Annual Symposium on the Science of Learning: Dealing with Failure: Getting Our Learners To Ask the Right Questions

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Symposium on the Science of Learning

Harvard Medical School is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians. Harvard Medical School designates this live activity for a maximum of 2.00 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™. Physicians should only claim credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

Dealing with Failure: Getting Our Learners To Ask the Right Questions
Friday, April 10, 2015 –2:00 PM  to 5:00 PM

Students and residents can be obsessed with “getting the right answer,” and often find it difficult to wrestle with a problem for more than a few moments. Lack of certainty about an answer can evoke a sense of unease and stress, and getting the wrong answer can be devastating. This session will address the great learning value associated with the “unknown”  and with making mistakes, and will explore strategies to motivate students to address learning as more than an enterprise designed to acquire facts.  

Program Objectives: 

At the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  1. Describe how “ignorance” or lack of knowledge can be used as a stimulus to motivate learners
  2. Elaborate ways to build upon mistakes as a way to motivate learners
  3. Use techniques to enhance the qualities of questions posed by learners when faced with a problem

Teaching Failure
Stuart Firestein, Ph.D., Professor 
Department of Biological Sciences 
Columbia University 

Science succeeds by failing, a lot.  However we too often omit this perspective in our teaching by leaving out the crucial failures and only telling a heroic narrative - or worse no narrative at all - just the facts.  Failing to teach failure gives students a distorted view of the process and does not create critical thinking that will help them to understand the failures they will inevitably experience. The question then is how do we teach failure successfully?

The Art and Science of Learning to Ask Better Questions
Dan Rothstein, Ed.D., Co-Director
The Right Question Institute
Cambridge, MA 

What’s wrong with the right answers? If you’ve asked the wrong question, the answer won’t be of much help. Students arrive at medical school after years of excelling at giving the right answers to questions posed to them. When and how will they learn to ask their own questions? The skill must be deliberately taught, for students will frequently face cognitively perplexing and emotionally fraught challenges for which there is not one readily apparent, simple and correct answer. They need to learn how to wield the skill of question formulation as a flashlight. It won’t guarantee an answer, but it will make for a much more efficient search than groping in the darkness.