When words have lost their meaning!

As a start, ponder what you think that title means!

File that thought away for a minute, we will come back to it. For many years now, I have been considering this topic.  As educators, our whole life is spent as conversants in many different situations.  We converse with each other, either one on one, or with small groups or large groups in classes.  Words are how we convey the context of our lectures, instructions, research, or simple daily conversations.  The meaning of each word is important to the conveyed meaning of our intended outcomes. We write texts to support our teaching.  We write articles to publicize our research findings.  We generate a tremendous volume of recorded, typed and spoken communications using words to convey the exact meaning of what we want to say.  The intent of many of these communications is to deliver a very specific meaning to the person or persons who are the intended target of our words.

Let that last statement sink in a minute………….

Now think back to the question I asked earlier about the title of this blog.  What did you think I meant?  Was your first thought a little confusing, trying to think of a word that no longer has any meaning whatsoever. If so, you have just demonstrated my point.  You, as the recipient of my words, took the meaning of my words literally.  However, my intent was to propose and describe words that have so many meanings that the mere use of the word in a conversation introduces significant misunderstandings between the conversants. Even to the point that when the conversation is over both parties are sure they know what was being said by the other participant(s), yet in reality neither party is aware of the actual meaning intended by the other conversant. The intended meaning of the message was not received with the same meaning by the other participant in the conversation.  I first noticed this when discussing curriculum design with colleagues at national meetings.  Over the past 10 years, this has become increasingly apparent to me when discussing the development of “integrated curricula”.  The use of the term “integration” in many conversations has generated my current perspective. 

What does “integration” mean?   Google definition… “The action or process of integrating” which means to combine one thing with another so that they become whole.

In the world of educators, this could be integration between two instructors, between two classes or disciplines, between clinical and basic science curricula or many other combinations.  Many conversations that I have had over the years have led to misunderstandings of meaning to the point of stopping the conversation and having a discussion as to the meaning of the word integration for each person involved.  In the process of curriculum design, a tremendous amount of time is spent trying to force “integration” by teaming faculty together in a single classroom at one time.  Sometimes this works, other times it does not.  I have come to realize that “true integration” must occur in the recipients mind regardless of modality of the delivery.  In summary, for educators this means that as always, integration is an achievement in the mind of the student that comes from the student’s dedication and hard work regardless of the number of faculty involved or the effort expended by their teachers.  I challenge each of you as educators to think about this and try to help me define other words that fall in the same category as “integration” and respond with other words that may similarly have too many meanings to the point that they “have lost their meaning”…

I will start with these: active learning, clinical relevance…

David Osborne has 26 years of teaching and research experience.  He is a whole animal Physiologist, with a research interest in Gastrointestinal Physiology.  He is a member of IAMSE and the American Physiological Society (APS) with primary affiliations with the Teaching Section and the Gastrointestinal Section.  He is a founding member of APPEL (Affiliation of Professional Physiology Education Leaders), which is an organized group of Physiology course directors dedicated to the preparation of students for professional service such as medicine and dentistry. He has taught Physiology, Biochemistry and Histology in undergraduate, graduate and medical school environments.  He joined Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine (BCOM) as Professor of Physiology and Chair of the Department of Physiology and Pathology, after being a founding member of the faculty that developed the El Paso campus of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center (Paul L Foster School of Medicine, PLFSOM) into a freestanding four-year medical school. He was instrumental in developing the physiology curriculum and driving the integration of basic science disciplines with clinical application.  He is currently the Assistant Dean for Curriculum at BCOM.  His research focus is two-fold. The focus of his scientific research has been to investigate the factors that influence the normal growth of the intestinal epithelial cell lining. His research has applications related to understanding Colon Cancer and in pursuing the successful use of intestinal transplants following removal of the intestines.  His other focus is in education research where he has been investigating methods to deliver complex scientific concepts to naive and experienced students in a more effective manner. Most recently, he has been investigating the use of the “Flipped Classroom” in application to medical education.

Leave a Reply