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HealthJanuary 20, 2021

Fostering student success and engaging students in collaborative learning

By: Heraldine Flores, MSN Ed, RN, CHSE, CNE, CPNAshley Rascoe, MSN Ed, RN-BC, CHSE, CNE & CNEcl
This blog post will discuss the action research chosen to enhance current practice, particularly in the educational setting. Topics include motivation, background, the problem or issue, the purpose, the participants, engagement template examples, results, and highlights from the post.

Strategy #1: Handwritten template


According to Lee, Schull, & Ward-Smith (2016), critical thinking skills cannot be obtained overnight. The definition of critical thinking is utilizing analysis that remains objective in nature to evaluate a circumstance in order to form a judgment. Furthermore, obtaining critical thinking skills is a process in which a person must be continuously exposed to different situations to enhance the growth of critical thinking skills. This means critical thinking skills must be developed over time and are not necessarily acquired immediately. With the understanding that critical thinking skills must be developed over time, nursing schools should implement more critical thinking strategies to strengthen this skill in order to improve proper decision making as a new nurse.

According to Lee, Schull, & Ward-Smith (2016), having critical thinking skills is an essential part of nursing. Educators can facilitate the learning and development of critical thinking skills for the students throughout the nursing program based on certain teaching strategies. Most of the success of improving critical thinking skills involves incorporating higher-level thinking activities in the classroom to enhance the learning such as pre-class work to enable students to be prepared prior to coming into class. Some researchers may view this as flipping the classroom (Lindemulder, 2018).


Notably, nursing students are required to develop critical thinking skills early in the nursing program. Unfortunately, many students are not able to make these critical nursing judgments due to many reasons. One of the main reasons why students may not be able to utilize the skills needed is because of the lack of comprehension of the readings (Collins, Lindström, & Compton, 2018).

Most of the entry-level nursing students are from high school and are not challenged to synthesize nursing-related readings appropriately in order to comprehend the information in the textbooks (Lee, Schull, & Ward-Smith, 2016). Therefore, when entry-level nursing students begin the nursing program, they tend to struggle with readings that assist them with gaining knowledge for critical thinking.


Undergraduate, entry-level nursing students often lack reading synthesization when first starting the nursing program. Many are accepted into the program directly from high school, so they have not developed critical reading skills. It is known high schools teach in a passive learning environment and students are not forced to do required learning (Lee, Schull, & Ward-Smith, 2016). Although teachers cannot force students to read in order to enhance their learning, it should be recognized that students come to the program often overwhelmed due to the sudden shift in instruction delivery. Therefore it is imperative to assist students with synthesizing the information in an appropriate manner in order for them to utilize critical thinking skills needed for the nursing profession (Collins, Lindström, & Compton, 2018). One method to address this concern is by creating templates for the readings. The templates contain pertinent information regarding the content that must be learned.


This participatory action research for individual teacher research is to determine if a formative assessment technique actually assists students with synthesizing the readings to enhance their learning and comprehension of material. This formative assessment comes in the form of a template. We can call this template a medical surgical nursing template for nursing students. The template has six small boxes on one page to address the readings highlights. The information placed in these boxes must not exceed the box space and must be transcribed into their own words. This ultimately may assist the student with synthesizing the information read. It allows students to focus on pertinent information that will guide their purposeful readings. The templates must be handwritten in order to maintain academic integrity. Additionally, the handwritten written portion will address the kinesthetic learner. By reading, the visual learner may be addressed. There are other ways to incorporate the learning styles, but these were just a couple of examples to keep the student in the holistic mind-frame (Casey, O' Leary, & Coghlan, 2018).

Template example 1

The template is typically used for a note-taking strategy while reading the book. Most entry-level students are not familiar with how to take notes at a more advanced level. Since students need some assistance with organizing the information they have gained from the readings, the template allows the student to make precise note-taking skills. The template includes six boxes with different categories including pathophysiology, medications, interventions, among some other categories included on the template to guide their attention. This template allows for organization as well as precision. This means students are not able to handwrite items outside of the given boxes. The given boxes are purposely made smaller. The main reason why these boxes are made smaller is to encourage the students to prioritize their information. This means the student is only allowed to place certain pertinent information inside of a small box that will help them remember the information needed. Allowing them to use this template for in-class quizzes should motivate their reading as well as better note-taking techniques.

The hand-written notes allow visualization that the work has been complete as well as detect any type of plagiarism. With today’s technology, copying and pasting is an easy task for today’s students. Therefore, most of my assignments will include handwritten items.

Strategy #2: Google Doc template

The google doc template is a continuation of what was previously introduced in the handwritten template from the Medical-Surgical Nursing I course. In the handwritten template, the students were taught to summarize and synthesize pertinent and important information within the text in order to supplement their learning.

This second strategy encourages collaboration and teamwork when contributions are made from the entire class. The templates are used as a starting point in the weekly discussion and analysis of disease processes. They improve the class’s discussion of the weekly topics because the students come to class better prepared and interested in participating. The students have either read about the posted topics or have researched for evidence-based articles that support the information within their own or their classmate’s templates. Students are encouraged to use the templates as notes for exam preparation. The students create their own comprehensive and peer-friendly notes using the templates but are also encouraged to critique and add relevant information to their peers’ templates to provide them with additional insights.

The use of technology such as the Google Doc allows the students to have convenient access to the shared templates via their electronic devices and overall, makes it easier for them to study or use the document wherever they go.


  • 90% of the students found the templates helpful.
  • 95% helped the students learn the topic better.
  • Depending on how the templates were used, the majority thought the templates promoted collaboration.
  • Preliminary results: For two cohorts templates were required, and two cohorts templates were optional. Of the cohorts the templates were required, the class average was above 80%. Future research is recommended.

Main take away points regarding the engagement strategies:

  • Learning tool to learn about disease processes, labs, medications and nursing care
  • Note-taking tool to promote critical thinking by encouraging students to synthesize and transcribe information using their own words
  • Learning tool to facilitate collaborative discussions in person or via virtual conferences
  • Learning tool as a guide for decision making to be organized and efficient while in the class, lab or clinical settings
  • Note-taking tool to promote self-directed learning

In conclusion, instructors strive to improve their own and their students’ performances within the academic setting. Action research allows for tools to be researched appropriately for their effectiveness in education. In this case, the nursing templates designed by the instructors can be given to students to guide their readings in an effort to improve their synthesization and comprehension of the readings (Livingston, & Perkins, 2018).


  1. Do these strategies work for you?
  2. How do you see yourself using these strategies?
Heraldine Flores MSN Ed, RN, CHSE, CNE, CPN
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
Ashley Rascoe MSN Ed, RN-BC, CHSE, CNE & CNEcl
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
Lippincott® Nursing Education
Preparing today’s students to become tomorrow’s nurses