Reflection: Be Happy and Learn!

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

 

Objective: Although “we may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think” (Taylor as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p.170, italics in original citation).

Reflective: I have experienced first hand that I am a creature whose ability to think is directly impacted by how I feel. When I feel relaxed and excited (like when I am in a museum), I love to explore, check out everything and cram in as much knowledge as I can in one day, but when I’m stressed (like when I had to write university calculus exams), I get sweaty, my heart races, my mouth feels like I haven’t had anything to drink for about 3 days and I can’t think my way out of a wet paper bag.

What is going on? Why am I curious and ready to learn in one case and panicked and unable to learn (or think) in the other? Why does calculus still give me the shivers after 30 years (I have yet to take another calculus course) but every time I go to a city I want to check out the museum?

Interpretive: Barkley (2010) states: “despite higher education’s historical emphasis on the purely intellectual, many educators today recognize that the body, heart and mind are all involved in learning . . .” (p 33). Barkley (2010) goes on to state that “(h)ow students feel – about life, about themselves, about what the teachers are trying to teach them – plays a critical role in how they learn” (p 33, italics in original).

Why does how we feel play such an important part in learning?

In response to stimuli like pain, stress and paradoxically, pleasure, our nervous system sends out neurotransmitters known as endorphins, to bind with receptors that are associated with not only pain control but emotion and memory processing (Scheve, 2009). The majority of emotion and memory processing occurs in the limbic system which also “. . . controls the individual’s basic value system, enhances or suppresses the short-term memory . . . (and) determines how the brain will respond to all the information received” (Mackeracher as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 169).

Going back to my example, when I am in a relaxed, stimulating, non stressful environment like the museum, I feel happy, my brain releases endorphins, my limbic system decides oh ya, this feels good, I learn more and I remember more.

Noxious stress, however, has a very different effect on the limbic system. When we feel anxious or fearful, our limbic system gets over-stimulated and becomes incapable of processing and storing new information (Willis, 2014). Even the neural pathways to the pre-frontal cortex where higher order thinking like decision-making occurs (Prefrontal cortex, n.d.) are compromised. No wonder I can’t think my way out of a wet paper bag when I am stressed.

Feelings or emotions associated with learning can come from two different sources: “. . . the emotional climate in which learning occurs and the degree to which emotions are associated with the learning content” (Barkley, 2010 , p 35).

As an educator, I direct the environment in which the learning takes place. By creating a positive learning environment I can facilitate an emotional climate that will enable learning to happen. By being in a positive learning environment, students will feel good while they are learning and “ . . . a learning experience that connects with a memory of a positive learning experience will be embraced and seen as positive” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p. 170).

Decisional: As I waded into the readings about what entails facilitating a positive learning environment I began to realize that there is an almost overwhelming number of factors at play here. Here’s just a few:

In an attempt to condense some of the learning I gleaned from all of my readings, I compiled this table of strategies along with some rationale and a few classroom examples.

                       6 Strategies for Creating a Positive Learning Environment
Strategy Rationale Classroom examples
Allow for self-direction in learning

 

Adult learners’ need to be respected for their right to chose how and what they want to learn. (Knowles assumption #1) Merriam & Bierema, (2014)

Autonomy has been identified as a key motivator (Merriam & Bierema, 2014).

Have students complete a feedback form about the course – what they liked, what they didn’t like and what they would change after the first week.

Have a suggestion box outside your office or class.

Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Provide a choice of topics for assignments. Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Provide opportunities for enrichment and self-directed learning.

Address the physical comforts of the students

Merriam & Bierema, (2014)

 

 

Being uncomfortable isn’t going to help anyone learn. Adjust lighting, heating, etc., as needed.

Encourage students to tell you if they are not comfortable

Provide breaks as needed – if students are looking bored, after an intensive learning session or when bathroom breaks are needed

Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Respect your students! Make them feel valued for who they are and what they know.

 

Fostering a climate of mutual respect will create a feeling of collaborative learning.

Happy brains release endorphins that make positive memories and more learning!

Experience is an integral part of an adult’s identity (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 50).

 

Get to know your students’ names.

Be accessible to students – let them know how to reach you and what your hours of availability are.

Value student views and experiences and reward student contributions to the discussion.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Glenn Introduces Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Provide positive and timely feedback. Be clear about expectations and model what you value. Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Create a safe place for students to learn. Let them know that it’s ok to make mistakes.

Get to know your students and learn about their experiences.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

Glenn Introduces Creating a Positive Learning Environment

With permission, share student exemplars with the class Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Learning needs to be relevant and have a purpose Adults need to know the reason for learning something (Knowles assumption #6) (Merriam & Bierema, 2014)

Purpose has been identified as a key motivator (Merriam & Bierema, 2014)

Adults are more problem focused than subject centered in learning (Knowles assumption #4) Merriam & Bierema, (2014).

 

 

Use the K-W- L strategy

Provide authentic learning activities for students i.e., engineering, medical or business case studies and/or problem based projects for students to work through.

Help students make connections between current learning and past and/or future learning. Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Teach a skill right before students need to use it Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Foster a sense of community

Motivating our Students (n.d.)

When students feel that others value the learning they will too. Motivating our Students (n.d.)

“An adult accumulates a growing reservoir of experience, which is a rich resource for learning” (Knowles assumption #2 (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 47)

Communities of practice are built on participant experiences and provide the basis for learning Merriam & Bierema, 2014)

Use online discussion forums not only for online course but for large classes where involvement in discussions may be challenging Motivating our Students (n.d.)

For online courses create online icebreaker activities where students can get to ‘meet’ one another

Use audio and video recording for online courses Motivating our Students (n.d.)

Create a facebook page (i.e., the VCC School of Instructor Education)

Facilitate, not dominate classroom discussions Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Deliver a well-designed course.

 

Adults have high expectation of their learning

Providing a course that is appropriately challenging will encourage the desire for mastery which has been identified as a key motivator.(Merriam & Bierema, 2014)

 

If possible, obtain an evaluation of teaching effectiveness i.e., TABS Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Apply learning strategies that are proven to promote learning. (David-Lang, 2013)

Assess for evidence of learning, clarity and appropriate difficulty of learning intentions and success criteria David-Lang, 2013, p 12

Offer a variety of learning opportunities like group work, discussion forums, multimedia presentations, blogs, field trips, etc.

Read the cues of your students if they are bored or confused address the issue immediately Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.)

Be enthusiastic in your delivery of the material – enthusiasm is infectious!

Creating a Positive Learning Environment

“Provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know” Motivating our Students (n.d.) para 15

Ensure that there is alignment of the activities and assessments and student learning outcomes.

