I believe that one of things that separates a good educator from a great one is that the latter is unafraid to have students who (a) know more about some or many topics than they do, (b) do not hesitate to point out errors in the teacher's content, or (c) are not afraid to speak their minds, including when they disagree with the teacher. I aspire to be a great teacher, and the attributes of trying to be one were reinforced to me this past fall when Keith Boone, aka @motorcycleguy, became a student in my introductory informatics course (and our Master of Biomedical Informatics program at Oregon Health & Science University).
I had been following Keith's health information technology (HIT) standards blog for a number of years when I started to get to know him. I always enjoyed and found value for my teaching in his explanations of HIT standards and related areas. Keith is one of those people who has a wealth of experience, providing knowledge and even wisdom, but without (until now) formal training. He is an excellent writer, not only in his tweets and blog, but also his book on CDA (Clinical Document Architecture). When Keith decided to pursue a formal education in informatics, I was thrilled when he chose our program.
In addition to being a diligent and successful student, Keith blogged and tweeted his way through his first term of courses this past fall. Some of his posts described his decision-making around going back to school and finding tools that worked for him. Others represented his reactions to discussion I try to elicit in the virtual classroom (which are manifested in threaded discussion forums), in particular on payment for physician-patient online communications, consumer health-related access to the Internet, and payment issues around telehealth. I replied to all of his posts in the class and to some of them on his blog.
Naturally some of his postings revolved around his area of expertise, namely standards. I thoroughly enjoyed his posting on noting the difficulty of using Pubmed to find information on standards, which also raised some issues around the academia-industry dichotomy in the standards community. I also got a chuckle out of his tweeting of my mentioning a new standards activity that is generating a great deal of interest and enthusiasm, which is the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR, pronounced "fire"). I have to admit I felt a little anxiety going into the module on standards with Keith. He was already among my sources for expertise for the lecture, and naturally I wanted to make sure I had everything right. I am pleased to report that he provided some excellent corrections and feedback, mostly on the finer details, and this will benefit future students in having more precise explanations about the nuances of standards. (I also feel a little relief that I did not get anything wrong in a major way!)
I also enjoyed Keith's mid-course comments on what he was getting out of being a student and his wrap-up posting reflecting back on his first term in the program. While I cannot report his grade in the course due to FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the educational equivalent of HIPAA), I can note that he did extremely well!
One of the most satisfying aspects of my work as an educator is seeing those I have taught go on to achieve great things. While the education I contributed to is never the sole reason for their success, it usually does contribute. Keith has already achieved a tremendous amount in his career, but I am confident I will feel even greater satisfaction when he achieves even more due in part to the education he received in our program.