Monday, February 28, 2011

Vacation Week

This week is break week at the Davenport campus and as a result I will not be posting a new entry until next Monday. For those in Davenport, please enjoy this time off, for I know it is much needed. For those at the other campuses, your time is soon coming, and I wish the same to you. We all work hard, and every now and again some time to recuperate is much needed. Back atcha soon!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Words on Good Writing

One of the most common ways academics communicate is in writing. And good writing is a skill increasing lost in these days of truncated communication via email or twitter or texting. Nonetheless, one of the coins of our realm is a good scientific manuscript in which we share our ideas, research, or perceptions. Writing well helps us do that effectively. To that end, I wish to cite an excellent book, by noted editor and writer Robert Day, “Scientific English: A Guide for Scientists and Other Professionals.” (1)In his text, Day devotes a chapter to discussing redundancies and jargon, and he has much we should consider.

Doublespeak: This where we double words with the same meaning. Typically, we do as an intensifier, but it is bad and unnecessary verbiage. Examples are terms such as “free gift,” or “the pinnacle of perfection.” I view this as added words conveying no additional meaning.

Useless words: We add and add words to our writing, in order to perhaps impress people with our erudition. But I spent two decades as an editor, in which my task was to make everyone's writing as clear and concise as possible, which meant that I removed all the unnecessary added words. Take a look at the following list of terms and think carefully about what they convey: “complete stop,” “consensus of opinion,” “end result,” “fewer in number,” past history,” repeat again.” Now look at this list, which removes the useless additions: “stop,” “opinion,” “result,” “fewer”,” history,” and “again.” No change in meaning, but many fewer words used. Now, this is fairly obvious. But consider how we write our scientific papers: “In our paper, we will show that A caused B when conditions were such that C was causing D,” or even worse “This paper demonstrates a summary of evidence that indicates that A may under very specific circumstances lead to a direct cause of B if and only if condition C is met so that outcome D occurs in other situations.” Look at all the unnecessary words here! Try to edit this for clarity: “We show that A causes B.” The rest is discussed in the paper.

Oxymorons: This is a term with contradictory words in it, the classic example being “jumbo shrimp.” There are so many others: “clearly confused,” “death benefits,” “definite possibilities,” “partially complete,” etc. Do not use them.

Words and expressions to avoid: We should not use certain words and terms because shorter and simpler ones should suffice; the idea is to effectively communicate meaning, not obfuscate by adding meaningless words. Why say “a majority of” when we can say “much,” or “based on the fact that” when we can say “because?” Let’s reduce clutter.

Writing is a skill and the more we write the better we get at it. Add in the help of a professional editor, and in the end you will have a very good and potentially publishable manuscript.

1. Day R. Scientific English: a guide for scientists and other professionals. Phoenix, AZ; Oryx Press, 1995

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pedagological Scholarship

Efforts involving Palmer faculty have led to an upsurge of scholarship across all three campuses. One of the goals of the Center for Teaching and Learning is to enhance faculty scholarship; another is to enhance teacher effectiveness. We can do both by engaging Palmer faculty in the conduct of educational research. There is a general belief that good researchers can make good teachers, but oddly enough actual research has not shown a significant correlation between scientific research and teaching. However, when the scholarship is pedagological, this situation reverses, and being able to conduct such research does impact your teaching effectiveness in a positive way. Weimer (1) offers several reasons why this is the case:

You explore the questions that interest you. She notes that doing scholarship allows you to examine those areas in which you may have interest or wish to obtain additional information. We all wish to do scholarship in areas that interest us; for example, I am interested in informed consent in research and I have done research in that area. As a result, you are energized by your work and by what you find. Mainly, because of what you learn.

You develop instructional awareness. Here is the truth: most of us were never trained as teachers and we come by our teaching skills by a great deal of on-the-job training. We may be unaware of teaching theory, but the more we learn about our craft, the better able we are to address issues, concerns and challenges as they occur. This makes us better teachers.

You think more deeply about teaching and learning. I have come to a sad realization. People who do not teach do not really understand the tasks of those who do. And we live in a culture where, in general, teachers are now pawns in a political debate between differing world views. How often have I heard that, because someone only has 12 contact hours of teaching, they are obviously overpaid and must be sitting there for the remaining 28 hours of the week? And for us, we get bogged down in the daily minutiae of preparing and going to class- how much we need to cover, test preparation, grading, and so on. How much can we affect how well and how much our students learn? How much is our responsibility as opposed to theirs? What is the calculus here? As we ponder these issues through our own scholarship we can begin to come to grips with answers to the vexing problems confronting those who teach.

You improve for the right reasons. As you do educational research, it makes your own teaching a more positive endeavor. This is not remediation; it is new learning for you and new application. You are doing the work to help you perform better at what you do every day of your working life. You can make changes that are based on evidence.

It keeps your teaching fresh over the long haul. I’ve been teaching for 31 years now. I was at National University of Health Sciences for 23 of them, and during that time taught the same class for more than 15 straight years. Yes, I made changes along the way, but they were incremental. Yes, I tried new teaching methods, but sometimes they did not work as well as I wanted. I went and earned a master’s degree in medical education just because I was not, and am never, satisfied with my teaching. Research here helps you gain new knowledge and apply new methods. It makes you current.

It improves conversations with colleagues. Rather than complaining, we are talking about exciting, novel changes and methods. It changes the tenor of our discussions. How often do we meet with our colleagues to discuss our teaching methods? As opposed to our problems? This can help alter that balance in a positive and useful direction.

I encourage you to consider your own projects. I urge you to then submit to a conference such as ACC-RAC. It will make what you do all the more exciting for you.

And have a happy Valentine's Day!

1. Weimar M. Enhancing scholarly work on teaching and learning: professional literature that makes a difference. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006: 169-174

Monday, February 7, 2011

More Blogs that Cover Chiropractic and/or Medical Education

There are several blogs within the chiropractic profession that discuss matters of interest to educators. I offer links to several of them here, along with a few comments regarding their content and perspective.

Perles of Wisdom
This is the website of Dr. Steven Perle, a professor at the University of Bridgeport College of Chiropractic. Steve writes an ethics column for the Journal of the American Chiropractic Association, and I would likely position him on the left of the chiropractic political spectrum. His website often deals in difficult professional matters; his recent entries have attempted to debate columns written by chiropractic critic Edzard Ernst.

Health Insights Today
This is a blog and newsletter which comes from Cleveland Chiropractic College and which is edited by author/educator Dr. Dan Redwood. It is professionally done, and covers a wide range of topics, but has a general slant toward public health matters.

Daily HIT Blog
This is linked to Health Insights Today and is also from Dr. Redwood. This takes a much stronger public health approach. Recent entries in the blog have examined “fat cancers,” global obesity, whether pesticides can be linked to rheumatoid arthritis, etc.

Rochesterchiro’s Blog
This is the blog of Dr. Brett Kinsler, who calls himself a skeptical chiropractor. He can wax quite passionate about the issues he is interested in, and he does list evidence-based practice as one of those areas.

Medical Education Blog
This is an excellent blog covering general issues related to medical/healthcare education. For example, the current (at time of writing) blog entry discusses how to work with “difficult students.” It looks at defining difficult, and diagnosing causes of difficulty and then treating them. Overall, this is a well-done site with a wealth of information.

Medical Education Futures Study
For those of you interested in reducing disparities and increasing access to healthcare, this is a nice site to gather information on that topic.

I urge all of you to consider how you might use your own blog to impart information to your students on a regular basis, covering those areas that are of interest to you and for which you feel students may benefit. If you wish any help in creating one, please let me know.