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Fake it 'til You Make it... How to Teach Unfamiliar Topics!

Help! How do I teach this unfamiliar topic?? Teaching what you don’t know.

It seems to come up for all of us. Someone is sick, there are weather/transportation/scheduling issues, curricular changes, departures-for whatever reason, you have the exciting and often daunting task of teaching an unfamiliar topic.

-First, keep the overarching objectives in mind-what should students know about this topic by the end of your time with them? Why are students being taught this information? If you are unsure, seek out someone who may be able to help-other faculty, department chair, etc.

-Review as much background information as you can-perform a literature search, review previous lectures or other information, etc.

-If possible, consider bringing in another expert or panel of experts. For example, if I am teaching an outpatient-focused topic while my training is primarily inpatient, I will contact my colleagues who practice in outpatient settings. They may be at my institution or others and are happy to help with questions. I find this helps with the “real world” application of the information, beyond the information that I can ascertain from the literature/guidelines.

-Keep in mind that not being an expert can have its advantages. Experts often accidentally teach at the expert level, rather than at the beginning level (which happens to be where our students are). As a novice, you may be in a great position to teach the main concepts.

-Assessment of student understanding. It may be helpful to assign a pre-class assessment that you can review prior to teaching. Something like a minute paper or muddiest point may allow you to identify knowledge gaps and misunderstandings prior to class. It may also give you insight into what students already feel comfortable with regarding the topic.

-Try to resist straight lecturing. Though it is often the most comfortable way to teach unfamiliar material, (since everything is on slides in front of you), it is not helping your learners as much as it is making you comfortable. Try to insert some active learning throughout your teaching session to allow students to discuss, apply, and/or reflect on the content.

-Finally, the age old advice-it is okay to say that you don’t know. When we start out teaching, we may think that we need to be seen as the experts who know everything about a topic. As you teach more and more, you realize how much you don’t know. If you have had 5 voices training, this would be considered moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence.

Hope this is helpful as you create new content for Spring semester and volunteer to pick up new topics [Symbol] Thanks for tuning into Two Pills Podcast!