Breaking expectation, an educational tool

Posted on 12th Nov 2017

I have been teaching (radiation) physics since 2010, which started out in 2005 as student assist and helping my fellow students. Over the years I’ve not only taught students but also professionals which is a very varied target audience. Even though both groups have a completely different approach to physics they have one thing in common. They like to be surprised.

As my target audience rarely choose to learn physics, it is mandatory part of medical imaging, they experience it as a boring dry subject. As it isn’t fun it is hard to pay attention a gain the required knowledge. Depending on the lesson plan I like to break certain expectations as I have found this involves students and professionals alike to pay more attention.

Dereck Muller from Veritasium has done some interesting research on this subject. Briefly stated he found that most of us have knowledge which we think is correct but is wrong. Classic education revolves around spreading knowledge by the teacher. This is often done as a form of one-way traffic in which the teacher says something, and the student must simply absorb. The problem here is that incorrect knowledge is barely replaced, students often misinterpret the explanation which gives the wrong knowledge a stronger foundation.

When you ask students to explain a misunderstood subject you can catch them unaware. This triggers them to pay more attention which increases the learning ability.

Let me be clear; There is more to this than I mention here. I you find this interesting please read his PhD thesis, it is a well written piece!

In addition to this we have a certain expectation of what a ‘lesson’ should be. As I mentioned physics is often seen as boring, so people expect a boring lecture. I always try to pierce this expectation…let’s be honest I kind of dislike the classical approach of education.

Smartphones are an amazing tool in this context, people often ask me how smartphones can measure x-rays. This opens a lot of possibilities! To name a few: What is radiation? How do detectors work? How high is the dose? What does the measurement mean?

Another tool I love to use is storytelling. There are a lot of ways to turn a boring lecture into a story people love to hear! Think about visiting Chernobyl, weird (and sadly terrible) radiation accidents.

The last thing which I find important is that a teacher (myself for instance) doesn’t always need to know everything! I love to talk to radiographers about their way of work or have them explain a existing protocol to me. I always get a chance to talk about the basic radiation physics and learn something new myself!

In short, try something else. It might be fun…even with physics ;).