CURRENT ARTICLE • July 2nd nursing students

The Privilege and Challenges of Teaching in Professional Programs

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Those of us who teach in professional programs have some unique instructional challenges. Certainly, like everyone else, we have content that students need to learn—and, like everyone else, we have too much content and struggle to get through it all. We’re also alike in that we want our students to develop lifelong learning skills, such as problem-solving and critical thinking. And yet, on top of this, all students in professional programs have skills related to the profession that they must truly master—a matter complicated by the fact that whether it’s a culinary program, welding, woodworking, occupational therapy, social work, or computer repair, most students begin these programs having none or very few of these skills. Moreover, unlike many of the more traditional academic majors, in our programs we are also expected to teach students how to act like professionals in our fields. And finally, the reputation of our programs depends on how well our students perform in all of these areas, as measured by a certifying exam that students must pass in order to work in the profession. Indeed, professional education has its challenges which those of us teaching in the programs along with the rest of the academic community need to regularly consider.

I’ll use my own program to further explore what makes teaching in professional programs at once challenging and rewarding. For decades, I have taught in a Faculty of Nursing at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Our undergraduate students come to us with high grade point averages, or if they are transferring into our After Degree program (meaning they have a degree in another discipline, such as science, and then take our two-year program to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing), their grades need to be competitive.  In the undergraduate program, students take theory and clinical courses and the theory courses are approved by the university.  The nursing regulatory body determines the exact number of hours students spend in each clinical area. After completion of the program, students write a North American examination before they can enter nursing practice.  Because most of our students must work part time to pay escalating tuition costs, they become experts at time management. To say it more directly, nothing is easy for students in our programs or in other regulated programs at the University of Alberta, and I suspect that is true of professional programs offered elsewhere.

Preparing students to be professionals in a regulated discipline means they must have foundational knowledge in their discipline, plus courses in related areas such as ethics, legal issues, history of the field as well as current trends and issues. In many fields, the content of the curriculum is closely monitored by those in the field or by professional boards or associations who prescribe what graduates should know and be able to do. Those of us teaching in a professional area, do not have as much curricular freedom as other faculty do. We have a responsibility to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed in the profession.

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OTHER RECENT ARTICLES

interpreting student comments on course evaluations July 2

Interpreting Student Comments on Course Evaluations

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When it comes to feedback about course quality, students and teachers aren’t necessarily using the same yardstick.  “How hard is it to get a good grade?” is a typical student concern and priority affecting course feedback.  If teachers, administrators, and students hold different expectations about the course and about learning in general, the academic process falls short of its potential. Viewing student feedback through alternative student lenses helps teachers better understand end-of-course feedback.  Careful consideration of student feedback helps teachers and academic leaders sensitively manage these divergent views, which leads to increased student satisfaction.  More importantly, viewing course feedback through a student lens should improve learning and retention as it fosters changes that align teachers’ and students’ expectations and beliefs about learning.

Below are three examples of common student comments followed by a suggestion of how we could better interpret what students are telling us. Discussion of the feedback and possible interpretations can lead to policy and instructional changes that facilitate closer alignment of expectations regarding rigor, assessment, and learning.

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supporting international students June 29

Teaching International Students: Six Ways to Smooth the Transition

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Dear professor, I am Chang [a pseudonym], an international student of your research class. I’d like to ask if I can use a recorder (only voice) in your class, because I’m afraid that I can’t understand class content at once.

Sincerely,

Chang

This was an e-mail that I received before the first day of class, exemplifying the anxiety international students may experience as undergraduate/graduate students in a foreign country. My response to the student was to give it a try first and see if he could understand the course content or not. I also tried to comfort him by saying that all class materials would be posted on Blackboard. Guess what? The student did just fine in my class and never needed to record lectures.


June 27

What is Gamification and How Can it Promote a Growth Mindset?

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Gamification can get students more involved with course content and help them understand that persistence garners classroom success. Led by Kristin Ziska Strange, this 20-Minute Mentor explains simple strategies for implementing basic elements of gamification into your courses to enhance student persistence.

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June 25

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This article is no longer available. We apologize for the inconvenience.


online peer review June 22

Finding the Instructional Value in Peer Review Discussion Boards

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In their article on the effect of instructor participation in online discussion boards, Margaret Mazzolini and Sarah Maddison (2003) asked if, “online instructors [should] be encouraged to take a prominent ‘sage on the stage’ role, a more constructivist ‘guide on the side’ role, or an ultra-low profile as ‘the ghost in the wings’” when they are facilitating asynchronous discussion boards. Fifteen years later, we are still debating this same question.


arranging students into groups June 20

A More Strategic Approach to Arranging Students into Groups

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What’s the best way to put students into groups? It’s the first task that confronts teachers who want students to work together. And the best reply is one of those “it depends” answers. Here are the questions on which it depends.

Should teachers let students form the groups? Students often prefer this approach. They tend to pick people they know, classmates who are friends, those in the same major, and those who share the same race. It’s more comfortable working with people who are known and similar. When groups are composed of friends, they sometimes struggle with the transition to a more professional relationship. They’re used to socializing, but now there are tasks to complete and that means functioning in different roles. If the group work is a project that requires extended collaboration and will benefit from a variety of opinions and perspectives, letting students form the groups may not be the best approach. On the other hand, for short, ad-hoc group work and for students who may be shy and not used to working with peers, knowing others in the group makes the experience less intimidating.


reducing student stress June 15

Tips for Reducing Student Stress

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Students are stressed. A recent survey revealed that mental health issues, including severe stress, are on the rise. In 2016, 65% of students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety during the previous 12 months, which is an increase of more than 7% from the 2013 data (National College Health Assessment, 2016). We also know from decades of research that arousal levels are strongly related to performance: not enough arousal and you don’t perform well, but too much arousal (which becomes stress/anxiety) and your performance is negatively impacted (Colman, 2001). Therefore, anything we can do as instructors to reduce students’ stress should have a positive impact on their mental health and academic performance.