Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Together or Apart, Is There a Better Way to Teach?

I subsribe to the DR-ED Listserve out of Michigan State University. This is a really good listserve of mainly medical educators, although others chime in every once in awhile to liven things up a bit. Over the past two weeks there has been a lively thread concerning the best way to teach. The choices given were 1) interactive facilitation or independant reading with lectures. Each side provided literature to back up their beliefs. The usual arguements were posed. "You may learn more stuff by attending a lecture, but the depth of understanding will be superficial" and "Knowing facts (stuff) is important, you can't problem solve without knowing the underlying facts." I think maybe I've been in this education business too long, as I have seen these arguements surface time and again. Since I have access to this BLOG, I'm going to share my thinking on this.

From all my years of study and practice, I have distilled all of the equivical literature about how best to teach down to three commandments>

  1. Thou shalt engage the learner - If students (at any level) are not engaged, they will not learn. What engages learners depends on the content, the learner and the context. Learners can be fully engaged by interacting with an interesting essay, a well designed textbook, a computer learning module, short excellent lectures and small group activities.
  2. When teaching about complex concepts, thou shalt offer opportunities for learners to "elaborate" on new concepts - When topics are complex or controversial learners usually benefit from hearing others point of view and having the opportunity to articulate their understanding and receive feedback from experts and peers. Although the norm is face-to-face during discussion groups, on-line electronic discussions work well for certain content and learners. The disadvantage of "solitary study" is that the learner is stuck with only 2 perspectives (the teacher and him or herself)
  3. Thou shalt design and share goals for any instructional activity - Purposeless chats about anything that crosses our minds may be therapeutically beneficial, but are not a good basis for learning. Carefully crafted cases can provide the goal as can experienced facilitators.

Perhaps overly simplistic, but I've found these three commandments to be very serviceable.


Anonymous said...

Following these three rules would probably make things easier and should work. I think it covers it

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