Teaching Content Rooted in Real-World Contexts

In this section, Dr. Brittany Charlton shares her insights about teaching content rooted in real-world contexts, including how students’ lived experiences in the health field both help to make the content more concrete and can present challenges when students lives have been impacted by the topics discussed in class.

Since every instructor strives for students to connect classroom material to the outside world, it is advantageous to be in the health field, where these connections can be so concrete. Students can more easily draw on their own experience to grasp the material. For instance, I ask students to think about television advertisements they have seen from law firms or pharmaceutical companies when we discuss contraceptives (substantive topic) and effect modification (methodological topic). Students often highlight how these advertisements mention that smokers who are also over 35 years of age should not take oral contraceptives. This allows us to talk about how it is important to stratify different groups of patients, in this case by smoking status and age, since the effect of oral contraceptives may be modified by these factors in serious adverse ways (i.e., fatal thrombotic events).

One challenging aspect of the health context is that some students will struggle with topics that may have touched their own lives (e.g., abortion, cancer). We discuss this challenge on the first day of the course when we talk about the group’s ground rules. We also create a number of opportunities for students to engage with the material in different ways, some of which they may find more or less comfortable—ranging from small group exercises to reading reflections to one-on-one discussions in office hours.