ELIOT EISNER WROTE a book a number of years ago called Education Imagination, in which he described how connoisseurship and criticism as seen in the arts can be applied to education. An educational connoisseur, he suggested, should be able to consider an educational event such as the leadership conference at Duke last September (see “Braving Boot Camp,” by Executive Editor Sue Pelletier, page 22) and realize what is noteworthy. A connoisseur who shares those views so others might better appreciate the activity, he opined, is an educational critic. Neat ideas, huh?

I'll attempt to be an educational critic and share with you some thoughts about how the Duke conference effectively utilized three instructional principles. In the interest of disclosure, these principles were not necessarily used in planning the conference. Also, I did not attend the conference; this criticism is a reconstruction based on reading Sue's story and talking with one of the faculty.

Practicality and Participation

The Duke conference used the practicality principle, which means that real problems of the meeting attendees were addressed. After dinner the first evening, organizers asked participants to share problems they brought along to the conference. But the planners did more: They built problems into the conference's instructional activities.

There are two examples of problems created to facilitate learning in the second paragraph under “Day 1” (page 25), one being a lecturer's request that attendees stop and each write a ‘standard’ based on what they'd learned, the second being more elaborate problems for attendees to work on in groups.

The second instructional principle concerns participation, the idea that learners want to be actively involved in their own learning. Sue's story talked about how conference co-chair Joe Green, PhD, began each morning by reviewing the results of the evaluations collected the night before, communicating the message to learners that they can impact instruction. This invited participants to contribute even more, through, for example, increased conversation among attendees and faculty. The immediacy of such participation, in my experience, increases the likelihood that people remember more about what took place and are better able to apply what they've learned in new situations.

This kind of participation wasn't planned in the same way that participation in the small-group activities was. By encouraging different types of interaction, faculty ensured that learners with varying needs (not everyone is comfortable interrupting a speaker with a question) were given opportunities to participate.

There were other kinds of participation as well, though these are not conventionally documented. I can't imagine that each attendee did anything less than considerable reflection during the lectures. This is more than the usual ‘What's important here? How do I want to write it in my notes?’ This is reflection where learners often find the things they're hearing so interesting that their minds wander off occasionally thinking about what they've just heard.

Take-Home Value

The third instructional principle is that education must consider the many ways people can apply what they've learned. This can be problematic, as people need to be shown examples. The Duke conference was long enough, and it considered enough different situations (e.g., through the case studies), that it was probably less of a concern here that it might be at other conferences.

Henry B. Slotnick, PhD, PhD, visiting professor, CME Office, University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical School, conducts research on how physicians learn. Reach him at hbslotnick@wisc.edu.