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Microteaching (MT) originated in 1960s at the Stanford University as a tool for training of student teachers. Allen and Ryan (1969) who originally gave this idea had conceptualized MT as a real teaching, where the complexities of normal classroom in terms of class size, scope of content and time are all reduced. Further, it focuses on specific teaching tasks, allowing increased control of practice and greatly expanding the feedback dimensions of teaching. In essence, it meant viewing MT as a scaled down version of a real teaching scenario with less time, less content, less skills being put to use and less audience. The name of the technique seems to have originated from this concept of 'less'.
MT provides an opportunity to the teachers to give a small sample of their teaching, get feedback from peers and re-practice the skills as required. The focus is on improvement of individual or a cluster of skills, which could be covered within a short span of 5-7 minutes. Allen and Ryan (1969) listed 14 teaching skills, each of which could be individually or with other skills covered within the time available. Conceptually, it was a sound model, using the power of feedback to shape behavior. Implied in this was to view teacher training with a behavioristic approach i.e. trying to develop similar set of responses in all teachers under similar conditions.
The originators of MT viewed it as an opportunity for safe practice of a cluster of teaching skills to make lessons more interesting, reinforce learning and be able to open and close lectures effectively. Immediate focused feedback and encouragement with opportunity to practice the suggested changes were considered essential components of MT protocol.
A perusal at this philosophy brings out certain important points. The sessions are brief; are conducted in a safe and non-threatening environment; teaching is broken into smaller skills and tackled one at a time; encouragement is provided to reinforce the good points and immediate and focused feedback is provided. The most important of these- especially considering that we are dealing with grown up adults with a varied number of years of teaching experience- seems to be the provision of a safe and non-threatening environment.
While the concept spread out to a number of pre-service teacher training institutions, there were certain changes in the methodology along the way. MT became a session where teaching was to be 'critiqued' and the trainee teacher needed to repeat the sessions till perfection! Simultaneously, large and larger checklists were developed to capture almost every aspect of teaching behavior, taking away the very basic tenet of 'micro'. A Google search of 'microteaching checklists' generates a number of documents, some of them with over 60-70 points to be observed within a span of 5-7 minutes. Even the smaller checklists so often used in basic medical education workshops list the entire rage of teaching behaviors from lesson planning to closure. Such checklists may be alright for a feedback on teaching but are not suitable for MT as all the listed behaviors cannot be observed within the time available. For some reasons, MT was also seen as putting the 'teacher under a microscope so that all faults in his/her teaching can be brought out' (Ananthakrishnan, 1993). Contrasted to the safe environment and encouragement originally conceptualized by Allen et al (1969), MT came to be seen as an exercise in fault finding.
Using checklists during MT sessions has its own problems. In addition to the inappropriate length and content discussed above, it is presumed that there is 'the way' to teach, which can be quantified and that all teachers can and should acquire this way. This situation is similar to the conflict that we have about use of atomized checklists of an OSCE and global ratings of a long case. While checklists may be appropriate during initial stages of training, they generally fail to capture the total, which is more than aggregation of individual skills (Norman et al, 1991).
Given the difficulty of meaningfully observing a large number of trainees on a large checklist within a short span of time, use of technology was made. The technique was modified to include use of video recording of lectures so that the trainees and instructors could later go through the tapes in a more meaningful way. The use of video recordings became so much a part of the process that in some later definitions, this used to be included. Barnett(1991) for example, defined MT as '... method of teacher training in which simulated teaching sessions (often videotaped) are used to develop and analyze trainees' specific teaching skills and behaviors'. (Emphasis added) Developed countries may have been able to make use of technology as an additional input but for most others, it only seems to have alienated the teachers further.
While many pre-service training programs continued to use it, its use for in-service training does not seem to be very encouraging. Most of the times, it is a session at basic education workshop but its use as a useful teacher improvement tool remains highly underutilized. While we do not have any data to this effect, it is unlikely that a large number of participants from these workshops ever use it back home.
An interesting turn to this story came, when Allen and Wang (1996) themselves felt the dissatisfaction with the methodology, writing '..its complexity overwhelmed its effectiveness as a training device and its use declined over time'. This resulted in a revamp of the system of microteaching to emphasize the basic tenets viz. providing a safe environment in which recognition and feedback help the teachers to improve their teaching skills. One of the driving forces behind this change was to make MT less dependent on technology, especially for use in resource poor settings. This method was extensively used in Namibia and China. It is pertinent to mention that the new model was specifically directed towards in-service training - something with which we are struggling. The major change in the new model, which incidentally has been called 21st century microteaching (we will call it MT2), was the further scaling down of the teaching environment.
