeks in class and then discuss it together. Then you ask what could have been done better and discuss it. Finally, you ask how it could have been done better and develop a plan for improvement. This becomes a non-challenging way to get a simple message across and to bring out the best effort of the student. It is an easy technique to use, grounded in a great deal of science, where small improvements add up to big improvement over time.
Mark will use these techniques to optimize the learning and leadership potential of our medical students, and to build a culture of mutual support and continuous improvement for faculty members and staff.