My Approach to Teaching
The teachers I have had who stand out in my memory have some attributes in common: they presented their subjects in a way that caught my interest, clarified difficult topics and led me through complex areas, and put knowledge into context so that its relevance was apparent. These role models have influenced my approach to teaching: I view myself primarily as a facilitator of learning, rather than as an expert who simply delivers information to students. When planning a curriculum or interacting with students, I am always conscious of their different learning styles and rates, what they have already learned and what they will need to learn in the future. Feedback from students has been vital to the process of growth I have undergone since I began teaching: I learned from them, for example, the pacing of lectures, and effective ways to help them learn in small group discussions.
Personal contact with students is essential to my approach. Many need encouragement to talk to their teachers, so I emphasize my availability for informal discussion and my willingness to help them sort out any problems they have with what they are learning. My experience as a teacher is greatly enriched by this contact with students. I am fortunate to teach in a professional school where I can follow the progress of the students through the program and sometimes beyond graduation.
As I gained experience and confidence as a teacher, I came to regard teaching as my primary professional responsibility. Consequently, I moved into areas of teaching administration and faculty development. My current position as Assistant Dean legitimizes my efforts to effect changes in the medical curriculum, and places me where I can have an influence on the “learning climate” of the medical school. I am able to help my colleagues develop as teachers in my roles as local chair of the Canadian Association for Medical Education and as a TIPS teaching skills instructor. Several years ago, I began to be interested in the theoretical background for teaching and learning. I have attended meetings and workshops to learn about this and am currently enrolled in a distance-education diploma course in medical education. I have begun to do collaborative education research.
As a physiologist working in a professional school, I benefit from having students who are eager to learn an intrinsically-interesting subject. On the other hand, basic science teachers are often handicapped by having no clinical training, and therefore find it difficult to know the relevance of what they teach to the practice of medicine. Moreover, there is a torrent of new information in the basic medical sciences, and medical students have likened it to trying to sip from a fire hose. I have developed some teaching strategies to ameliorate these problems, including collaboration with clinicians for curriculum planning and teaching, and articulating clear educational objectives for myself and my students. Further, student autonomy is important in this situation: students must be encouraged to play an active role in determining what and how they learn. In so doing, they will develop the life-long learning skills needed to cope with progress in medical practice.
As chair of one component of a year-long course in Body Systems, I have had the opportunity of putting these strategies into practice. With my clinical colleagues, I have modified the content and format of the renal systems component so that it provides a bridge between preclinical and clinical sciences, and fosters students’ self-educational and self-evaluation.
I played an active role in developing a new course for the first year of medical studies: Introduction to Physiology is a model in our undergraduate program for its innovative use of demonstrations. As chair of this course, I continue to work with my colleagues and students to improve it and to demonstrate its unique qualities to physiologists around the world.