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

Constructivism – Learning by Constructing Meaning from Experience

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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

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