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U Make a Difference winner Kelly Burak: 'Innovation is how we attract change – that’s what a university is all about'

Nominate a UCalgary colleague or team making a real difference on campus by March 10

Cumming School of Medicine's Dr. Kelly Burak received a 2016 U Make a Difference award for innovation and curiosity. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Do you work with a colleague or team members who are making a real difference at the University of Calgary? Nominate them for a 2017 U Make a Difference Award; nominations accepted until March 10.

“Innovation isn’t easy.”

Dr. Kelly Burak would know. Now the associate dean of continuing medical education and professional development at the Cumming School of Medicine, he brought the innovative flipped classroom approach of education delivery to the University of Calgary following a sabbatical focused on medical education.

The 2016 recipient of a U Make a Difference award for innovation and curiosity has done extensive work reversing the traditional classroom. He uses Twitter to keep in contact with his students, fusing social media, technology and education into the flipped classroom. He began piloting this approach three years ago as director of teaching innovation for undergraduate medical education and as a consultant in the Cumming School of Medicine’s Office of Faculty Development.

“With this approach, students receive their lectures in the form of online podcasts — compact pieces of information — and they come to the classroom for interactive workshops with a focus on peer-based learning in small groups and experiential learning around virtual patients,” explains Dr. Burak.

Innovation attracts change

This innovative method aims to reduce the amount of time spent in a didactic lecture theatre, abbreviates the content and puts it in a flexible format students can access multiple times during their training, and outside the classroom, leading to better retention of the material through active learning.

“Innovation is how we attract change — that’s what a university is all about,” said Dr. Burak.

His ongoing curiosity in improving teaching methods also led him to create T.I.P.S. (Teaching Improvement Podcast Series), a series of podcasts teaching teachers how to teach. They review the podcasts in advance and attend a workshop where they apply the knowledge learned.

“My role in the Office of Faculty Development was making sure teachers in the undergrad medical education curriculum had the skills to be effective lecturers, be able to facilitate a small group session, be able to teach at the bedside, and be able to give feedback to trainees,” Dr. Burak explains. “We took those four pillars and created podcasts that contained this education theory and pedagogy.”

U Make a Difference awards build community

For Dr. Burak, receiving the U Make a Difference award in 2016 made him feel like he was part of a larger community.

“It’s an important award — it gives you that sense of community within the university. A lot of people receive recognition within their own departments, units or faculties, but it’s important to remember we belong to a bigger community here at the university,” he says.

Dr. Burak’s U Make a Difference award coincided with his 15-year long service award during last year’s 2016 Recognition Awards, and he was especially grateful to share the experience. “It was great to be up there and share it with my nominators,” he says. “When you put that much work into something, to receive that recognition makes it so much more meaningful.”

About the U Make a Difference awards

The U Make a Difference awards acknowledge members of our university community who go above and beyond to make the university a great place to work and learn, recognizing excellence in one of three key areas: innovation and curiosity, collaboration and communication, and a positive work environment and community. Recipients will be announced May 25, 2017 at the annual recognition event.

Visit the Recognition website or contact for more information and to nominate a colleague, group or team effort for this year’s award.


The Calvin, Phoebe and Joan Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases was named in 2008 in honour of Joan Snyder and her parents, who she credits for teaching her the value of philanthropy. It is a group of more than 104 clinicians, clinician-scientists and basic scientists who are impacting and changing the lives of people suffering from chronic diseases, including sepsis, MRSA, cystic fibrosis, type-1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For more information on the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases, please visit us at or follow us on Twitter @SnyderInstitute.