References

Bloom’s Taxonomy An Introduction to Bloom’s Taxonomy (n.d.) Centre for Teaching Excellence , University of Waterloo Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/planning-courses-and-assignments/course-design/blooms-taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (n.d.) The Center for Teaching and Learning Division of Academic Affairs UNC Charlotte. Retrieved from: http://teaching.uncc.edu/learning-resources/articles-books/best-practice/goals-objectives/blooms-educational-objectives

Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Creating a Positive Learning Environment YouTube

David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from: http://www.tdschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/The+Main+Idea+-+Visible+Learning+for+Teachers+-+April+2013.pdf

Glenn Introduces Creating a Positive Learning Environment YouTube

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Motivating Our Students (n.d.) Centre for Teaching Excellence University of Waterloo. Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/creating-positive-learning-environment/inclusivity-accessibility-and-motivation/motivating-our-students

Pre-frontal cortex (n.d.) Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefrontal_cortex

Scheve, T., (2009)  “What are endorphins?” HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved from: http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/endorphins.htm

Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment (n.d.) Tomorrow’s Professors Mailing List Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=368

Willis, J., (2014) The Neuroscience Behind Stress and Learning Edutopia. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/neuroscience-behind-stress-and-learning-judy-willis

Sleep and Learning

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-2-26-16-pmPhoto credit: A.McKenzie

Science of Learning Featured Article

One common challenge that exists for many of us that live in this 24/7 world is getting enough sleep. As a perinatal educator this poses a very real problem. I have students that arrive to start an all day workshop bleary eyed and floppy tailed after working through the night on the maternity unit. Determined to find a technique that I could use to help people learn despite being sleep deprived, I began looking around at some of the research. While I confirmed that the loss of focus, the decreased ability to take in, process or retrieve information and the inability to make sound decisions (Sleep, Learning and Memory, 2007) are not just imagined symptoms, I was not able to find any real solutions to manage these challenges except providing coffee (which I sometimes do), chocolate (which I do) (Stoller, Papp, Aikens, Erokwu & Strohl, 2009) and naps (which happen all on their own).

So, I decided to look at the sleep and learning situation from another lens – is there a better way for people to learn when sleep and time are at such a premium? This research article by Mazza, Gerbier, Gustin, Kasikci, Koenig, Toppino and Magnin (2016) demonstrates that it is possible to “relearn faster and retain longer”. It involves learning and relearning and sleep but what is important is the timing of when these happen. Let me explain, but first, let’s take a look at the validity of the experiment.

Evidence for the reliability of the article

The authors’ wealth of research experience and clinical experience is evident in the way that they conducted the experiment:

  • Quality research relevant to the study was analyzed and presented – this included the effects of relearning on retention, the effects of spacing on relearning and the effects of sleep on memory retention;
  • Organization of the content is logical, content appears free of bias;
  • Clear purpose and methodology outlined – the purpose was to investigate what impact relearning after a period of sleep or wakefulness would have on long term memory retention;
  • Research design issues with another experiment investigating sleep and spaced learning were noted and improved upon – for example instead of using recall or recognition as a measure of memory retention, a relearning paradigm was used;
  • Participants were carefully selected and variables were controlled for – sleep quality, circadian topology, level of sleepiness, and basic long-term and short-term memory capacity;
  • Study was done in accordance to international law and local ethics committee – Declaration of Helsinki, French ethics committee;
  • Results were thoroughly discussed and alternative interpretations were reviewed;
  • Applicability of the study results – “These results suggest that an uninterrupted sequence of learning, sleep-dependent consolidation, and relearning (that is, repeatedly alternating study and sleep) is particularly efficient for long-term retention” (Discussion). The authors focused on adult learners and specifically procedural memory but they did speculate that this may be transferable for skill acquisition and retention as well.

 

Summarize the principle or principles described in the article.

In order to fully understand the principles behind their research design, the authors of the study touched upon several key learning strategies that have been shown improve memory and, according to the science of learning, changes the neural pathways in our brain (Michelon, 2008):

  • Repetitive practice – every time you practice something you relearn it. Thus the more you practice something the less time and less effort it takes to get to the level you want to achieve (Mazza et al, 2016);
  • Spacing effect – a concept or learning objective is presented to learners then a period of time to pass (days, weeks, or months) is allowed to pass and then the same concept is presented again (Casebourne, 2015). The cool thing here is that the advantageous interval for the spacing is determined by the length of time between the first learning session and the final test; the longer the interval the longer the spacing between the learning and the review (relearning session) before the final test (University of California, 2008).
  • Interleaving effect – is where several concepts or skills are presented during the same learning session. These are then alternated for repeated sessions (Stenger, 2016) i.e., ABC ABC ABC.
  • Sleep – Mazza et al (2016), discuss how sleep aids in stabilizing the learning via the “ . . . reactivation and integration of newly encoded memories into preexisting and permanent knowledge networks . . .” (para 2). Memory consolidation during sleep in strongly correlated to the degree to which the individual feels that this information or skill will be needed in the future (Born, & Wilhelm, 2012).

Understanding that all of these learning strategies enhance learning, Mazza et al (2016) proposed analyzing what effect interleaving repeated practice and sleep together would have on learning.

Let’s take a quick look at the study.

40 adults were randomly assigned to either a ‘wake’ group or a ‘sleep’ group and later another 20 adults were assigned to a control group. For the first session all participants were presented with 16 Swahili-French word pairings and given 7 seconds to study per pairing. After this, participants were asked to type in the matching French word for the Swahili word that was displayed, followed by a 4 s display of the correct match. This constituted the first retrieval attempt. Participants were given the opportunity to continue matching pairs until they matched them all correctly.

Participants in the ‘wake’ group had the first session at 09:00 and then came back for a relearning session at 21:00 that day which involved a first retrieval attempt and then repeated attempts at matching until they got them all correct.

Participants in the ‘sleep’ group had their first session at 21:00, had a period of sleep and then had their relearning session at 09:00 hr the next day which also involved a first retrieval attempt and then repeated attempts at matching until they got them all correct.

Participants in the control group had a first session at 21:00, had a period of sleep and then another first recall session at 09:00 the next day but no further opportunities for relearning.

1 week and 6 months after the relearning session all groups performed a midday recall task without corrective feedback.

Results

During the initial learning session, results for all groups did not differ significantly. Results during the relearning session, however, were significantly different between the ‘wake’ and the ‘sleep’ groups with the ‘wake’ group requiring twice as many list trials to reach relearning criteria as the ‘sleep’ group. The performance of the control group was not significantly different than the ‘sleep’ group but was significantly better than the ‘wake’ group thus supporting that sleep aids learning.

1 week later and 6 months later, however, the ‘sleep’ group out performed both the control and the ‘wake’ group which supports the premise that sleep together with relearning is crucial for long term memory.

Summary

Mazza et al (2016) state that their results “ . . . indicate that when the interval between successive study sessions is filled with sleep rather than with wakeful activity, the process is much more efficient because it both facilitates relearning and enhances long-term retention” (Discussion).

With time and sleep in such short supply, I need to help promote efficiency in learning. Understanding that interleaving learning and relearning with sleep can help students learn faster and for longer sounds like it is just the ticket. Given that I often do not have students for two days it sounds like this could be tricky to implement. Time to get the creative juices flowing!

