CTL Blog

Kevin Frick's Dean's Lecture Recap--Part 1

February 07, 2011 | 3 Minute Read

On February 2, 2011, I had a chance to present my Dean's Lecture at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  By tradition at the school, when a person is promoted to full professor, he or she gives a Dean's lecture (although, due to scheduling, in my case it took one year between the promotion and the lecture) and has his or her choice of topic.  According to everyone at the Dean's lecture, my presentation was the only one in anyone's memory that focused on education rather than research.

At the suggestion of some old friends with whom I'd gotten in touch on Facebook, I'd picked up Understanding by Design, a book on multiple intelligences, a book by Ken Bain, and few others written by economists about how to communicate economics in new and innovative ways.   I had come up with an acronym for my approach to teaching--the acronym was HARD CIDER, which was entertaining and memorable, but not terribly marketable.  

When Brian Klaas invited me to put some of my thoughts in this blog, I worked a little to revise the letters in the acronym and now have "VARIABLES before Assessment".  The eventual hope is that I can go beyond the blog and figure out a more formal forum in which to get my ideas written up.  Over time in this blog, I will detail why I think that the word variables is particularly important on a medical campus or even just within an SPH setting.  For the time being, I will simply list out what each letter stands for and the "matrix" of approaches that I think are important--even in a class that is largely conceptual and mathematical.  So here it goes:

Variation--appreciate the variation in the students' backgrounds when they come to a learning experience

Awareness--understand the students' priors about the material in a course. How well prepared are they?  Do they have misconceptions?

Realities--understand students realities and how they might use the information from the class in their professional lives

Instructions--give thorough and good ones

[at this point the preparation for teaching ends and the teaching/learning process begins]

Application--tell the students how the particular item they are being taught can be used in the real world

Big idea--it is most important to make sure students walk away with the right conceptualization of big ideas, details can come later

Learn by example--walk students through a step-by-step example of how to use the concept to solve a problem

Exercise--give students a chance to do some ungraded work applying the techniques they have been taught

Study--give students a chance to study their exercise with feedback before assessing them

Then, when teaching, I focus on the following six things:

Use writing as well as math when teaching economics

Allow students to question the premises and assumptions of what I am teaching  

Have discussions about what is being taught

Give "context plus"--let students know why things are important and don't just assume they are interested->given them a reason to be

Make clear that economically motivated decisions (or any decisions based on a theoretical construct) are part of everyday life

Finally, when I am working with student TA's, find ways to make the course a learning experience for the TA's as well

I'll go through each point to elaborate on it a bit.  I have examples from my own teaching that I have already done, and examples from what I hope to do in the future.  I will show a conceptual diagram that uses VARIABLES, assessment, and continuous quality improvement for my teaching.  And, finally show how the parts of teaching (ABLES) and my six points of focus fit into a nice matrix.