Large number of teachers to be trained and less availability of technology seemed to prompt these modifications. However, as we shall see later, there was also an implicit shift from behavioristic to cognitivistic philosophy by taking away the pre-decided response from teachers and allowing them to reflect on their teaching behaviors. This is line with accepted models of teachers' professional development (Clarke and Hollingsworth, 2002). This methodology has been extensively tested and has become a part of China's nationwide strategy for in-service teacher training. A number of other countries are also using this approach.
Broadly, the MT2 consists of a small group of 4-5 teachers, rotating through the roles of a 'teacher' and 'students'. Elaborate scoring protocols have been done away with and replaced by a simple 2+2 evaluation protocol. In effect, it means that each 'student' will provide 2 compliments and 2 suggestions to the presenter. At the end of the session, each presenter will thus have 8 compliments and 8 suggestions, presuming that there are 5 members in the group. Contrasted to the earlier version of MT, where a supervisor was considered essential, MT2 relies on the power of peer feedback, making the environment even less threatening. Presenters also find it convenient to organize the re-teach sessions depending on their time and convenience.
The benefits of such an approach go beyond simple improvements in teaching skills. In the first place, it allows the teachers to reflect on the feedback (Anson et al, 2010). Reflective teaching has been found to be an important input in making teaching better. In addition, participation in such sessions seems to improve the self-efficacy beliefs of teachers (Mergler, 2010), which are considered a crucial input in determining the application of newly acquired skills.
The process of reflection is stimulated by feedback- in this context, the quality of feedback becomes an important factor. A good method to use is the Pendleton's framework (Pendleton et al, 1984). In essence, this consists of asking the presenter first about what he/she did well. The observers then discuss what went well, adding their comments. The presenter is then asked what went less well and what different he/she would do next time. Finally, the observers discuss what went less well and offer suggestions for improvement. As can be seen, this approach is strength oriented, focusing on what is done well, re-enforcing it and offering suggestions for improvement. The possibility of using the suggestions is high compared to the critique oriented deficit based model. Some people however, feel that presenters pay less attention to positive points as wait more for the negative points to come. Moreover, this approach categorizes comments as positive and negative.
To overcome some of the issues with providing feedback as given above, some modifications have been tried (Millard, 2000). The presenter is first invited to say how he/she found the experience and whether s/he thinks that learning outcomes were achieved. The observers then take turns to say what they learnt and how they felt. They are encouraged to use 'I' statements and tell only their observations rather than inferences (I think you did..) or advice (I think you should..). Finally the presenter has the chance to add any more comments but without justifying or being defensive. S/he can also invite advice if required. This allows learning from what actually happened rather than from hypothetical situations or from remembered experience.
Beyond these simple easy to use steps, a number of add-ons are available depending on the availability of technology, resources, personnel and institutional support. Video recording and then viewing the tapes together seems to improve the outcome of the sessions (Brent et al, 1996). Using 'standardized students' (on the lines of standardized patients) has been another modification, especially for improving teaching of clinical skills (Gelula and Yudkowsky, 2003). Standardized students can also be used for formal evaluation of teaching skills using objective structured teaching evaluation (OSTE, on the lines of OSCE) (Morrison et al, 2002). However, even without such interventions, MT2 seems to provide good opportunity to teachers and improves its acceptability.
It can be seen that MT2 has the potential of better acceptability, ease of use and provides a much safer environment for teachers to improve their teaching skills. It does not use terms like 'criticism' or 'putting the teacher under microscope'. Rather, it uses the power of positive re-enforcement to promote reflections, develop self- efficacy beliefs of teachers and allow them to make changes in their teaching conceptions, each of which is considered crucial to professional development of teachers.
Not that the earlier model was bad or wrong- but considering that in most of basic medical education workshops, we impress upon the participants to use adult learning principles in their teaching- it is desirable that we also treat the participants as adult learners. Rather than demanding a pre-decided pattern of responses from teachers, it would be worthwhile to provide them with feedback and allow them to reflect on this. Any change brought about this way is likely to be more long lasting and convincing.
Strictly speaking, MT may not be called a 'technology' but its adoption can very well be explained by technology adoption model (Davis, 1989). The likelihood of adoption of an innovation depends on two crucial factors viz. perceived usefulness (which has been built during the workshop sessions) and perceived ease of use (which relates to the ease of having a session back home). If participants do not find the innovation easy to use ( e.g. they have to get the Dean/ MEU coordinator, get photocopies of long documents, make a video recording etc.), then it is unlikely that it will be put into practice.
MT can be compared to a situation where before going for a party in a new outfit, you ask your friend 'how am I looking' and s/he tells you that 'the suit is perfect but the tie is looking a bit odd so why not change it with a different color'. With this kind of interaction, you are likely to use this technique in future as well. However, if your friend takes out a checklist and starts criticizing your poor dress sense, then it is unlikely that you will ever ask it again.