Teaching at the University of Hartford allows me to use the broad range of theoretical and clinical knowledge I have acquired in nursing and anthropology over many years. Recent movements in education support a shift away from a “teaching paradigm” where teachers disseminate knowledge, to a “learning paradigm” where teachers facilitate and guide learning. The “learning paradigm” necessitates methods of teaching and classroom strategies that engage students actively in their learning. This paradigm also affects the nature of teacher student relationships and the way time is organized in the classroom and service learning experiences. My teaching goals relate directly to the learning paradigm.
Above all, I strive to promote reasoning skills and effective communication among students. By encouraging students to reflect critically on social and ethical issues they encounter, they learn to question “taken for granted” assumptions about the world. This is particularly important for professional nurses who are required to care for persons from diverse cultural, racial and class backgrounds. In keeping with the learning paradigm, my role in the classroom and in service learning settings is less one of “knowledge disseminator,” but rather is one of “facilitator,” “coach,” and “guide.” By incorporating active and exploratory learning methods for knowledge acquisition and skill development, I attempt to organize an environment in which learning can occur. Engaging learners with exercises that promote dialogue and collaboration encourages the analysis and synthesis of ideas. When using the learning paradigm, teachers and students enjoy learning together, while maintaining a high degree of substance in coursework.
In clinical settings nurses are often required to face extremely difficult human conditions. Encounters with suffering and death, as well as with joy, is part of everyday nursing. University of Hartford students in nursing are already licensed, professional, Registered Nurses with both nursing and life experience. It is not unusual for them to arrive late to class because they may have stayed at work to comfort a dying patient's family or to assist a young mother give birth to premature twins. Often they arrive overworked and exhausted. Yet, they maintain a profound commitment to learning and have chosen to continue their education. They are among the most committed and clear-sighted persons in nursing today. Given the characteristics of the student population in the nursing program, I continually learn from them, as I guide them to insight, awareness, self-confidence, and a heightened ability to reflect and analyze issues.
“Learning communities” are a form of instruction recognized by educators as a significant factor in helping students learn and grow intellectually. My role as teacher-mentor is to foster an atmosphere of acceptance and trust where students and groups of students can “create and test knowledge.” This is the context for the true learning communities I try to engender.
I strive for students to make learning a part of them by treating them as partners and colleagues. In my interactions with them I encourage them to transform their nursing practice in order to define for themselves a new vision as nurses and healers. This form of mentoring allows students to contemplate the worth and importance of their work. In a society where nursing and caring are often devalued, students learn to become proactive professionals.
Although I include a heavy dose of theory in each course I teach, Theoretical Perspectives in Nursing is a particularly rigorous theory-intensive course that I teach. My primary goal is to help students make the important connection between nursing theory and practice. Once students understand that theory and practice are inextricably linked, they also understand, as Boyer writes that “theory surely leads to practice. But practice also leads to theory” (1996:16) At this point in their learning, they are able to bring the advantages of their rich clinical expertise into the classroom and analyze real life, pertinent case examples using innovative conceptual frameworks. The potential for intellectual excitement and insight in this course is enormous.
Recognizing the relevance of research to nursing practice is the primary hurdle for students to overcome when learning about nursing research. I use a series of exploratory and active learning strategies to demystify nursing research while making a case for the importance of a research-based clinical practice. Becoming comfortable with the vocabulary of scientific research is an essential part of understanding the concepts and subsequently learning to think like a researcher. I intersperse work-matching puzzles and other game-like exercises related to the concepts to break up the potential monotony of a long seminar class. While this method of introducing material is non-threatening and perceived by most students as challenging and fun, I also use the game-like strategies to dislodge the idea that research is somehow removed from them and therefore, too difficult to understand. Once students overcome their apprehension and anxiety regarding the research process, they find that nursing research can be liberating, and even exhilarating. When they understand the potential of using research findings to change protocols for improving patient care, they begin to visualize themselves as scholars and knowledge builders. In this context, learning about research can be a “journey of discovery.”
While the principles of holism are incorporated throughout the curriculum, students complete a special complementary healing project in the final capstone course of the RN to BSN program. Each student is required to evaluate alternative healing modalities by experiencing one holistic healing modality and experiencing it, for example, by learning how to meditate or use guided imagery, or by taking yoga classes. This two-fold (analytical and experiential) process helps them determine how to use holistic health interventions to promote wellness in communities.