By: Susan Gross Forneris
Unfortunate as it is, active learning is fast becoming misunderstood. In many teaching circles, active learning is aligned with the buzz phrase flipped classroom…and often equates to creating games to keep students occupied. Nurse faculty uncomfortable with active learning will defend the continuation of lecture with: “the students demand lecture – they want the PowerPoints”; or, “they don’t learn anything by playing games”; or “my course evaluations tank when I don’t lecture.”
Are we teaching the way we were taught because we don’t know how to teach any other way? Literature in educational psychology suggests that graduate programs are not doing a good job preparing educators for the art of teaching (Bok, 2013). While many nurse educators come to higher education as experts in the art and science of nursing, they may not always be experts in the art and science of teaching and learning. Weiman (2016) argues that when a teacher lectures and the learner leaves the lecture to do homework and learn stuff, it is the homework, the assignments, the “doing” that creates the learning, not the lecture. We struggle when students show up to class to collect the PowerPoint and then spend their class time on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. While this frustrates us, perhaps we need to look beyond the actions to the message being sent – make me want to come to class.
To add to the complexity, Bok (2013) suggests that teaching will become even more difficult as future generations of learners will be less prepared for college work than today’s students. Today’s learners are coming to us with expectations for engagement that play to their strengths: multitasking and information sourcing. Generation Z, also referred to as Digital Natives or the Net Generation, already constitute the majority of students in our college classrooms and will continue to do so over the next 10 years. This is the generation that has always known technology and is more connected to the digital world than any other generation.
While technology is a part of their identity, Coombs (2013) suggests that students of this generation struggle with the ability to see a situation and understand the context. They struggle with analysis and making decisions. Thus, their problem-solving skills are limited, and they are more comfortable in environments that mentor and coach them in developing these skills. They don’t believe that their education provides them with the skills necessary and relevant to function in the real world, and they believe that the traditional lecture in the college auditorium will not meet their end goal of education (Bridges, 2015).
How do we get out of the way of our own thinking about our perceptions on the benefits of lecture? About 10 years ago, we grew weary of the phrase work smarter, not harder. Yet, it applies here as we think about our work as educators. Lecture connotes a one-way conversation. We justify lecture by believing that we need to teach content. We take hours to prepare death by PowerPoint lectures that essentially summarize the text for the learner. A smarter approach might be spending our time teaching our learners how to use the content.
Teach content/teach learners to use content – a simple play on words, yet the meaning informs the direction of our work. It opens the door for conversation as we create opportunities for learning encounters in the classroom that move students to reflect, solve problems, analyze, discuss. Mentoring and guiding our learners to provide more than a correct answer; to also provide the rationale for the answer, leads to dialogue as we share our thinking surrounding the care problems presented. Rather than spew correct answers from a medical-surgical textbook, teachers as guides role model how content and evidence are used. Our responsibility as teachers, mentors, and guides is to assure that the rationale for answers is sound within the context of the care situation being discussed. Let’s stop lecturing and engage in classroom conversation.
Here are three strategies that you can use to help you to begin to move off the lecture platform toward a classroom conversation (Forneris & Fey, 2018):
- Create context surrounding learning outcomes for the class. Use story – we live our lives narratively through the use of story. Creating stories establishes a context for dialogue between students and teachers for sharing and discussing reflections on practice experiences (Forneris & Campbell, 2009). The use of stories or storytelling has been part of many cultures as an oral tradition and a primary means of passing on information or knowledge intergenerationally. Engage students in a conversation about their thinking and understanding of the story in relation to the learning outcomes you have set up for the class conversation (e.g. “Take a minute to think about working with a post-op patient or a patient in pain. Based on what you have read about post-op complications, describe a post-op patient care situation for me and how you might handle the patient care issue” (Forneris & Fey, 2018).
- Analyze content through the use of Socratic questioning. Identify questions ahead of time that will help you understand how the students are making connections to important pieces within the story that connect to the content for which they prepared (e.g., “I hear an important concern about your patient care situation – wanting to protect your patient from pain. I’m thinking that there are some important considerations about the medication schedule that need to be emphasized. I am wondering if you could walk me through your thoughts on the medication schedule and when you need to stick to the medication schedule” (Forneris & Fey, 2018).
- Prebrief students for classroom expectations. This will require a Prebrief at the beginning of the course to set the bar for expected teaching and learning behaviors throughout the semester. This is best done if every faculty member in a level sets the same benchmark so expectations for students do not vary from course to course. If all faculty members in a level agree to move toward class conversations with the expectation that students come to class prepared to engage in course activities, the opportunity for faculty to be singled out will be reduced.
These steps are not new thinking. Bevis and Watson(1989) said, “Educative learning is, after all, a private journey that nourishes the student’s selfhood” (p.32). Students want to know how we know so they can develop their own practice. As nurses, we think holistically, systematically, thoroughly, reflectively, creatively. This would suggest that our focus in teaching the student to think like a nurse is to role model our thinking in dialogue with our learners in the classroom, to move them to appreciate and develop the multiple dimensions of thinking that capture the art and science of the nursing discipline.
Bevis, E.O., & Watson, J. (1989). Toward a caring curriculum: A new pedagogy for nursing. New York, NY: National League for Nursing.
Bok, D. (2013, November 15). We must prepare PhD students for the complicated art of teaching. Chronicle of Higher Education, pp. A36, A37.
Bridge, T. (2015, August 19). 5 ways the workplace needs to change to get the most out of Generation Z.
Coombs, J. (2013, October 3). Generation Z: Why HR must be prepared for its arrival. Retrieved
Forneris, S. G., & Campbell, S. E. (2009). Journeying beyond traditional lecture: Using stories to create context for critical thinking. In S. D. Bosher & M. D. Pharris (Eds.), Transforming nursing education: The culturally inclusive environment (pp. 129-155). New York, NY: Springer.
Forneris, S. G., & Fey, M. (Eds.) (2018). Critical conversations: The NLN guide for teaching thinking. Washington, DC: National League for Nursing.
Weiman, C. (2016, April 14). A nobel laureate’s education plea: Revolutionize teaching.