Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I did not see that coming (Musings on the not so beautiful game)

One of my twitter accounts is @eurofutballIt's where I keep up with my favorite team, Chelsea (CFC), my favorite player, Fernando Torres, the British Premier Leagueand European football in general, what we in NA call soccer.

One twitter account I follow 'sends up' Arsenal's long-time manager, Arsène Wenger,  Wenger knows best, where tweets often include a variation of
  • I did not see that coming.
This blog briefly discusses what I did not see coming when following Chelsea fans on Twitter.

First the good stuff. There are many admirable CFC fans on Twitter. By admirable, I mean loyal supporters who support the club, all its players and manager through thick and thin. Moreover, they use language suitable for all, including kids.

Sadly, there are many CFC fans who exude hatred and ridicule to players who do not live up to their expectations and ridicule anyone on twitter who disagrees with them. 

Such fans are typically vulgarians whose favorite words are f*ck and the 'C' word, often combined as 'effing c*nt.'

They do not support the team and all its players, only those who perform well, game in and game out. Score, win, I love you. Otherwise you're a piece of sh*t. This is what I did not see coming. 

From an early age my parents taught me the following:
  • Obscenity is lazy. If you disagree with someone, explain why. To resort to name-calling or obscene language means you lack ideas and arguments.
  • Sports celebrates the human spirit. It's about having fun and valuing the best in humans. Sports is joyful.
  • It's about how you play the game, not about winning. Indeed, in the end, winning is nothing if wins are bought by those with the most money. Winning because of money is okay so long as you know that buying wins is meaningless. 
  • Professional sports are just games played by boys and girls lucky enough to extend their childhoods. At best, sports are entertaining diversions from our mundane, real lives. At worst, cut-throat, big businesses that cynically manipulate fans to get their money.
  • Competitors deserve respect and should be treated as you would like to be treated. If you trash sports foes, you trash yourself.
From childhood I've followed professional sports like Canadian hockey and the NA version of football, as well as baseball and basketball. 

Only recently have I been able to follow the beautiful game of football, aka soccer.

Immediately, I noticed significant differences in the British Premier League related to fan behavior on Twitter, comments on Youtube videos, and news stories. 

Most experience relates to Chelsea fans but I suspect it also extends to fans of other clubs.
  • Extreme obscenity is the norm
  • Hatred of opposing teams and players is the norm
  • The more successful opponents are, the stronger the hatred
  • Trashing your own players and manager is the norm, at least for CFC fans
  • Respect for opponents is nonexistent
  • Envy of successful teams and players manifests itself as hatred
  • Past wrongs reign supreme, are never forgotten
  • The 'milk of human kindness' (sympathy, empathy) is nonexistent
  • Reflective thinking and thoughtful analysis of human behavior is nonexistent
Sadly, many fans of the beautiful game are ugly human beings. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How CLS students discover what's important (Musings on instructor's role)

Recently, as part of a discussion about teaching health professionals, a colleague noted in an e-mail message: 
  • 'It would be interesting to learn what strategies good students have for garnering the information that they need.'
A revised version of my response: Many students focus on asking teachers the equivalent of  
  • 'What's going to be on the exam?' as opposed to 
  • 'What do I need to know to be able to function well and safely in the laboratory once I graduate and become a practicing medical laboratory technologist?' 
As an MLS instructor I was explicit. For example:
  • ABO grouping is the most important procedure done in a transfusion lab because, if you screw up the ABO, the error directly affects patient safety. 
  • In other words, in the blood bank there is nothing between the patient and possible death but YOU. 
So....You need to know how to
  • Perform ABO typing with 100% accuracy
  • Recognize unexpected results
  • Resolve ABO discrepancies by selecting appropriate follow-up tests
  • Select appropriate donor blood in cases where blood is needed before a discrepancy is unresolved
These core skills were course objectives but the critical ones were reinforced orally in class and with many dry and wet practice exercises. 

Key skills also received extra stress in the clinical year by explicitly telling students what they needed to be able to do in the 'real world.' 

And why they sometimes need to know pure information because problem solving on-the-job assumes that basic knowledge.