Applicability of the principle to practice

One of the workshops I facilitate is the face-to-face component of an online perinatal course. Due to the amount of material that needs to be covered it has just been extended from one 8-hour workshop to a one and one-half day workshop. Originally, I was planning on spreading out the content over the two days but since reading this study I have decided to have the students interleave basic skills and concepts learned and practiced on day one – problem solving (case study that involves triage and assessment and management of labour) and skills stations (birth in the absence of the primary care provider and post partum haemorrhage) – with a night’s sleep and then repeat (relearn) the same concepts again day two with another case study and student demonstration of the same skills.

The challenge is applying the findings of this study to one day workshops. Presently the expectation for the fetal health surveillance workshop is that students complete the required reading (a textbook) prior to attending. Due to sleep and time constraints, this often does not happen so I am required to introduce new material to students all in one day. What I am proposing to do is to develop a short quiz that will review the key terms and concepts and have the students complete it the night before the workshop. This way students that do complete the textbook reading will have an opportunity to relearn an additional time before attending the workshop and those that do not complete all of the textbook reading will review enough of the material to complete the exam (hopefully).

I realize that compliance is always an issue so I will endeavour to create an exam that is succinct and fun. (Learning is fun right?) I will review the answers to the quiz first thing in the morning. I realize that this does not replicate the learning sessions outlined in the study and that the quiz is not guaranteed to be completed but I am hoping that at least some of the students will take this on as I feel that even a small chance of improving the quality of the learning for the workshop and retention for application to the workplace will be worth the effort.

Analyzing this study has brought to light yet another aspect to consider when employing effective learning strategies. Incorporating sleep with learning and relearning appears to be an effective way to help students “relearn faster and retain longer”.

Mmm, anyone ready for a nap?

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Image source : Pixabay

References

Born, J., & Wilhelm, I. (2012). System consolidation of memory during sleep. Psychological Research76(2), 192–203. Retrieved from: http://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-011-0335-6

Casebourne, I., (2015) Spaced Learning: An Approach to Minimize the Forgetting Curve ATD Association for Talent Development Retrieved from: https://www.td.org/Publications/Blogs/Science-of-Learning-Blog/2015/01/Spaced-Learning-an-Approach-to-Minimize-the-Forgetting-Curve

Mazza, S., Gerbier, E., Gustin, M., Kasikci, Z., Koenig, O., Toppino, T., Magnin, M., (2016) The Science of Learning Featured Article Relearn Faster and Retain Longer Psychological Science Vol 27, Issue 10, pp. 1321 – 1330. Retrieved from:http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797616659930

Michelon, P., (2008) Brain Plasticity: How learning changes your brain Sharp Brains. Retrieved from: http://sharpbrains.com/blog/2008/02/26/brain-plasticity-how-learning-changes-your-brain/

Sleep, Learning and Memory (2007) Healthy Sleep Retrieved from:

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep/learning-memory

Stenger, M., (2016) Interleaved Practice: 4 Ways to Learn Better By Mixing It Up informED. Retrieved from: http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/learning-strategies/interleaved-practice-4-ways-to-learn-better-by-mixing-it-up/

Stoller EP, Papp KK, Aikens JE, Erokwu B, Strohl KP. (2009) Strategies Resident Physicians Use to Manage Sleep Loss and Fatigue. Retrieved from: med-ed-online.net/index.php/meo/article/download/4376/4558

University of California (2008). Improving Long-term Learning Through Spacing Of Lessons. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081118141708.htm

Writing a Critique or Review of a Research Article (2014) University of Calgary Writing Support Services, Student Success Centre ucalgary.ca/ssc/writing-support. Retrieved from: https://www.ucalgary.ca/ssc/files/ssc/wss_critique_2014.pdf

 

Constructivism – Learning by Constructing Meaning from Experience

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Image Source

Learning Theory Highlights

Merriam and Bierema, (2014) inform us that “(c)onstructivism is less a single theory of learning than a collection of perspectives all of which share the common assumption that learning is how people make sense of their experience – learning is the construction of meaning from experience” (p 36). Inherent with the belief that individuals construct their own meaning from their experiences and shape their own learning, is an understanding that there isn’t a single interpretation of the learning (that of the instructor), but limitless interpretations as students take in new experiences, reflect on them and give them meaning (Workshop: Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning, 2004; Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism, n.d.).

Socrates has been credited with being the forefather of constructivism (Constructivism for Adults, 2015) and, even today, Socratic questioning is used to help with critical thinking skills (The 6 Types of Socratic Questions, n.d.) – one of the skills integral to the constructivists’ approach to creating understanding in learning (Learning Theory – Constructivist Approach, n.d.).

In the modern age, theorists, Piaget, Dewey, Vygotsky (Merriam & Bierema, 2014) and Bruner (Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism, n.d.) have shaped our present understanding of constructivism.

Piaget (1896–1980), “. . . dismissed the idea that learning was the passive assimilation of given knowledge” (Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism, n.d, para 12) and offered an understanding that as we progress to adulthood, we construct meaning “. . . at more sophisticated levels . . .” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 36) “ . . . by creating and testing (our) own theories of the world” (Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism, n.d, para 12).

Dewey  (1859–1952) called for a move away from memorization and rote knowledge and towards more authentic learning in which students could “ . . . demonstrate their knowledge through creativity and collaboration” (Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism, n.d, para 10). Dewey also believed that “(s)tudents should be provided with opportunities to think for themselves and articulate their thoughts” (Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism, n.d, para 10).

The idea of social constructivism was brought forward by Vygotsky (1896–1934), who “ . . . drew attention to the very important role of the sociocultural context in how people construct meaning from experience” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 36). While constructivism and social constructivism share many of the key points, social constructivism recognizes that the dynamic process of learning occurs within a social and cultural context and that learning is essentially collaborative and that learners are integrated into a “ . . . knowledge community” (Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism, n.d, para 3).

Melding the concepts of social constructivism and cognition, Bruner (1915-2016), emphasized learning through discovery, dialogue and self-reflection (Constructivist Theory (Jerome Bruner), n.d.; Chamber, Thiekötter & Chambers, 2012) and proposed three principles to guide the development of curriculum summarized as “readiness to learn”, “spiral organization of curriculum” and “going beyond the information given” (Constructivist Theory (Jerome Bruner), n.d, para 9).

While there are other constructivist theorists who offer principles to be applied to the learning environment, the characteristics of constructivist teaching that I found to resonate for me as a perinatal nursing educator are those defined by Jonassen (1994), as cited in Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism (n.d. para 4):

  1. Constructivist learning environments provide multiple representations of reality.
  2. Multiple representations avoid oversimplification and represent the complexity of the real world.
  3. Constructivist learning environments emphasize knowledge construction instead of knowledge reproduction.
  4. Constructivist learning environments emphasize authentic tasks in a meaningful context rather than abstract instruction out of context.
  5. Constructivist learning environments provide learning environments such as real-world settings or case-based learning instead of predetermined sequences of instruction.
  6. Constructivist learning environments encourage thoughtful reflection on experience.
  7. Constructivist learning environments “enable context- and content- dependent knowledge construction.”
  8. Constructivist learning environments support “collaborative construction of knowledge through social negotiation, not competition among learners for recognition.”

Why?

