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Have You Considered Putting Your Students Under the Microscope?

When was the last time you startled yourself because your smartphone photo feature was inadvertently flipped? Students often have a similar “startled” reaction after going under a classroom microscope for the first time because they see things they weren’t expecting. The microscope in this case is a recording device, like a smartphone or tablet, and the students serve as their own petri dish. This classroom activity, or experiment if you will, is an engaging and cost effective way to open the door to deeper learning.

Dwight W. Allen created microteaching at Stanford University more than fifty years ago for developing educators across academic disciplines. Microteaching is a technique where teachers review a recording of their teaching and elicit feedback from peers or students. While it remains an established and effective faculty development tool, at Loma Linda University, we have modified microteaching to improve verbal and non-verbal communication in our Doctor of Physical Therapy students.

Photo: Pixabay

Students are given an abbreviated subjective examination form to review. Afterward, groups of 4-5 students meet with a teacher and bring their smartphones or other personal recording devices. The teacher role-plays a patient and one of the students conducts the subjective examination. The student’s recording device is given to a classmate who sits behind the teacher and records the performance from the “patient’s” perspective. Afterward, the recording device is given back to the student who leaves the group to independently watch their performance while the remaining students and teacher discuss the session. After viewing the performance, the student immediately returns to the group and the teacher facilitates a de-briefing discussion with the entire group. The activity takes about 15 minutes and is repeated for all students.

Microteaching provides a first glimpse of how our student’s future patients will perceive them. Typical feedback during de-briefing discussions include statements like “I looked so nervous,” “I need to do a better job establishing rapport,” and “I shouldn’t slump so much when conducting the examination.” The role of the teacher is to facilitate a constructive de-briefing discussion highlighting strengths and weaknesses in both verbal and non-verbal communication. The key is to keep the activity moving forward by asking questions that encourage the students to share and discuss their observations versus simply telling them what you observed. The activity is intended to be learner-centered instead of teacher-centered.

Microteaching is one example of an active learning tool that can be modified to meet the needs of students across many disciplines. Microteaching can be easily adapted to work in a large lecture hall by asking for student volunteers from the audience and conducting the microteaching session from a “pseudo-fishbowl” perspective. Also, students can continue using microteaching to prepare for capstone presentations, job interviews, or any activity where verbal and non-verbal presentation is important. Christian educators are uniquely positioned to serve and deeper learning is possible when our students are actively engaged in the process. Consider giving your students a different viewpoint from under a microscope.

Additional Resources

Fishbowl Strategy


Note: Article written and posted in English.

Eric Johnson

Eric G. Johnson, DSc, PT, MS-HPEd, NCS, is a Professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions. He was the 2014 recipient of the Loma Linda University Kinzer-Rice Award for Excellence in University Teaching.

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