Reflections from the Liminal Space: How to Manage the Millennial Learner

By Teresa Chan & Alex Chorley (@chorleymd)

This month’s Notes from the Liminal Space piece was co-written by one of our local Clinician Educator diploma program scholars.  Alexander Chorley is a 4th year resident here at McMaster University.  I have the good fortune of working with him over the next few months as he makes a journey through the world of medical education theory and develops his own educational practice.

This joint piece will discuss a novel teaching technique that helps engage the millennial learner.

Our work on this matter has been inspired largely by a book called Gamestorming.  Alex is currently the resident chair for a McMaster-wide academic half-day program that focuses on teaching the CanMEDS Intrinsic Roles.  He is using this experience to reflect on and improve his education leadership.

Bottom line:  If you’re interested in running an engaging meeting, pull out the sticky notes!

Method:  Think-Share-Sort

Step 1:  Think

We give out sticky notes to the group members and ask them to brainstorm ideas. In this instance, we asked them to think about topics that would have great to appeal to our diverse audience (i.e. all residents from all specialties at McMaster).  Rules of thumb:  ONE IDEA per sticky note (you’ll see why later)

Step 2: Share

The team then huddles around a shared space (a wall or table), and put up all their ideas.  No critique at this phase, only reading and asking to clarify the concept (or handwriting).

Step 3: Sort

Everyone then is free to start moving sticky notes around to thematically aggregate the ideas into real life word clouds.  Concepts that are similar are grouped together, and this can be quite fun and active, since many people are moving about and collaborating to find common themes.  Once this phase is over, we all stand back and agree upon the “meta-themes” (NB: This is very much inspired by  the methods of qualitative researchers, and the sorting phase is somewhat like axial coding).

Next steps:  Voting (optional)

After this, we use a voting phase to narrow down our topic to one idea.

Thoughts about why this experience is more engaging:

1) Sticky notes force people to get out of their seats and actively engage in the brainstorming process.

2) Sticky notes are more anonymous than giving suggestions out loud, making people more comfortable contributing ideas that might be a bit more out of the box.

3) Organizing the notes creates a visual blueprint of the brainstorming process, allowing all members to see and interact with the ideas.

4) Since everyone contributed to the ideas on the wall, at the end of the session it felt like we had worked together on the decision.  The entire group was engaged and the topics no longer seemed to belong to any one person – freeing us from feeling beholden to specific ideas.

5) Organizing the notes in loose “themes” allows you to connect ideas that may not have initially seemed related.  For instance, we discovered one of our themes to be “patient safety” and one of the notes grouped within it was “how to cope with the death of a patient”.