I was delighted with the diversity of student interests, training and desire to participate in this study abroad program. However the diversity of the course of 18 students posed several intellectual challenges to my teaching. I asked myself these three questions.
- How strong and broad is my scope of knowledge through read literature and research to teach a shared understanding of the course themes (movement,
mood and diet) and their relationships with each other?
- How could I create the conditions to develop of universal understanding in the context of the study abroad program that respected the starting point of the students and established a baseline knowledge everyone on the course connected with?…Phew! That is a big one to start with!
- To what extent should my regular teaching processes change to achieve the learning outcomes of this part of the course (Chicago Orientation with 6 hours of content focus)?
Within the context of the orientation phase of the program, I knew I had one opportunity to 1) develop a shared appreciation for the themes of the course, 2) engage students in the content and the selected evidence and 3) allow us to progress to Barcelona with a step to move from when the course restarts there.
So how did I answer my questions? I have 17 years of research, clinical and teaching experience in the part of the field I am in now, but I felt this was insufficient preparation to achieve the goals for the orientation because the themes are huge and the time short. I have specialized too much to achieve the population based understanding I needed to be effective. I felt I would satisfy the specialist topics later in the program but not necessarily the universal platform of knowledge I felt we needed at the beginning of the course.
I decided to respond to questions 2 and 3 by relying on an approach to teaching called PRICELESS.
Participation – get all students involved
Relevance – make the content relevant to my student’s lives and the lives of people they know and love
Inclusion – ensure all students have a space to give voice to their understanding and interpretation of the facts
Climate – keep things upbeat, positive and warm so folks feel welcome
Enjoyable – keep things light, allow students to tell stories and connect and find the humor in the learning
Learner centered – focus relentlessly on the learning outcomes of the program and the best ways to achieve them
Esteem – affirm and build the confidence of students through a “slanty rope” approach throughout the orientation phase and where possible in content sessions
Success – design activities so that students achieve success in understanding basic facts. Associate well with peers, Arin (Teaching Assistant), me and other facilitators who came assisted at different points in the orientation.
Self-reflection – create space for students to consider the facts, perspectives, experiences of themselves and others and think about how these affect them and what they might do or think about differently in the future.
By leaning on the PRICELESS principles I determined I would use three documentaries that have been used to educate the public on issues like the wealth-health gradient (Unnatural Causes), health promotion designed out of the living environment (Designing Healthy Communities) and increased sugar intake (Fed Up).
While others might object to the use of these presentations, for me they created the opportunities for conversations, research and critical thinking. Importantly the presentations unified the students with three views they could discuss, challenge and determine the value of themselves.
The process I used to integrate the presentations worked like this. About six months before the course I researched which recent documentaries received critical reviews for their power and quality of research as well as their negative critical reviews. I watched several documentaries and read accompanying reports, creditable
websites and a range of peer reviewed literature from many fields including urban planning and policy, public health, psychology, health promotion, nutrition and architecture and educated myself first. Then I determined my final documentary selection and developed worksheets for students to accompany their viewing. Worksheets had a mixture of recall, open questions and reflective prompts about their personal experiences related to the content. I showed two presentations in 20-35 minute segments and facilitated a class discussion. For the final presentation I broke the students into small groups of 3-4 and gave them a critical thinking framework to operate by. First they recalled the important facts and meaning from the previous two sessions, then I showed the third documentary in 20-30 minute segments. Sandwiched between the showings was a facilitated and small group process built around the critical thinking process examining relationships within and between each theme.
Every student accessed the same information, engaged, wrote, discriminated between pieces of information and weighed relevance and importance to their understanding; critically discussed comparisons, differences and solutions. Several PRICELESS principles were in play in every session.
The proof of the effectiveness of this approach will be the final work products the students produce, their feedback about their learning and their comfort considering multiple points of view. Their ability to settle to their own decision knowing why they reached their decision accommodating conflicting facts . For me, I felt this was quite successful because the content I wanted to convey was more engaging and evidence based than I could have produced or presented on my own in the time frame available which was one 3 hour workshop. My take away was not to be too worried about diverging from what I normally do which is to own all aspects of the content provision process and to feel expert in every area of content, which I learned I am clearly not.