At a Glance
At Schuylkill Technology Centers (STC), the Practical Nursing program instructors made a dramatic shift in their instructional style, moving from an emphasis on traditional learning to a more active learning approach that promotes critical thinking and decision making.
When STC moved all its instruction online in March 2020 due to Covid-19, the practical nursing faculty and students had to quickly pivot to a new way of teaching and learning. Understanding that it would be unrealistic to expect students to sit through a virtual class for six hours, faculty members sought out alternative instructional models. They knew that meaningful learning occurs when students are engaged and challenged in their learning. To meet the needs of their students, the practical nursing instructors began using active learning strategies to help students engage more deeply with content and develop a deeper comprehension of the subject matter.
At its core, active learning emphasizes student participation and interaction in the learning process. The practical nursing faculty at STC required students to complete active learning templates to complete case studies on specific diseases. These templates, which are developed by Assessment Technologies Institute®, Inc., are designed to engage students during class, support their learning of new content and to help them assume responsibility for their learning. The templates provide a guide for students to organize and make connections between content as they learn new material or review concepts. For example, when students learned about Diagnostic Procedures, they completed a learning template with sections focused on Description of Procedure, Indications, Nursing Interventions, Interpretation of Findings, Client Education, and Potential Complications – Nursing Interventions.
Instructors and students found the active learning templates important learning tools. So much so that the instructors continued to use them once students returned to in-person school. Instead of completing the templates individually as they had done during online learning, students in the classroom work in small groups to fill in the templates and then share their work with their classmates. Instructors act as observers, offering additional information and correcting misinformation as needed. Faculty aligned the curriculum concepts with lab activities and simulations to allow for a smooth transition of content.
During small group work, instructors observe students developing teamwork and collaboration skills – two skills which are essential in nursing. The small group work also helps students broaden and deepen their knowledge and comprehension and provides them multiple opportunities to hear other people’s perspectives.
As of the 2020-2021 school year, STC instructors use the active learning templates in the medical-surgical courses. They also plan to introduce the templates to the incoming class in 2021, beginning with the Fundamentals of Nursing course.
To incorporate active learning across labs and lectures, STC decided to purchase the full package of ATI products. They find the products allow students to make clinical decisions in a safe environment while also providing instructors the opportunity to give constructive feedback. To support instructors as they shift to using more active learning strategies. STC provides them with professional development and the opportunity to participate in ATI webinars.
Because active learning was implemented recently, specific student learning outcomes are not yet available but STC plans to assess student achievement in the near future. Of the 12 students who used the active learning templates during online instruction in Spring 2020, 11 passed the board exam.
Anecdotally, STC faculty report students demonstrated improved teamwork, collaboration and communication skills, all of which are needed in the nursing profession.
According to students, the active learning templates improved their learning experience. They enjoyed collaborating with their classmates and engaging in peer-to-peer learning to prepare for the examination.