06 December 2010

Brickbats and bouquets

You get feedback on everything these days. Dr Grumble is not at all sure that it quite does what it is intended to do. In the old days teachers used to mark the students. These days students mark the teachers. They are not afraid of putting the boot in when they want to. Sometimes it is not at all justified. Sometimes it seems destructive rather than constructive. Sometimes it is cruel. Often it is inconsistent. A brilliant teacher one month can be dismal the next. Enthusiastic students bring out the best in teachers: the better students tend to be more positive about the teaching.

Dr Grumble's last group of students were better than average. They were more mature, more understanding of the difficulties of teaching in a clinical setting and more appreciative of the efforts that were put into their teaching. Here is the online feedback about one of the teachers:

Dr Grollen has been a wonderful teacher. Patient and yet discerning of where we can improve, rigorous and yet v. v. kind. And he made a point of going through history-taking and examinations, as well as presenting with each one of us (including submission of clerkings in his pigeon hole); same with his teaching ward rounds.

The teachers who we remember the most though are ones who are both -

a. clearly masters of their own subjects, and yet hugely humble with other professionals, and

b. boundlessly kind to their patients - and, this is perhaps why his next firm of students are going to be v. lucky to have him...

Although this feedback was doubtless typed into one of those ghastly online boxes, perhaps in a hurry, this student has produced a beautifully crafted comment. Teachers sometimes feel unrewarded and unrecognised. They need a little stroking from time to time. So thank you, dear student, for these nice comments. Dr Grollen will be fortified by them. Dr Grumble is sure of that.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear. You're doomed. Most teacher training courses nowadays start off by telling you how knowing your subject isn't important. Your 'role' is as a 'learning facilitator' . . . yadda yadda.

Personally, if I want to learn something, whether it's a language, a musical instrument or how to fly a plane, I prefer my teacher/instructor to actually be a 'master' of their subject. Then it's down to me to learn from them.

I left grammar school over 40 years ago, but often think of Jerry Radford and Fred Lisle. Both were masters of their subject who managed to trigger understanding and a joy in the topic during further maths 'A' level. Neither would teach in today's environment. Just as well they're long gone.


Dr Grumble said...

I have been through some of that training, Ray, with the problem-based learning which I have now abandoned because it did not seem a good use of my time. One of my colleagues had a wonderful way of describing it - along the lines of "people with no knowledge being taught by people who didn't know anything". Medical training at all levels has been damaged by inference from so-called experts.

Dr Aust said...

"One of my colleagues had a wonderful way of describing [problem-based learning] - along the lines of "people with no knowledge being taught by people who didn't know anything". ..."


Heh. No comment.


Actually I will say that, over the years PBL has been running at Dr Aust's Univ of Grimecastle, the style has changed from what we started with:

"Say nothing and answer all questions with questions, so the tutor needs little specialist knowledge"

- to something much more like:

"Steer discussion if appropriate & intervene if you think that is what is needed, so the more the tutor knows the better it works"

Interestingly this has never really been a formal policy change, more a gradual switch to what teachers think actually works.

Dr Grumble said...

I followed the instructions and found it very frustrating. Having lost all faith in the educationalists who thought they knew everything I abandoned it altogether.

I suppose it adds variety and it certainly enables people who know nothing to teach. But it is just not a good way of using the time of somebody who does know something. It is also very easy to do. To teach well you have to prepare and work hard. Problem based learning involves very little effort - from the 'teacher' anyway.

PBL seems to live on somewhere in the Grumble academy but, I think, in a much reduced form and still subject to much derision. Fortunately the teaching fashions appear to have moved on.

We all knew this was essentially rotten when it started. It was an emperor's clothes thing.

Dr Aust said...

Somewhat in keeping with what you say, the single thing that made the most difference to the quality of PBL was the quality of the explanations in the tutors' "crib" book. I have been lucky in that the one I have mostly used, and which I started with as a PBL tutor, had been written by a veteran medic-turned-anatomist-turned-part-time-GP. It had then been refined by a committee including a veteran physiologist, a veteran pharmacologist, and a pathologist. So all in all it was pretty good. [Other chunks of the course, with less well written cribs, were a far harder job as PBL and required concomitantly more specialist B/G knowledge and experience.]

The upshot of this was that as a "green" tutor you at least had (hopefully) an extensive series of explanations to fall back on. If the students were half-bright, they would "chase down" clinical stuff from the internet, from Underwood, and from other textbooks. Then you could, where necessary, "flesh out" and correct their explanations.

It also had the unintended benefit of teaching scientist tutors more of the general science underpinning medicine, and something about medicine too. So I know that I got a lot out of it in the first few years of being a tutor -not so sure about the students.

Also bearing out what you say, in the first few years we used to have "clinical co-tutors", typically consultants who would drop in for 30 min a week to clarify students' more "clinical" questions. My "clinical co-tutors" were all A&E consultants, who to a man or woman used to run their 1/2-hr like an old-school "bedside quiz the students" session.

Dr Aust said...

Back on the main topic, useful feedback from the students is rare, and positive feedback rarer still. So something that is both is definitely to be treasured.

I did get a couple of Christmas cards from my tutorial groups last week, though, which was quite sweet.

Though they may have been taking the mickey.