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No. 21 – The Effective Instructor

March 16, 2011

A CHP recently told me that he likes the technical challenges of health physics, but he hates teaching. He never feels well enough prepared, and often worries about what the students need, or want to hear. He especially hates it when the students appear bored, uninterested, uncomfortable, and pained. I can identify with his feelings of inadequacy because I have been teaching radiation fundamentals in the Authorized User course at NIH for many years. Students with multiple doctorates are not usually very excited about sitting through a session on radiation basics. So, how do I keep their interest?

Entertainment is the Key

Entertainment is one of two factors that will help students keep up their energy and their interest. Students will listen and pay attention when they are entertained. TV commercials take advantage of this insight. The most memorable ads are the ones that also entertain the best. Part of entertainment is humor as noted in Insight No. 20. I’m not suggesting that we all try to be stand up comics. However, I do encourage that the instructor maintain a sense of humor and infuse that humor into the instruction at least every 5 to 10 minutes.

Entertainment also involves more than humor. It includes dramatization, surprise, and challenges to curiosity, perceptions, and understanding. Effective instruction gets the students actively involved in the lesson. This requires not only appeals to their intellect, but also appeals to their senses. My studies with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator show that most people rely on their senses for acquiring new data. Some people learn by seeing, some by hearing, and others by doing (touching). This insight leads to the second factor for effective instruction.


For many people reality is what they can see with their own eyes, hear for themselves, or handle with their own hands. Words, even words on a slide, are abstract symbols that appeal mainly to intuitives. But, demonstration is better. For example, rather than talk about properties of radiation, demonstrate the properties with appropriate sources, absorbers, and meters. Ideally, students would do the demonstration themselves. If you cannot use demonstration, then try to relate the lesson to observations or experiences which the students likely already have. Effective instruction also requires initiative and energy from the instructor.

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