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?