Teaching students the value of critical thinking

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

As an inaugural recipient of a DVC(A) Merit List Award for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Clinical Educator in podiatry, Sean Sadler, shares his approach to education and what makes a great teacher.

Mr Sean Sadler, Clinical Educator at the University of Newcastle

Great teachers are different things to different people. For one person a great teacher is organised, for others it is someone who communicates effectively, and for others it might be someone with vast content knowledge.

I think a great teacher is adaptable, patient, appropriately transparent, willingly gives their time to students, has a sound knowledge of the content (textbook and clinical), and importantly, someone who works collaboratively with students and staff to facilitate a positive and nurturing learning environment.

I do not believe students succeed just because of how well someone conveys the information, I think it is also very much about the support and environment that the teacher provides for the students to learn within.

Teaching is not just about the transference of information; it is also, and in some ways more about teaching students to be critical thinkers (particularly in the context of evidenced-based practice) so that they have the requisite skills to become effective and efficient lifelong learners.

I always encourage my students to ask ‘why’ or ‘how’. I think students are likely to be more successful and become ‘problem-solvers’ i.e. think on their own, if I can teach them to think about the ‘why’ and ‘how’. I want them to understand the internal workings of a procedure, condition, or content, not to just be able to regurgitate information sporadically. Time for students, patience, effective communication, and providing resources in a timely manner are my priorities as a teacher.

I predict demand for flexible or online learning environments will increase, as well as discipline-specific spinalisations and more post-grad learning options. Accommodating these changes is going to be difficult, particularly in health care related degrees, but AI and VR, and other smart technologies, are going to be critical to facilitating this transition. Collaboration with industry, the profession, policy makers, students, and patients is also essential. I am confident that the changing landscape of course delivery will provide just as many opportunities as it does challenges.

Student feedback absolutely informs my practise. Each year I appraise and implement feedback from the formal surveys the University conducts with students, as well as any informal feedback from staff or students. I do this by modifying course material, course structure, and delivery techniques as required.

About Sean

Sean completed a Bachelor of Podiatry (2011) and Bachelor of Health Science Honours (2012) at the University of Newcastle’s Ourimbah campus, then worked clinically on the Central Coast. In 2013, he started coordinating, tutoring, and lecturing within the podiatry discipline, before commencing a PhD (podiatry) part-time alongside his work. Sean currently coordinates the first-year subject, PDTY1202 which is a general introduction to the podiatry program and teaches students pre-clinical skills essential to the profession. He also coordinates the final-year subject, PDTY3103 - an extension of a second-year biomechanics course which focuses on how people walk, how pathology impacts gait, and has a strong focus on research methodology and evidenced-based practice.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.