How do you plan for learning?

Cara explains to me how the process of preparing for teaching has evolved over the four years that she’s been teaching.  Cara doesn’t use the same approach every iteration of the Unit, she experiments with new approaches.  “The researcher in me is engaged with the process; I’m trying to continually improve upon the delivery and outcome. I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of teaching.”

I really get a lot out of reading education journals and finding examples on how to present a topic. I regularly turn to online journals, such as the Journal of Neuroscience Education (JUNE) for inspiration. Some of these articles outline the core concepts that I need to present if I’m planning to teach students topic X.

Dr Cara Hildreth

Cara explains to me how her research into how others teach a topic gives her inspiration to try something new.  She embraces the ideas that come through the literature; they provide her with confidence about what content to include and how to structure the presentation.  Topics in her field (neuroscience) can be so huge that it can be overwhelming to know where to start and what information to provide students with.  Cara has the self-confidence to piece together ideas, try them out and is prepared to fail.  To me, Cara’s approach to teaching is both courageous and scientific.

Here’s an example

Cara turned to the literature for fun ideas about how to present ‘neuroanatomy’ content in an engaging way.  An article in JUNE led Cara to try an innovative approach to delivering dry content.  Cara gets students to don a plastic shower cap and draw on the cap where they thought important landmarks were located.  She then displayed an actual brain to the students allowing students to quickly work out that the brain parts are in slightly different locations to the drawing on the shower cap.  Students then go onto learn the anatomical landmarks and positioning in the brain in quite a memorable way.

Essentially, Cara works out the key threshold concepts students need to know and then gets insight from the web about how best to present the information.  She also searches online for learner support resources.  Cara adds her own anecdotes, analogies, life stories and cartoons to stimulate student thinking or illustrate a concept during her face-to-face time.  Occasionally Cara will use a YouTube video or an excerpt from a movie to help convey a concept.  “My lectures can be a bit didactic at times, so I believe in providing students with little hooks that they’ll remember.”

Offering informal learning opportunities

In appraising her own teaching, Cara believes her forte is in small group informal teaching.  Cara offers a drop-in session once a week for MEDI303; it’s not timetabled and is completely voluntary.  Students receive a revision question each week (in advance) and those that turn up discuss their solutions.  A small group setting allows Cara to tailor her responses to the individual or the group. Cara can identify individual difficulties with concepts and actively work on resolving those.  Cara facilitates the discussion, keeps students on track, resolves misconceptions and revises core concepts when appropriate.  

It should be clear by now that Cara displays empathy for her learners.  This is not to suggest that Cara is completely soft or spoon feeds her students.  Cara believes that education is a two-way process; interaction with students requires them to be jointly engaged in the learning process.  Cara acknowledges that when the audience is engaged, her delivery improves. Cara gets a sense if something is not working quite right by closely monitoring the non-verbal cues her students send out.

Posted by Lyn Collins

Senior Instructional Designer in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

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