Reflection 3: The Power of “Why?”

When I was still in the classroom and teaching Academic Writing, “Why?” was my most powerful tool for giving feedback and working with students: 

I know that this week was about much more than a single word- but I love that it started with “Why?”.

“Yes- you’ve explained the challenges of learning a new language. But why? How does it help you accomplish the purpose of your essay?”

This is a really interested example. But why did you choose it? Does it support your argument? 

My students started to pick up on it and started monitoring their own choices in their writing more carefully in order to avoid the dreaded question or at the very least in order to be better prepared to respond. It became something of a joke in the classes. 

Suffice to say, my love of “Why?” has stuck with me as I moved from teaching to curriculum development to supporting projects. People often get so caught up in flashy solutions or neat tricks that they lose sight of what they are trying to accomplish, and it’s so important to reground them. It helps remind people that decisions need to be grounded in the problems that we are trying to solve. 

I think it’s particularly important to make sure we are making carefully considered design choices when we are experiencing a paradigm shift. Often people are influenced by their implicit biases and don’t even realize that the decisions that they are making may be impacted by the legacy mindset. It’s extra important for us to carefully examine our decisions and unpack our rationale for making those decisions when we are trying to approach things differently. We need to reteach ourselves to think differently as well. 

Working to support the technological side of a current paradigm shift in medical education, I’ve seen a lot of these discussions firsthand. The project is particularly challenging because there are hundreds of faculty members who will be brought in to teach. The new curriculum is committed to reducing didactic teaching significantly, but the amount of faculty development required will be substantial. And, again, one of the most important parts of easing the transition will be to clearly explain why this shift is occurring and what benefits we are hoping to see for students and faculty in the program. 

Why is such a simple yet powerful tool. 

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