To learn more – teach more. Pros and cons

To learn more – teach more. Pros and cons

When I was in school and college, I often helped younger cousins with their lessons. When I taught my cousins, I read their lessons and explained concepts to them. Something that their teachers had already taught, but they could not understand. I did not try to teach them new lessons and I made no attempts to get them ahead of their peers.

It is said – The more you teach, the better you learn. As I taught in different contexts in my life, I not only kept learning more but also learned that:

  1. You must prepare yourself by studying thoroughly what you are going to teach others
  2. If you figured that you taught something wrong, you need to reach out to whoever you taught. Tell them that you made a mistake and want to share what is right.
    Reaching your learners is often not possible after an event – a webinar or a guest lecture. And so it is doubly important to be well prepared and teach right
  3. You may learn a lot about a subject that you have not qualified in. Be doubly (or more) prepared if you plan to teach about such a domain

In the recent months I have heard a few webinars where people at different points in their health sciences careers have taught others how to search PubMed. Those who taught were great in their respective fields. This was apparent from their credentials. They were good presenters too.

Their intentions in teaching PubMed (often largely to UG students) is appreciable. Something I personally, and my colleagues at QMed Foundation, have very close to our hearts.

BUT… things are not going in the right direction.

  • Teaching the use of PubMed means that the learners need to be thorough about some fundamentals of searching and about the PubMed database itself. While the learners are not, alarmingly often – the teachers too are not!
  • In almost every webinar, I have heard them teach wrong fundamentals. The preparation to teach how to search PubMed is inadequate. I have watched them fumble during demonstrations.
  • There is almost always no way that they figure out that they have taught something wrong – so there is no question of getting back to the participants to correct the wrong
  • No medical teacher would dream of teaching about any disease or drug before a student learnt the preclinical subjects. Preclinical subjects are always taught BEFORE clinical subjects.

    But when it comes to PubMed (or any other database) – there is an assumption – that the “Preclinical requirements” are only about knowing how to browse the Internet or how to Google!!  (Type in a few words and search!). The teachers then teach MeSH vaguely, possibly point out the filters, and some more features. And the PubMed session is done in 30 – 60 minutes. Would they teach the MBBS course in one year? No way! 

A bigger concern is – the “relationship” the learners have, with the concerned teachers in all these instances. The students who are learning at these sessions (often UG students) – will naturally believe that what they are taught IS right. The teachers’ credentials are good. They show the best of intentions. They encourage and motivate students telling them that with some practice it is all easy. Why will they not accept everything that the teacher teaches? They will. Including anything that has been taught incorrectly.

This is again like the incident I wrote about in my previous blog post – “Meta-analyses: Do not rely on them” – and I had written – “How could a senior practitioner – who could influence so many minds – say this?”

This is not a comfortable trend at all.

As I write this post, I also recall this – years ago I attended an “Evidence based Dentistry” workshop in South India. The faculty – two of them were Dentists from Europe. When they were demonstrating the searching part, I had to keep correcting them as they made a fair number of mistakes. All this while teaching how to find studies for evidence! What if I were not there? There would be lots of wrong learning.

I would also like to defend these teachers. They themselves have not been taught PubMed or literature searching, the way it should be taught. We cannot find fault with them. This really needs a “system correction”

Individually and collectively we need to be aware:

  1. For anything we teach – learn as much as we can and teach what we are sure about. Importantly make sure we do not teach something wrong
  2. Do realize that there is a field of specialization – “Information Sciences”. The field of Library & Information Sciences is deep enough to study right up to a PhD level.
  3. Anyone in the health sciences who does online searches for professional purposes, must be “Information literate”, and must have the correct fundamentals and skills to search online systematically
  4.  We urgently need to develop and train “Information Specialists” in our institutions just as much as we need statisticians. Information specialists most often have an Information Sciences qualification; however some times subject specialists do evolve into information specialists with the right training. 

What is QMed doing towards enabling this need?

We have online courses –  where we teach Literature Searching, Referencing, PubMed and Mendeley. We are working on creating more courses. We have made these courses very affordable. We keep updating the courses. We help individuals with their questions and doubts.

Institutions should provide access to our courses, to all students and employees, not missing out UG students and library personnel. As good numbers learn it all – there will a great “information skill pool” created in the institution. Different individuals may pick up different parts well and can supplement learning.

I am acutely aware that we lack the large numbers of health sciences information specialists that we need. We need to create them. Our institutions need to ask for such professionals when they advertise for library posts. And ensure that they get trained well. We may have miles to go before getting the right mix, but the first step can be taken now!

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Quality Medical (QMed) Knowledge Foundation is a registered Trust set up in 2007. Our aim is to help medical students, academicians, practitioners and consumers integrate best practices in searching medical literature, and critically appraising the same, resulting in delivery and availability of optimal health care services.

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