Excellence in Teaching: Ara Tekian
If you were to walk into one of Ara Tekian’s classes, you might see groups of adults playing with Legos, or trying to traverse a seesaw without breaking the eggs placed underneath it. But make no mistake, these games play an important role in Tekian’s hands-on teaching technique.
“You need to provide the theoretical framework and evidence for the subject matter you are teaching, but it is through experiences that people really are able to put concepts into practice, learn and receive feedback,” Tekian said. “My classes are never just lectures.”
In the orientation module for the Master of Health Professions Education (MHPE) program, Tekian asks his students — all of whom hold leadership positions in health care — to break into small groups and construct a hospital using Legos to their “client’s” specifications. The point of the game isn’t to test his students’ Lego skills. It’s to observe how they interact with each other, how they communicate and how they listen and respond to each other.
“Good communication skills are critical for leaders to do their jobs effectively, and this game creates an opportunity for engagement and for the students to receive feedback from me and from one another,” Tekian said. “And I think it’s also a class that none of them will forget.”
Tekian has developed so many games to drive home key concepts in health professions education — including patient safety, teamwork, professionalism and communication — that he hopes to one day collect them all in a book.
Tekian’s techniques are based on decades of research into effective teaching and how simulation — which is what the games are — can be a valuable tool in the classroom. Tekian has published more than 100 papers on various topics as they relate to medical education, particularly in assessment, curriculum development and simulation.
In addition to the introductory course for the Master of Health Professions Education program, Tekian is director or co-director for several other courses, including Instruction and Assessment and Assessment of Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Competencies and Milestones. He also routinely teaches several health professions education courses to international students around the world, including in Saudi Arabia and India.
Tekian was born in Beirut, Lebanon. He received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from the American University in Beirut 1981 and a master’s in health professions education at UIC in 1983. He joined UIC in 1992 as a visiting assistant professor of medical education and was instrumental in building UIC’s international programs. Since then, he has consulted in more than 45 countries and helped establish more than a dozen medical education departments or centers.
Earlier this year, Tekian received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Career Award by the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the leading international professional association for the field of education. Other awards include the 2012 Association for the Study of Medical Education (ASME) Gold Medal Award, one of the most prestigious awards in medical education. In 2014, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Armenian American Medical Society, and in 2015 he was named Faculty of the Year by the UIC department of medical education.