Brandon and All, as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 37, stated: “(t)he essential role of nurse faculty is to engender active-learning processes . . .” – a process that constructivism engages. Applying the principles of constructivism and creating the characteristics of constructivism defined by Jonasson in the online perinatal course that I re-developed and teach enabled me to engender active learning processes in the students.

When re-developing the online course, I had to be mindful that the principles of constructivism were followed as closely as possible all the way through the course: in the modules that presented the basic concepts, the formative assessments and in the assignments that were for marks. To help me understand the basic framework I needed, I turned to Bruner’s 3 Principles of Curriculum development (Constructivist Theory (Jerome Bruner), n.d, para 9):

  1. Instruction must be concerned with the experiences and contexts that make the student willing and able to learn (readiness to learn): Stakeholders as well as students indicated that they wanted the course to promote clinical competency and not just provide theoretical knowledge; learning needed to be focused on clinical applications.
  2. Spiral organization: While the basic physiology of pregnancy and birth is straight forward, pregnancy, birth and post partum care are far from simplistic once you factor in the physical, emotional and learning needs of each family in addition to the many complications that can occur. Thus material learned from earlier modules needed to be reintroduced into later modules at increasing levels of sophistication. This would help to ensure that the material could be easily grasped by students.
  3. Going beyond the information given. Perinatal nurses need to be able to think critically and adapt to new and unexpected situations as each case they will encounter is unique. Providing readings that encompasses the entire scope of perinatal nursing would be overwhelming and would not allow the students time to process the information until they are ready. Constructivism meant that, with guidance, students could build on their experiences and seek out the learning that they felt was most appropriate for them at the time.

 

The characteristics of Constructivism by Jonassen as cited in Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism (n.d. para 4) and outlined earlier, provided the remaining framework for course development. The constructivist concept of self-reflection works in synergy with the RN’s professional practice expectations (CRNBC, 2017) and critical thinking through case based learning and collaborative learning support the environment that RNs operate within.

Changes to practice are frequent and continual, hence life long learning is another reason why I chose the constructivist approach to the course.

“If nurse education is to truly prepare nurses to function in this environment then the aim of nurse education has to change from “learning what is known” towards “educating for the unknown future” (Segers, Dierick & Dochy, 2001, as cited in Chambers, Thiekötter & Chambers, 2012 p 106).

“Another aspect of constructivist learning is that it lays the foundation for the concept of lifelong learning. Since the constructivist model of learning requires the student to be more active in and take more control over the learning process, it helps to develop the student’s ability to learn on his or her own and supports the concept of lifelong learning” Schell, G. & Janicki, T (2013, Winter) para 18).

Role of the Learner

The concept of andragogy and its assumptions that the adult learner is self-directed, contains a wealth of experience, has a readiness to learn that is closely related to their social role and is problem focused were put forth by Knowles almost 50 years ago (Merriam & Bierema, 2014). It therefore follows that when adult learners encounter a learning environment founded in constructivism they should feel that the environment matches their needs and that they would eagerly embrace the opportunity to take responsibility for their own learning. This, however, may not always be the case.

Jonassen et al (1999) as cited in Thompson, K (n.d. para 15) “ note . . . students must wrestle with the responsibility that comes from being truly in charge of one’s own learning. While some students are somewhat reticent to assume these responsibilities, when given the opportunity most enthusiastically share their constructs with those of other students, often engaging in lively discussions (and further developed conceptualizations).”

My experience with applying constructivism to the online perinatal course has been similar in that some students seem to require more support as they start the course but by the end they seem to become more empowered to manage their own learning. The mantras I learned in my PIDP 3250 course and the ones I share with my students are that learning is messy and learning is a lot of work.

Role of the Instructor

Creating learning from experience, implies that the locus of control shifts from the instructor to that of the student (Schell & Janicki , 2013). Thus, instead of being the dispenser of knowledge, the instructor becomes a facilitator that helps guide students to understand the major concepts, to assist them to develop new insights and new constructs (Learning Theory – Constructivist Approach, n.d.) and to reflect on how their constructs fit with the knowledge community (Thompson, n.d.).

Providing guidance to students about how they can best learn is another role of the instructor. I really like the concept of describing the instructor as an expert learner:(t)he teacher’s role in a constructivist classroom isn’t so much to lecture at students but to act as an expert learner who can guide students into adopting cognitive strategies such as self testing, articulating understanding, asking probing questions, and reflection (Learning Theory – Constructivist Approach n.d. para 22).

Classroom Examples

Applying constructivism to an online course isn’t without challenges; experiential learning like field trips, face-to-face interactions with the instructor and peers is not possible. It is, however, still possible to get students critical thinking and learning together.

“Constructivism supports the education of nurses by improving critical thinking skills and encouraging a rapid adaptation to changes in evidence-based practice. Developing the ability to gather information, analyze it critically, evaluate it experientially, and then develop a new framework for the information is the best way to produce nurse graduates with critical thinking skills” (Candela et al 2006 as cited in Nyback, 2013 p 10).

In the online course there are 9 case studies –one each week for weeks 2-9. Case studies involve cases they can expect to see clinically and require students to apply Bloom’s higher order thinking skills like applying, analyzing, evaluating and proposing recommendations for care. Recommendations include psychological as well as physical considerations, team communication and suggestions for how to deal with barriers to communication.

Students post their case study responses to the discussion board where their colleagues read and discuss each other’s plans of care. Even though it is not an expectation, I have found that many students will share personal experiences and reflections relevant to the case study and post these in response to their peers’ posts. I have found that peer-to-peer learning through constructive feedback (social constructivism) plays a large part in the learning that takes place. Even though each week the cases are marked using a rubric and feedback is provided regarding their recommendations, students have mostly already self-corrected their material based on feedback they have received. Students have told me that the case studies were an integral part of their learning.

Below is a video that summarizes the concepts of constructivism quite succinctly and provides some great classroom examples.

Resources

Chambers, D., Thiekötter, A., Chambers, L (2012). Preparing student nurses for contemporary practice: The case for discovery learning. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 2013, Vol. 3, No. 9. Retrieved from:http://www.sciedupress.com/journal/index.php/jnep/article/download/1794/1413

Constructivism for Adults. (2015, February 17). ETEC 510, . Retrieved from http://etec.ctlt.ubc.ca/510wiki/index.php?title=Constructivism_for_Adults&oldid=62500.

