Thursday, October 1, 2015

Portfolios and Student Centered Learning

It's been a couple years since I posted in this blog but a need has arisen to resurrect it temporarily in the form of a class I am taking. So if any old followers come across this..... bear with me, no I am not planning to come back to write more lengthy reflections on bikes, life, love and the pursuit of happiness. 

(PS... I also have no idea how to stay within word requirements and 300 words is not enough. I tend to not be very good a following rules if they don't make sense to my personal reality).

One of my roles in the Nursing Department is quality control of the scholarly writing assignments that instructors create and ask students to complete.  I was drawn to the article about portfolio creation related to student centered learning because I see a huge need to implement something like this in our department.  It is a discussion that our curriculum team is having and my personal bias is to see a component of this possible future nursing portfolio to be an amalgamation of every writing assignment that students completed in their nursing program.  The portfolio type, as described in the reading, would be a growth portfolio, meaning students, in addition to including their writing assignments, will also have to reflect upon how they've grown as academic writers throughout the program and how it has helped them be better quality nursing practitioners.  But first, the academic writing process in our faculty needs some serious revision in terms of quality of assignments, progression of complexity and demands from first year to third year, stronger evaluation in the form of rubrics, and buy-in from students and staff.  I am very fortunate to be working with a very supportive Chair and faculty who consult me on these issues. 

I have made it a mission in my role on faculty to promote writing across our curriculum. I gave a presentation to our faculty last June on how I believed writing should be threaded in assignment format from first year to third year. My plan involves, much to the delight of every CAE instructor I've worked with, the incorporation of principles of Bloom's taxonomy, writing scaffolding, and self-efficacy theory.  I had a conversation with a college staff member who asked me a very interesting question, because it is his job to ask interesting questions:  "What is the evidence that shows the need for more writing in nursing education.  Do employers want this?"  It's beyond the scope of this brief blog for me to discuss my answer to that question but in short the answer is there is some, mostly anecdotal, evidence, and, yes, employers want it, maybe -- at least one former manager told me without hesitation, that nursing employers require good communicators in writing.  The bottom line is we are a Baccalaureate program and we don't just prepare students for the work world (as most of the rest of RRC programs do), we also prepare them for graduate school. But the role of writing in academic programs is to teach students how to communicate evidence in the language of their profession.  I have a hypothesis that writing makes students stronger nursing practitioners. 

Writing is hard sell to students.  It's hard work and it isn't "mickey mouse" as they seem to wish of everything we ask them to do. In nursing, students can't see the connection between writing a paper and starting an IV. And they don't see the connection between scholarly writing and charting which some students feel is the only writing they should ever have to do.  If they can't see the value in academic writing it is only because we are not doing a good enough job to teach the value.  Faculty also struggle with writing assignments for overlapping reasons. Many faculty also have low-self efficacy with their own writing which makes them fear their ability to evaluate students. And there is no arguing that assigning a paper in a course doubles an instructor's workload on many levels.  If students grow in their writing, develop self-efficacy, and are able to recognize and articulate that growth and can then connect that growth with strong nursing critical thinking, as a portfolio should do, we've built a great nurse. 

We don't choose to teach in a higher education environment unless we feel that we were somehow superior students ourselves in some way and have something to share with the younger generations about our experience.  I have every paper I ever wrote in every academic program I have ever participated in (two undergraduate and one masters degree program) coil bound with their feedback from various instructors saved (because I am a geek like that).  Every few years something motivates me (usually related to a teaching experience or a faculty discussion I've had) to go back and flip through this portfolio, of sorts, and remind myself how far I've come as an academic writer.  It allows me to empathize with students', often valid, frustrations with the way they are graded in their writing experiences.  It allows me to empathize with some of the ridiculous things we insert into assignments that are frustrating to address.

We also have to complete a portfolio as a part of the completion of the CAE program (although, as an aside, I'm not sure I have to do one because I began the program before that was a stated requirement and I've heard I may not have to) and I am sure that if I do have to complete the process I will find it valuable.  I have created many projects in this program which I have used, many I have not used because they don't fit my teaching environment, and it has created many reflections.


Zaheer Ahmad said...

Nice one
No doubt portfolio works very well

Zaheer Ahmad said...

Good job