I’m all about looking for teachable moments with my students. I think that’s true for pretty much all of us who teach at Excelsior.
To me, a teachable moment is an opportunity to help a student to open up their mind to a different way of looking at an issue. It’s also an opportunity to help students to perform better. And our courses also provide teachable moments for students to make improvements in their daily lives.
Here are some examples:
One of the courses I teach, “Sex, Gender, and Health,” is really all about teachable moments. That is, as long as students are willing to open up to different ways of thinking. Some are more ready to do this than others. I often catch students expressing opinions based on stereotypes. When I do, I might encourage them to consider an alternate perspective. I do this in a post, if this can occur organically and in a way that doesn’t make the student feel like they are being called out in front of other students. Or I might send a message.
Gary McClain, PhD
In another course, “Introduction to Health Care Delivery Systems,” students often become very opinionated in the discussions, sometimes emotionally-charged. Talking about health care these days tends to do that to people. When discussions devolve into the kind of discussion you might have over coffee, replete with personal war stories, this is an opportunity for a gentle reminder of the definition of an academic discussion. Along with the importance of citing facts, expert opinions, and basically not forgetting to base posts on what we’re learning in the course materials. Do I post an announcement about this? Sure. But a post that asks the student for additional facts, or a personal message, may be what it takes to make the essence of an academic discussion real for a student.
Making use of teachable moments can go a long way toward helping students perform better. A student who uses Wikipedia.com as a reference is probably going to receive a message with a definition of primary versus secondary sources, and why this difference is important. Posts with a lot of typos receive a message with encouragement to type their post into a Word document, edit it, and then cut and paste. A word or term that is misused may lead to a message with clarification, along with a suggested substitute. Could I wait until midterm feedback or discussion grading? Sure. But why not seize the moment and, with a quick message, help students to perform better. If you see something, say something.
Many of our courses are filled with teachable moments that students can learn from to have better lives. The course content does that on its own. But still, as teachers, we can push that process along. I might respond to some of those experiences that students share with a post that reiterates something we just learned about in the course. Topics like new health care laws and treatment for mental illness have provided opportunities to remind students that help is now available for themselves or family members who may need it. One student was also encouraged to advocate for a chronically-ill family member.
The overall theme here is that the educational process provides all kinds of teachable moments. And, as teachers, we can have our eye out for teachable moments and use them to help students learn. Sure, students read/view the course materials and they read our announcements. But it is these teachable moments – when the teacher makes that magical connection and responds in a way the student can hear and learn – that can make the material that much more relevant. And adult students are all about relevance.
As the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” And when the teacher shows up, that’s a teachable moment.
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