Constructivist Theory (Jerome Bruner) (n.d.) Instructional Design. Retrieved from:http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/constructivist.html

CRNBC (2017) Professional Responsibility and Accountability. Retrieved from https://www.crnbc.ca/Standards/ProfessionalStandards/Pages/ProfessionalAccountability.aspx

Education Theory Constructivism and Social Constructivism (n.d.) Open Educational Resources of UCD Teaching and Learning, University College Dublin. Retrieved from:http://www.ucdoer.ie/index.php/Education_Theory/Constructivism_and_Social_Constructivism

Learning Theory – Constructivist Approach (n.d.) State University.com., Retrieved from: http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2174/Learning-Theory-CONSTRUCTIVIST-APPROACH.html

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Nyback, M., (2013) A Constructivists Approach to Teaching and Learning at the Degree Program of Nursing Novia University of Applied Sciences. Retrieved from:https://www.novia.fi/dmsdocument/29

Schell, G. & Janicki, T (2013) Online Course Pedagogy and the Constructivist Learning Model Journal of the Southern Association for Information Systems, Volume 1Issue 1. Retrieved from: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jsais/11880084.0001.104/–online-course-pedagogy-and-the-constructivist-learning-model?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Smith, M.K. (2002) Jerome S. Bruner and the process of education, the encyclopedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/jerome-bruner-and-the-process-of-education/

The 6 Types of Socratic Questions (n.d) Retrieved from: http://www.umich.edu/~elements/probsolv/strategy/cthinking.htm

Thompson, K (n.d.) Constructivist Curriculum Design for Professional Development:A Review of the Literature. Retrieved from: http://pegasus.cc.ucf.edu/~kthompso/projects/lit_constructivist.html

Workshop: Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning (2004) Concept to Classroom WNET Education. Retrieved from: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/index.html

Trends in Adult Education Part #3: The ‘Aha’ Moment

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Photo: A.McKenzie

Ok, I have to make a major confession.

I am a nurse that works in and teaches the specialty of maternity nursing – in other words I work with women as my patients, with women as my nursing colleagues and with women as my students. When I re-wrote the curriculum for the online perinatal course I teach I thought about the clients that my students will encounter and included cultural sensitivity material and information about LGBTQ(2S). I had students work through exercises that examined their biases and preconceptions. I really thought I had it all covered. I was in fact feeling pretty good about how it all came together, until I read this article on gender equality.

You see, I did not, even once, think about how the curriculum and its delivery would be perceived by a male student. I completely gapped on thinking that a male student would indeed be taking the course at some point. The sudden realization had me reeling – how could I be so blinded by my own bias?

Don’t get me wrong, I greatly value my male colleagues. I value their talents and insights. It is just that because I never work with any men (as nurses) in maternity I didn’t even consider that they would ever be taking a perinatal course.

Now I am reviewing the course again to check for anything that might be seen as gender insensitive. I am using this checklist offered by the University of Fribourg, a Questionnaire for the evaluation of gender equality in teaching and so far so good  🙂

I really hope that I won’t have to wait too long before have male students take the course. I am very keen to learn with them as we travel on this journey of learning.

References

Evaluation for gender sensitive teaching (n.d.) Project e-qual – Teaching, Gender, Quality University of Fribourg. Retrieved from: http://www.unifr.ch/didactic/assets/files/didactic/Eval_course_gender_en.pdf

Trends in Adult Education Part #2: Implications – Putting Theory in Practice Gamification and Gender Equality

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image source Pixabay

Gamification

In Part # 1 Trends, I mentioned that I thought that gamification could increase the fun factor of learning thereby increasing motivation. When I took a look at some of the motivational theories – and there are a lot of them – the one that seem to fit in with my fun factor theory was Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory.

Csikszentmihalyi as cited in The Pursuit of Happiness (n.d.) states:

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (The Pursuit of Happiness, n.d., para1).

So, the fun comes not from any one element (like those identified by Scott and Neustaedter (2013)), but from the combination of elements that allow the individual to push themselves to learn and succeed at “. . . something difficult and worthwhile” (The Pursuit of Happiness, n.d., para1).

This is something I can relate to. I love that feeling I get when I am skiing or trail running or canoeing or doing yoga or even when I’m learning something new that is really cool like motivational theories (really :)) time flies by, I forget to eat, I live in this state of flow until I get frustrated or bored and then feel compelled to move on to something else.

Marczewski (2015) in the article Grinding to Mastery and Flow presents an excellent graph that shows how flow happens when the game is in the sweet spot between skill and challenge. It is important to note that flow isn’t completely without variance and there can still be moments when the challenge is too much or too little hence the little zig zag pattern that appears in the sweet spot; but if the challenges stay too hard or if it stays boring you drop out of flow and you move on to something else.

The prospect of having students be in flow is pretty exciting to me but is it realistic? Penny and I (both flow enthusiasts) talked about the barriers we have noticed to getting into the flow like being able to focus and being at the same skill level as the other people you are interacting with. These are definite considerations when teaching a group of students.

Summary: Putting Theory into Practice

  • Elements that are to be gamified (like feedback and progression for example) need to be based on proven instructional strategies:
    • When giving feedback during the game consider it like an assessment for learning which is a “. . . a dynamic and ongoing conversation between the teacher and the learner – the goal of which is that the learner comes to better understand and consequently own the process for their own learning” (Fenwick & Parsons , 2009, page 157, 168).
    • When creating progression in the game use Blooms Taxonomy to guide how to increase to higher levels;
  • Consider the level of challenge that the game will provide – it needs to be difficult but not too difficult for the students;
  • Create an environment where the students can focus;
  • Ensure that the technology won’t get in the way of learning – there is nothing is worse than having unexpected technological problems and having no back up plan.

I have given a lot of thought of how I could apply gamification to the courses I teach. One of the courses is a 6 hour face-to-face workshop that has a set curriculum and is quite frankly awful. Whoever created it was completely unaware of the principles of andragogy and thought that providing 6 hours of power point presentations and 2 quizzes was going to provide a rich learning environment. While I won’t go into the details of how I am going to tackle reformatting the material (yet again) I will say that I have decided to replace the 2 quizzes – which I did as a group anyways as it provided more learning than having people do it on their own – with a jeopardy game.

Using the jeopardy game format I will be able to apply the elements of freedom to fail, rapid feedback and progression that Scott and Neustaedter (2013) identified. I will have the class break up into groups of 3 for collaborative learning. I will also create a final class challenge question so that ultimately, the teams will all be working together. For a little extra fun I will provide treats like candies and such to everyone. I need to ensure, however, that the questions are of the appropriate level of challenge.

As technology develops and apps become more readily available, I may have the opportunity to individualize a program to create games and enhance learning for my specific subjects. For now, I am content to try gamification using simple technology like power point or even paper based games. I will watch with interest as to where gamification in education will go in the future.

Gender Equality

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image source pixabay

The consequences of gender inequality impact all of us “Gender segregation in career choice results in talent loss for the individual as well as for society” (OECD, n.d.,p 9).

As a nurse educator this really struck home. Nursing, especially maternity nursing, is an almost exclusively female dominated specialty. Having been in nursing for almost 30 years I remember how much discrimination the two men in my training program experienced when they did their maternity specialty. Patients and nurses refused to allow them in the room and yet, curiously, had no problems letting the male doctors in the room.

Reading about gender equality has really gotten me thinking about what it is in maternity nursing in Canada that continues to keep men out. A friend of mine told me that in Australia they have had male midwives for 20 years now. Why is taking us so long for us in Canada to shake the stereotypes? Why don’t we understand that the care of labouring and post partum women would be enriched by having men on board as care providers and as educators?

I think we need to start by recruiting more men into nursing. We need to start showing images of male nurses in professional nursing magazines and in social media. We need to start by ensuring that men are not being exposed to gender bias when they are primary school and we need to actively recruit men from high school to come into nursing.

