HealthDecember 21, 2017

5 ways to get nursing students engaged in your classroom

It's the often-elusive “holy grail" of teaching - getting students engaged so that they not only learn more, but better retain the information they are absorbing. Plus, by utilizing strategies for engaging students in learning, you as the instructor make the learning process more enjoyable - for both the students and you. And nursing education is no different. This is why concept-based learning is taking nursing education by storm. This teaching method reduces content repetition and helps students acquire and apply the critical thinking and reasoning skills that will make them assets in the clinical field.

We put together five key strategies to better engage students in your nursing education classroom. Read on.

1. First & foremost: Grasp the purpose!

Everyone benefits from concept-based teaching and learning. Students learn by doing, resulting in a deeper, more holistic understanding of the content, and once they"re in the workforce, it's much easier to link content and practice. The faculty get an opportunity to watch students apply the knowledge they've learned in a safe environment, and quite honestly, it's a lot more fun for the teacher. Plus, employers are looking to hire graduates with training in common diseases they"re likely to encounter in clinical situations. Some of the key benefits of concept-based learning include:

  • Helps students take a more active role in their learning using a “flipped classroom" model
  • Streamlines content and eliminates content redundancies
  • Enables faculty to teach clinical reasoning skills more easily
  • Helps students apply concepts from one situation to another and make connections between those concepts
  • Encourages students to see patterns across concepts and use those patterns to deliver care and anticipate risks

With healthcare and the information supporting it moving faster than ever, full-on textbook, content-based learning just doesn't make sense anymore. Teaching conceptually allows for the flexibility to add content when new information becomes available, and students can dive deep into course content rather than cruising through textbook chapters, retaining very little of the information they"re taking in. With that being said, it's still important for students to master the ‘traditional” skills like competency, knowledge, critical thinking, and leadership.

2. Create an engaging classroom environment

When utilizing concept-based learning as a teaching strategy to boost student engagement, your role as a teacher has to transform to be more of a participant-observer; work with your students. This may feel strange at first, but the ultimate goal is to make sure students learn to think like a nurse.

Today's employers expect graduates straight out of nursing school to transition directly into full-time real world scenarios. With a stacked resume of experience that includes concept-based learning inside the classroom, not only will that transition be easier for your nursing students, but they will be more likely to connect the dots from course content to real-world practice.

Produce recruitable graduates by using these tactics to boost student engagement:

  • Write a letter to each student, outlining what you expect from them throughout the course.
  • Create an emotionally & intellectually safe classroom by kicking off things with activities that a majority of the students already know.
  • Dial in your ‘engagement meter' with a constant finger on the pulse of how much activity and learning is going on in the classroom.
  • Create a culture of explanation, rather than one of the right answer. 
  • Ask questions, which will increase student involvement in their own learning. 

3. Turn students into teachers

Using concept presentations led by a random group of students gives them the opportunity to build on previous knowledge in a safe and nurturing environment. Allow them to lead the instruction, instead of be led by it. Before you ask them to run a lecture or guided discussion, review what your students have already learned to minimize the intimidation factor of presenting without a chance to prepare. The goal is to instill memorable learning moments, not stump the students. Also, try to choose exemplars based on common diagnoses or emergency visits that nurses in every region of the country can expect to encounter on a regular basis.

4. Classroom assessments - THIS IS NOT A TEST!

It's important to make classroom assessments a part of your concept-based program, but it's equally as important not to make them stressful or feel like a test. Don't assign grades, and use the instant results to cultivate an honest discussion about what students have learned and where there's room for improvement.

Try these ideas for classroom assessments:

  • Ticket out the door - students provide instructor with just one thing they learned in the class.
  • Muddiest point - students reveal content that is still unclear even after the discussion or lecture.
  • ‘Gots' and needs - on one side of an index card, students list content they've understood; on the other side, they list content they don't understand.
  • One-minute paper - in 60 seconds, students list everything they learned about the concept.
  • One-sentence summary - students provide the ‘who, what, when, where, and how” of the concept.
  • Application card - students brainstorm applying a concept or topic to a specific intervention.

5. Make learning active

In order to keep students at a high level of engagement, try to use active learning strategies in as many classes as possible throughout the full curriculum. Merely teaching the concepts will provide the information, but it's the physical practicing and storing of knowledge in long-term memory through active engagement that makes the information really stick. It's also crucial to recognize that the participants in each classroom have a multitude of different learning styles. You"ll see visual learners, auditory learners, tactile learners, and even the classic student who has trouble keeping their buns in a seat. Make your learning active, but remember to keep it fresh by mixing up the format.

Here's some ideas for implementing learning activities. And keep in mind ...the students shouldn't be the only ones moving!

  • Role Play - Students act as patients, nurses, family members, technicians, etc. in a skit that also reveals the important of good and poor therapeutic communication.
  • Concept Maps - Mapping exercises might cover content acquisition, student assessment, or knowledge application. Students can take pictures of these and use them later as study tools. 
  • Brain Drain - In this rapid-fire exercise, students shout out 5-10 concept-related terms that the instructor lists on a white board. As the class finishes discussing each term, the instructor erases it, enhancing students” recall capabilities.
  • Compare & Contrast - Faculty create two scenarios using patients with the same symptoms and conditions, and students must discuss how they would treat - including medication interventions - the patients differently or similarly.
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