Teaching Portfolio


Craig W Clarkson, PhD


 "First, interactive teaching has been demonstrated to lead to considerably larger teaching gains. Second, after an instructor has been exposed to the feedback this method of teaching affords, it is impossible to go back to the passive lecture format and remain ignorant about what goes on in the minds of students"
Eric Mazur PhD, Harvard University

When I was a young assistant professor ~24 years ago, my philosophy of teaching was to imitate the teaching style of one of my highly respected former mentors at the UCSF. Before leaving California for New Orleans I had tape-recorded several of his lectures on topics that I knew I would have to give at Tulane. I’d do my best to imitate his approach, and would practice giving a lecture 5 or 6 times (out load in my office) before I would give a lecture for the first time. While these lectures were as "interactive" as I could make them, this style of instruction resulted in more passive learning than I now find acceptable. Several personal experiences combined with a desire to learn what "the best teachers do" resulted in a transformation in how I prefer to teach.

One of these experiences occurred many years ago when I was fortunate enough to have been able to spend 5 years training & then teaching at Frank Michael's Taekwondo School in Kenner. Mr. Michael (6th Degree), who is one of the most motivational teachers I have ever met, drummed it into our heads that an instructor's role is to be their student's "success coach".2 Our goal was to do everything we could to motivate, observe & guide students so that they succeeded in passing their next belt test. This is a teaching style that is completely "learner-centered". This philosophy meshed well with my own sense of purpose as a course director.

I view my primary role as a course director is to find ways to help students succeed and excel. I do my best to provide our students with up-to-date & accurate information, give them advice about what I think the “most clinically important” concepts are, and provide them with various forms of assessment – including interactive online quizzes that provide constructive feedback when they make an incorrect choice. I promote regular group study, because I have observed the positive outcome of peer discussion in enhancing the understanding of clinically relevant problems. I believe, as do most educational specialists, that adults learn more effectively when they are engaged in their own learning, can relate to the material they are being asked to learn, and find personal value in what they are being asked to learn. The art of instruction is to find ways of communicating with & motivating students so that these goals are achieved.

Related to this goal, I have recently begun using two teaching strategies, "Just-in-Time-Teaching" & "Peer Instruction"3 to foster interactive engagement of students in the classroom.  When these strategies are applied, students come to class prepared with a basic understanding of the topic to be discussed, and the instructor knows the areas of student difficulty, based upon responses to a graded pre-class essay question completed online the night before. This allows class time to focus on areas of greatest educational impact - areas of student difficulty & major concepts, rather than having to "cover" a ton of content. With the use of a Classroom Response System, and well-constructed USMLE-style questions, class time can be devoted to helping students clarify misconceptions, and learn how to apply knowledge to clinical situations. Pausing to have students debate which answers are "best" using a peer instruction format rapidly enhances student understanding, and the feedback provided by this style of instruction lets both the student and the instructor know how well they are "getting it", instead of waiting until they take a block exam only to learn they have failed. Class time becomes a more "high yield" experience as compared to an hour of passive note taking.

I also believe that in the 21st century, learning can be enhanced by providing online resources that can be accessed from any location with a connection to the internet. In support of this belief, I have developed a large database of interactive quizzes that students can use for formative assessment prior to taking a block exam. I am also collaborating with Harvard Medical School's Medpedia project to develop a wiki database on "concepts in medical pharmacology" that will help identify major concepts in different system-related topics, and to provide examples of clinical problems demonstrating the application of these concepts. The goals of this project are to aid the learner in knowledge construction, critical thinking, problem solving & contextual learning in an interactive environment.



  1. Eric Mazur's forward of the book by Douglas Duncan Clickers in the Classroom. Pearson-Addison-Wesley, San Francisco CA, 2005.
  2. While this may sound like a somewhat corny philosophy to some, it really isn't when you consider that keeping students motivated & successful is important for promoting a teenager's self esteem, as well as keeping tuition-paying students enrolled in your school!
  3. These are teaching strategies originally invented in the early 1990's for teaching undergraduate Physics (see references 4 & 5 below).
  4. Crouch CH and Mazur E: Peer instruction: ten years of experience and results. Am J Physics 69:970-977, 2001
  5. Novak GM, Patterson ET, Gavrin AD, Christian W. Just-in-Time-Teaching: Blending Active Learning with Web Technology. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ. 1999. (ISBN 0-13-085034-9) (Online version of JiTT)

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Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000