Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Education checklists?

This morning NPR interviewed the surgeon Atul Gawande about his new book The Checklist Manifesto. In it he argues that surgeons do much better work when their surgeries are guided by checklists. As the surgery goes along, surgeons, nurses, and techs make sure they have covered all best practices by completing a checklist. Gawande reports that surgical errors declined by 35% when surgeons used a checklist. The checklists are based on those used by pilots and developed by Boeing.

I have often advised my students to create checklists, though more as a time management practice than as something that would make their performance better. But the Gawande interview left me wondering if colleges ought to use checklists much more frequently.

Take, for example, advising, mentoring, and other student support activities. Campuses recommend them for all students, but often the best students (or at least the most compliant) are those who take advantage, while at risk students don't. Do schools use mandatory checklists to ensure that all students take advantage of high impact experiences? (George Kuh and the NSSE people found that students of color and first-generation students are less likely than other students to participate in high impact activities like learning communities that are proven to improve student engagement.)

Would retention go up 35%?

Or consider faculty members. What if they went into every class with a checklist of best practices. Write outline on the board...Take roll...Elicit questions about previous class meeting...Uncover pre-existing understanding among students...Switch pedagogies every 15 minutes...Give students assignments to be completed in class...Check for understanding...

Would learning improve 35%?

If not, why? Is a failure to learn not the result of mistakes and overlooked opportunities? Are some students not retained because they simply "fall through the cracks"? Is education more complicated than surgery?

1 comment:

Bryce said...

Interesting ideas. Teaching seems just as complex as flying a plane or repairing a damaged heart (I can think of a time when I was a public school teacher when I didn't finish a lesson or activity without thinking "I wish I would have remembered to . . ."). So, that part of me likes the idea of educational checklists--they would help teachers and learners remember to do specific things that are likely to improve the experience.

My question is whether the same checklist could be used in every classroom, for every lesson. Is one section of first-year writing different enough from another section that the same checklist may not apply? Or, could my checklist for Tuesday's class session work for Thursday's as well?

As I write this I'm wondering if the value for educators is in creating a couple of general checklists that apply in almost any setting (these would include general "best practices" of teaching), but also developing customized checklists for a particular class or lesson. The latter would attend to particular complexities of the lesson that need to be attended to.

On another note, I could see educators voicing arguments similar to those of physicians with regard to why they don't need checklists (e.g. "teaching is an art," "I don't want to be restricted by a checklist," etc.).