To me one of the key functions of instructors is to let students know what is critical to know vs important to know vs nice to know. In so many words, I'd say, 
  • 'I'm not going to keep what you need to know and do a secret. Here's the scoop....'
I also told students that it was useful to consult instructors about what was EXPECTED for assignments, quizzes, and exams and later to discuss how to improve performance. That way instructors could tailor feedback before and after quizzes and assignments to individual student strengths and weaknesses.

Good students no doubt have several strategies for garnering the information that they need. But to me, that's a key function of instructors. 

Why are we there if not to share expertise and knowledge about how to succeed as undergraduates and as health professionals?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Why street cred matters (Musings on motivating CLS students to prepare)

This blog is a revised version of a message I recently sent to CLSEDUC, a mailing list for clinical laboratory educators. 

One of the subscribers asked how people motivate students to prepare for class. Excellent suggestions were posted since many quality teachers subscribe to the list and generously share their expertise.

What follows are my musings on encouraging students to prepare for classes and complete assignments, a few simple tactics and strategies to consider.

Many CLS students are over-worked or may perceive themselves to be compared to students in programs without laboratories. Plus many work long hours at part-time jobs. And some have family responsibilities at home. 

So the prevailing perception, rightly or wrongly, is one of being overwhelmed at times and hard done by. This makes students sensitive to course workloads, especially anything that strikes them as 'make work.'

With this mindset, students must believe that whatever being asked of them is valuable. As noted, one way is to assign marks or other rewards and 'penalties', a carrot and stick approach. Another is to explain how an assignment will help them succeed.

To me a key to motivating students to prepare and succeed is instructor credibility, being a real person they can relate to.

Credibility is...

1. 'Been there, done that,' i.e., have worked in a clinical lab and know the realities of trench workers and what skills are truly needed to excel. This helps students listen and believe when you explain why something is significant, ideally with real-world anecdotes.

2. Admitting that you screwed up, when you do (and everyone does) and modelling how to accept responsibility and criticism as a normal part of professional practice.

3. Having empathy for students concerns, e.g., ask them about other assignments and course requirements before assigning work and, where possible, get THEM to agree by consensus with when a reasonable due date is. 

Short assignments also are appreciated. Stick to core learning objectives and scrap the 'nice to know' goodies. 

Unfortunately, many instructors, naturally consider their course to be important, if not most important. When assigning work they may not consider all the assignments students are faced with, including mark-related quizzes and exams in other courses. Such willful blindness can be a kiss of death to credibility. 

4. Setting high standards, especially at the beginning. There will be ample time later to be a 'soft touch'. Tell them you have high expectations for what they are capable of. That our brain is ~ 3% of body weight but uses ~20% of its energy and their brain will get a good workout in your course. 

5. Managing learning so students succeed early, as 'nothing succeeds like success.' Early success reinforces that they can all meet course standards. Moreover, when we do well, we tend to like a subject and retain motivation. 

6. Telling students that they, and they alone, are responsible for their performance and achievement. If they want to goof off, so be it. That's their choice. It's perfectly okay. They're adults and if they want to waste their time and money, go for it! 

7.  Having a sense of humor and showing students that you do not take yourself, or your pet discipline, too seriously. A career is but one part of life, a crucial part, but not the only part, perhaps not even the most important part. Self-deprecating humor helps but only if it rings absolutely true.

All of the above won't 'get' all students. Some have a high degree of achievement motivation and will succeed no matter what instructors do. These students aren't the target. 

The target includes those who

  • Are cynical (or pretend they are to avoid disappointment and pain)
  • May be overwhelmed and prefer to be spoon fed
  • Seek the easiest path to graduation and a job. 
But few, if any, young people are truly incorrigible. 

The first task is to motivate students to prepare for classes so that they can get the most from them. And a big part of that is instructor credibility.
And it's worth remembering that often the professionals who go on to stellar careers are not the ones who excelled as students, but rather struggled. 
One of the best things we can do is not turn them off our discipline and profession. If they love it, that's 99% of the struggle.
Food for thought. More education musings in next blog....