We also need to ensure that programs are evaluated for hidden curriculum. Evaluation for gender sensitive teaching (n.d.) offers an evaluation guide that instructors can use to evaluate their course (including teaching didactics, students performances and instructor performance).

Men have the right to be able to chose their profession just as much as women. I am hopeful that as society becomes more aware of gender diversity it will translate for more freedom for men to come into nursing.

 References

Evaluation for gender sensitive teaching (n.d.) Project e-qual – Teaching, Gender, Quality University of Fribourg. Retrieved from: http://www.unifr.ch/didactic/assets/files/didactic/Eval_course_gender_en.pdf

Fenwick, T.J. & Parsons, J. (2009) The Art of Evaluation A Resources for Educators and Trainers Thompson Educational Publishing Inc Toronto, Canada

Marczewski (2015) Grinding to Mastery and Flow Gamified UK Gamification Consultancy. Retrieved from: https://www.gamified.uk/?s=flow

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (n.d) The Pursuit of Happiness. Retrieved from:http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/mihaly-csikszentmihalyi/

OECD (n.d.) Trends Shaping Education 2015 Spotlight 7, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from: http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/Spotlight7-GenderEquality.pdf

Stott, A & Neustaedter, C. (n.d.) Analysis of Gamification in Education Retrieved from: http://clab.iat.sfu.ca/pubs/Stott-Gamification.pdf

Teaching To Promote Gender Equality (n.d.) Center for Teaching Excellence University of Virginia. Retrieved from: http://cte.virginia.edu/resources/teaching-a-diverse-student-body-practical-strategies-for-enhancing-our-students-learning/gender-dynamics-in-the-classroom/teaching-to-promote-gender-equality/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trends in Adult Education Part #1: Trends – Gamification and Gender Equality

My learning partner, Penny and I got together this week to discuss two emerging trends in adult education: gamification and gender equality.

 Gamification

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The trend I brought to the table was gamification. It is an instructional strategy I first encountered in PIDP 3250 but refrained from diving into in previous blogs as, quite frankly, I really wasn’t quite sure about it. More specifically is it effective? Is it worthy of the hype? Is it really something I could successfully integrate into a health care provider workshop or online perinatal course?

Let’s check it out.

Gamification [n]: the use of game design elements in non-game contexts” Knewton Infographics para 1.

When I think of games, I think of fun, and making learning fun is certainly something I as an educator aspire to. Then I starting considering why incorporating fun into learning was important and the first thing that came to mind was increased motivation.

This infographic posted on eLearning Industry cites a survey done by TalentLMS that found, “79% of the participants said that they would be more productive and motivated if their learning environment was more like a game”. I was curious to know more about the study and so I checked out the Talent LMS web site and found out that the ‘participants’ of the study were users of TalentLMS – no sample size or demographic information was provided. So much for a valid study . . .

More convincing is this quote from The Education Arcade at MIT found on the Knewton Infographics “Game players regularly exhibit persistence, risk taking, attention to detail and problem solving, all behaviors that ideally would be regularly demonstrated at school.” This got me thinking; what are the elements of gaming that induces these behaviours in gamers? And can these be applied to the educational setting?

A google search for these answers brought me to the article that I had Penny read and the one we met up to talk about: Analysis of Gamification in Education by Scott and Neustaedter.

Key points and take home messages for us were:

  • The four elements of gaming that can be successfully be applied to the educational setting (Scott & Neustaedter, 2013, p 1) are:
    • Freedom to Fail;
    • Rapid Feedback;
    • Progression;
    • Storytelling.
  • Things to watch for:
    • Scott and Neustaedter (2013) warn of “. . . implementing game components by simply trading out the parlance of pedagogy for that of gaming culture” (p 1) as educators run the risk of adversely affecting engagement.
      • Personal anecdote:
        • To help ‘motivate’ staff to read the material for a new mandated educational program at my hospital, a leaderboard that illustrated progress of completed readings for each team was created with the promise of a free dinner for 2 for the winners. It was not favourably received and staff reported feeling bullied.
  • Competition versus collaboration:
    • One of the case studies that Scott and Neustaedter (2013) present involves adding ‘head to head’ competition to the educational setting. After what I had seen happen at work with the reading completion competition I wasn’t at all convinced that it was a safe bet for the classroom. Knewton Infographics lists collaboration as helping students to feel pride in their work in their game. Personally, I think that collaboration is the path I would chose to go with.

Things to keep in mind:

  • “This analysis reveals that the underlying dynamics that make games engaging are largely already recognized and utilized in modern pedagogical practices, although under different designations” (Scott & Neustaedter, 2013, abstract/introduction).

Bottom line for me was stick with proven instructional strategies.

  • While Scott and Neustaedter (2013) acknowledge that “(t)here is no once-size-fits all model for the successful gamification of a classroom” (p 7), sticking to and understanding underlying principles of the four elements they have outlined (see above) means I should be able to successfully integrate gamification into my workshops and online course. All I have to do now is to figure out how . . .

Gender Equality

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 4.48.02 PM.pngimage source pixabay

The educational trend that Penny offered for discussion is that of gender equality. I thought yes! We always need to be thinking of how to ensure gender equality in education; this is a perfect trend to explore in more detail. The barriers to education for women around the world are appalling: approximately 516 million of the 774 million adults that lack basic literacy skills are women (UNESCO as cited in Merriam & Bierema, 2014, p 8). As a self-identified feminist I was very keen to learn more about gender equality in education.

What I really liked about the article that Penny brought forward (Trends Shaping Education 2015 Spotlight 7) was that it looked at gender trends in education from OECD countries, which includes the likes of Canada, Australia, Sweden and the US, and not just 3rd world countries. The article emphasis the importance that education plays “. . . in ensuring that women and men have the same opportunities in their personal and professional lives, through formal schooling, shaping attitudes and transforming behaviours” (OECD, n.d., p 1).

Penny summarized the concept of gender equality as ‘levelling the playing field’. This is echoed by UN Women, 2014, as cited by OECD, n.d. : “Gender equality does not mean that men and women should become the same but that a person’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities should not depend on whether they are born female or male” (p 2).

The OCED article highlights the importance of gender equality in the education of children particularly when the stereotypical notion that boys are naturally better at math than girls and girls are better at reading than boys is debated:

Where do these gender differences in performance come from? It is not the case that girls and boys have inherently different abilities in these subjects. Instead, performance differences are driven by the fact that schools and societies foster different levels of self-confidence, motivation and interests for different subject areas among boys and girls (OECD, 2015 as cited in OECD, n.d. p 3).

Finally, the article looks at how gender equality is playing out globally in terms of leadership roles and occupational choices for women. Female dominated fields include health and welfare and education, while male dominated fields include computing, sciences, engineering, manufacturing and construction. Hardly a surprise, but what will be interesting is to see how educational programs will shift to create a level playing field in these areas.

Key points and take home messages for us were:

  • The importance of gender neutral curriculum throughout the educational system: “(g)ender segregation in career choice results in talent loss for the individual as well as for society” (OECD, n.d., p 9).
  • Being aware of your own bias as an instructor;
    • I think that this is really coming to the forefront especially given society’s emerging awareness of the spectrum of gender diversity that can and is being expressed.

