Meaningful Reflections: NURS 503

Self Regulation and Academic Integrity 

“Assessment is for students. It should be meaningful for them” – Tracey Clancy

Background

Registered Nurses take on many roles as part of their practice. Within their work as health care providers they are communicators and educators. Effective teaching is an important skill for nurses to develop. Tracey Clancy, a Senior Instructor in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary, teaches the course NURS 503: Nurse as Educator to help students find their voices as health educators.

The course follows Kolb’s experiential learning model and has a focus on personal reflection. Tracey feels that the best way to assess students in a course like this is through their reflective works. They are experiencing new roles and responsibilities, and reflections provide insight into their changing thought processes and practices. Tracey has a relational teaching philosophy. She wants to ensure that course activities and assessments are meaningful to students.

Methods

Students take this course in their fourth year of nursing, as they are nearing the end of the program. They learn about pedagogical approaches and learning theories, and then take on the opportunity and the challenge of applying them. In pairs, they go into junior-level nursing classes and teach one three-hour lab. Before doing so, they spend time observing their assigned classroom. They get to know the students and critically reflect on what they observe of the education process. As they develop their own lesson plans, they think about who the learners are and how they responded within the classroom. Tracey provides teaching guides and resources for the content they need to cover, but students are given the freedom to plan how they want to deliver the lesson, creating feelings of excitement and apprehension. They must be mindful of ensuring that material is taught, while being responsive, flexible and open to the dynamic nature of learning and teaching.

Students get a participation grade of 100% for completing their teaching session. Tracey understands that is takes courage to teach a diverse group of students for an extended period. She wants to reward students for their commitment and effort. They also have four sources of feedback: their own self-reflection, feedback from their peer-teaching partner, the classroom instructor, and the students. They can see if their self-perceptions match the impression that others got. They also can gain insights from several sources on their overall performance. Students reflect on their feedback and discuss what went well (and what did not) in a group debrief after the teaching experience is over.

The final assessment is an expression of a teaching philosophy. Previously, students had to write a lengthy paper, but Tracey found that it was not meaningful to them. It felt as though they were going through the motions of the paper, but not taking away anything important. They regurgitated course content and did not bring their own experiences and understanding into their writing. Tracey changed the final paper to a pedagogical quilt. Students choose an image that represents the themes that resonate from their teaching experience. In a short paper they discuss the meaning of the image and why it was selected. They are invited to show themselves in the project. It requires a lot more vulnerability and personal expression, but many students embrace this. They find or create images that express their consideration of their teaching and often relate how they will carry their experience and new knowledge into their nursing practice. Tracey sees a lot more of each student’s personality and deep learning in this assessment than she did in the paper. She notes how students invest themselves in the work and usually feel safe opening up about their experiences and their new found understanding of who they are becoming as nurse educators.

Grading such reflective exercises can be challenging, but Tracey frames feedback using a rubric that focuses on the themes and connections that students make, rather than what image they choose. She is mindful that some students struggle with creative projects and offers those students the option of creating a conceptual framework that captures their values and beliefs regarding effective learning and teaching.

Outcomes

Using reflective methods helps Tracey get a glimpse of what students are thinking and how they are progressing. Although standard exams, assignments, and labs fit well into other nursing classes, this one requires the reflective element. Tracey feels that students cannot learn to be teachers just by reading and regurgitating different learning theories. Teaching is an art and a skill that is learned through experience and reflection.

At the start of the course, students think back to being in their junior nursing courses and remember how they were influenced by the mentorship of the senior students. They do not feel that they are capable of doing the same. However, by the end, they look back on their experience and realize how much they have learned and how they have become the leaders they once looked up to. They are able to pause and celebrate their achievements, something that students do not often get the chance to do.

Tracey notes how students come into the course with different levels of confidence about teaching. Some are incredibly nervous, so she creates a space where they can freely talk about their concerns and work through them. Even students who start out apprehensive can do well if they have support and encouragement. Her primary recommendation to other instructors is to support students by meeting them where they are. When the instructor and students start off together, they can move forward together in a meaningful way.

-Ashley Weleschuk

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