Gender equality in education is gaining awareness but we still have a long way to go. “(T)here is a moral imperative to ensure that everyone can choose the subject or career that appeals to him or her. We need to ensure that we create a society in which men can become nurses and women can become mechanics without any hesitation or discrimination, if this is what they choose to do” (OECD, n.d., p 9).

References

Evaluation for gender sensitive teaching (n.d.) Project e-qual – Teaching, Gender, Quality University of Fribourg. Retrieved from: http://www.unifr.ch/didactic/assets/files/didactic/Eval_course_gender_en.pdf

Gamification and game-based learning (n.d.) Centre for Teaching Excellence University of Waterloo. Retrieved fro: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/educational-technologies/all/gamification-and-game-based-learning

Knewton Infographics (n.d.) KNEWTON. Retrieved from: https://www.knewton.com/infographics/gamification-education/

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

OECD (n.d.) Trends Shaping Education 2015 Spotlight 7, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from: http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/Spotlight7-GenderEquality.pdf

Stott, A & Neustaedter, C. (n.d.) Analysis of Gamification in Education Retrieved from: http://clab.iat.sfu.ca/pubs/Stott-Gamification.pdf

Teaching To Promote Gender Equality (n.d.) Center for Teaching Excellence University of Virginia. Retrieved from: http://cte.virginia.edu/resources/teaching-a-diverse-student-body-practical-strategies-for-enhancing-our-students-learning/gender-dynamics-in-the-classroom/teaching-to-promote-gender-equality/

The Top Gamification Statistics And Facts For 2015 You Need To Know (n.d.) eLearning Industry. Retrieved from: https://elearningindustry.com/top-gamification-statistics-and-facts-for-2015

Reflection: Integrating soft skills into the classroom

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Dumant and Istance, as cited in Merriam and Bierema (2014) stated: ““21st century competencies” include “deep understanding, flexibility and the capacity to make creative connections” and “a range of so-called ‘soft skills’ including good team working. The quantity and quality of learning thus becomes central, with the accompanying concern that traditional educational approaches are insufficient”” (p 4).

When I think of traditional educational approaches, the images that come to my mind are those of blackboards, chalk dust and rows of students sitting quietly (asleep) in desks while the teacher drones on and on.

While the portrayal of the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon is obviously satirical it certainly begs us to question what is the purpose of education? Implied in the quote above is the understanding that one purpose of education is for individuals to learn the skills that will enable them to function effectively in the workplace. Traditional approaches that focused on skills acquisition and rote knowledge – like the 3 r’s of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic – worked in a time where access to information was limited, social structure was clearly delineated and change happened slowly. The 21st century workplace environment demands that people from all social levels and ages are able to adapt to rapidly evolving technologies in addition to the far-reaching effects of globalization. As an instructor, I need to be able to move beyond traditional educational approaches so that I can foster in students the development of the competencies required in the 21st century.

Soft skills are in demand. In a 2015 report issued by Workopolis, a lack of soft skills was identified in 29% of potential candidates. (Thinkopolis VIII: The most sought after skills in Canada in 2015, n.d.)

While the development of soft skills can be nurtured and supported by our families of origin, as highlighted by the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth Info Brief, Helping Youth Develop Soft Skills for Job Success: Tips for Parents and Families (2011) which offers tips such as playing games as a family, role playing, providing a wide range of social, cultural and intellectual opportunities and having children help out elderly neighbours, the need to provide students with more sophisticated competencies is also being observed at both the secondary and tertiary levels.

Jenkins (2015) states that the “. . . new three R’s of education are Resourcefulness, Responsibility, and Respect” (para 1) and maintains that these are the most important skills that students need to learn today. California Community Colleges in their 2006 document, Teach SOFT SKILLS, takes it deeper and lists 16 different characteristics that can encompass ‘soft skills’ including “. . . communication, cooperation, social awareness, self-confidence, self-control and a growth mindset” (p 1) and recommends including all of the following into the curriculum (p 2,3):

  • Inspiring curiosity;
  • Cultivating grit;
  • Encouraging optimism;
  • Teaching self-control;
  • Fostering professionalism;
  • Providing real work experience;
  • Fostering a growth mindset
  • Rewarding effort;
  • Evaluating what students can do at the end of the course;
  • Developing students’ sense of purpose;
  • Teaching teamwork.

Brigg’s (2015) 30 Tips to Cultivate Soft Skills in Your Students parallels many of the key recommendations outlined above and underscores the importance collaborative work: “It’s extremely important, then, for teachers to create learning environments where students get to brainstorm, thinking imaginatively, and research big questions on a regular basis, in the company of others” (para 20).

While there are a plethora of articles recommending ways to cultivate soft skills into the classroom there is a paucity of information as to how to measure the effectiveness of implementing a specific soft skills approach into a school based curriculum. The only article I could find was by the RAND Corporation (2014) and it was a “Plan for Measuring Hard-to-Measure, ‘Soft’ Skills”; I was, however, unable to find any evidence that anyone has taken them up on the offer to take on doing the research. Without a tangible way to measure outcomes, I run the risk as an educator of believing that I am fostering these skills in students only to find that I am not.

In my role as a perinatal nurse educator I have the opportunity to teach in a variety of educational milieus including online with graduate nurses taking a post RN specialty, face to face workshops with a variety of health care professionals and informal learning opportunities in the acute care setting. Given the relative intangibility of what exactly defines soft skills and how best to apply the concepts into the classroom I believe that it is important for me to use evidenced based approaches and methodologies that promote learning and foster the development of some of the traits now identified as soft skills.

One of these concepts is self-regulation. “ . . . (S)elf-regulated students are those students who are metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active in their own learning processes and in achieving their own goals “(TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 3: Self-Regulated Learning, 2012, para 5).

Self-regulation includes (TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 3: Self-Regulated Learning, 2012, para 7):

  • Cognitive strategies that promote learning like critical thinking and problem solving;
  • Metacognitive skills that include self-reflection;
  • Motivational strategies like goal setting and monitoring.

I believe that by helping students to become self-regulated I can develop some of the traits that are seen as desirable by employers such as persistence, responsibility, critical thinking, problem solving and self-regulation.

One of the workshops I facilitate is a Neonatal Resuscitation Course. It is a 6 hour workshop that focuses on developing the skills required to resuscitate a newborn. Let’s see how well this course applies the recommendations from the Teach SOFT SKILLS (2006) as listed above in addition to the principles of self-regulation.

  • At the start of the workshop, the intent for the course and learning outcomes are reviewed (developing students’ sense of purpose );
  • Etiquette for the day is discussed and agreed upon (fostering professionalism);
  • Students break off into teams of 2 -3 (teamwork);
  • Skills are reviewed and practiced using low fidelity mannequins and real supplies (providing real work experience);
  • Students identify what they know and what they want to learn about each skill (metacognitive skill);
  • Skills are then practiced and instructor feedback is provided for each students and for each skill (rewarding effort );
  • There is a final testing of all the required skills at completion of the skill stations (evaluating what students can do at the end of the course);
  • There is a final group simulation where students are provided with a challenging scenario that they are required to work through together as a group (teamwork, real work experience, evaluating what students can do at the end of the course)
  • Students then gather and debrief the scenario (self-regulation skill).

Students are also expected to plan, monitor and evaluate themselves as they work through the skills stations, the final test and the group simulation (self-regulation). I have learned that the more I let the students explore and learn on their own the better the learning (inspiring curiosity).

There are also times when I have new learners taking the course. This course requires some very complex problem solving and critical thinking skills. While I try to provide scenarios appropriate for the level of the learner, sometimes even the ‘basics’ can seem confusing. The power of yet/ the growth mindset (Dweck, 2015) is a great thing to use. It is such a powerful tool when used correctly. Having the student focus on what they can learn next to get them closer to their goal is quite helpful.

Last month I ran the workshop and had 2 students that were struggling with some of the flow of the resuscitation algorithm. Unfortunately, they were working together and I did not identify the issues until we came to the testing part. While we were able to sort out the issues and the students were able to pass the course, I realize that one of the weaknesses of having the same team member work together all day was that they may be ‘leading each other down the garden path’. For my next workshop I will have the groups switch up through out the day so that the peer learning can be expanded and not concentrated.

Soft skills are considered a 21st century competency by employers and although there are a wide range of tips based on opinion on how to incorporate this into the curriculum and just as many definitions of what a soft skill is there isn’t any research to guide how to implement them. I feel that the recommendations offered by the California Community Colleges could work in nicely with the strategies that are used to develop self-regulated learners and have provided me with some direction on how to begin integrating soft skills into the curriculums of the programs that I facilitate.

References

Briggs, S. (2015) 30 Tips to Cultivate Soft Skills in Your Students InformED. Retrieved from: http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/30-ways-to-cultivate-soft-skills-in-your-students/

Dweck, C., (2015) Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset’ Education Week. Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/09/23/carol-dweck-revisits-the-growth-mindset.html

Hamilton, S. & Stecher, B., (2014) Plan for Measuring Hard-to-Measure, ‘Soft’ Skills The RAND Blog. Retrieved from: http://www.rand.org/blog/2014/12/a-plan-for-measuring-hard-to-measure-soft-skills.html

Info Brief: Helping Youth Develop Soft Skills for Job Success: Tips for Parents and Families (2011) National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. Retrieved from: http://www.ncwd-youth.info/information-brief-34

Jenkins, J. (2015) The New Three R’s of Education: Resourcefulness, Responsibility, and Respect edutopia Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/new-three-rs-education-resourcefulness-responsibility-and-respect

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014) Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Teach SOFT SKILLS to Increase Student Success Strategies to Enhance Students’ 21st Century Competencies (2006) California Community College. Retrieved from: http://www.cccspecialpopulations.org/Publications/SoftSkillstoIncreaseStudentSuccess.pdf

TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 3: Self-Regulated Learning (2012) LINCS Literacy Information and Communication System. Retrieved from: https://lincs.ed.gov/programs/teal/guide/selfregulated

Thinkopolis VIII: The most sought after skills in Canada in 2015 (n.d.) Workopolis Retrieved from: http://works.workopolis.com/research/2015/skills/Thinkopolis%20VIII%20-The%20most%20sought%20after%20skills%20in%20Canada%20in%202015.pdf

Weimer, M. (2010) What it Means to be a Self-Regulated Learner Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Practices from Magna Publications. Retrieved from: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/what-it-means-to-be-a-self-regulated-learner/

Zimmerman, B..J. (1990) Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Success: An Overview Educational Psychologist, 24(1), 3-17 Lawrence Erbaum Associates, Inc. Retrieved from http://itari.in/categories/ability_to_learn/self_regulated_learnin_g_and_academic_achievement_m.pdf 

Reflection: Self-assessment

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Objective: “Self-assessment is the act of identifying standards or criteria and applying them to one’s own work, and then making judgment as to whether – or how well – you have met them” (Fenwick & Parsons , 2009, page 111).

Reflection: In one of my previous reflective writing submissions, I identified self-regulation as being the characteristic of adult learners that drives how I design and deliver a course. Taking this course on evaluation got me thinking: Am I ready to walk my talk? Am I ready to ‘allow’ students to self-assess and evaluate their own learning for marks?

Interpretive: Being self-regulated means applying metacognitive strategies – setting goals, self-monitoring, and self-evaluating – to the process of learning (Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes, 2012). Self-regulation is vital when it comes to learning effectively (Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes, 2012).

Self-assessment is metacognition at work. Self-assessment has been shown to be an effective strategy to influence learning (David-Lang, 2012) and has been shown to have a significant impact on student achievement (The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4, 2007).

The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4, (2007) identified critical thinking skills as a necessary part of self-assessment.

Fenwick and Parsons (2009) stated, “ (s)elf-assessment should be balanced with feedback from an external source to provide different perspectives” (page 113).

Decisional:

The evidence to support self-assessment as an effective strategy to support learning is solid. If I value the importance of self-regulation in my students then I need to let them take responsibility for their learning and this means having them participate in the evaluation of their performances.

In the online course I have redesigned, I have included activities like the ‘muddiest point’, personal journal activities and critical thinking activities and have developed rubrics to help students improve their skills of self-reflection and self-assessment by providing clear standards/criteria for them to measure their work. Including self-assessment for marks should integrate well into the curriculum.

In terms of providing an opportunity for self-assessment for marks, four of the assessments in the course: case studies, discussion forum posts, presentation and patient teaching poster/handout are possibilities. While I see potential for all four of these assessments to be self-assessed for marks, I feel that this may be too much additional work for the students in terms of rational reports so I will begin with one assessment. I will reassess this decision after a year to determine if more assessments should be self-assessed for marks.

The assessment that I would like to start with are the discussion forum posts as they are ongoing throughout the course so this will provide an opportunity for students to make changes as they progress through the course. To provide a balanced assessment from an external source, I think that the mark should be split with 10% coming from the student for a personal evaluation of his/her posts (using the discussion forum rubric as a guide) and 5% coming from the teacher for an external evaluation of the student’s rational for their mark (using the rational rubric as a guide).

I am very excited about the prospect of truly engaging and validating the adult learner as a self-regulated learner by incorporating self-assessment for marks into the course.

References

David-Lang, J. (2012) Summary of Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning By John Hattie (Routledge, 2012) The Main Idea Current Education Book Summaries. Retrieved from https://www.egfl.org.uk/sites/default/files/SUMMARY%20OF%20VISIBLE%20LEARNING.pdf

Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes (2012) TEAL Teaching Excellence in Adult Learning. Retrieved from: https://teal.ed.gov/tealGuide/metacognitive (Paste URL to browser then click the PDF, for some reason it won’t link to the server)

Fenwick, T.J. & Parsons, J. (2009) The Art of Evaluation A Resources for Educators and Trainers Thompson Educational Publishing Inc Toronto, Canada

 The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4 (2007) Government of Ontario. Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/studentselfassessment.pdf