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Reflection and Sense of Connection and Caring Between Faculty and Students

Katie Morales, Tanner Health System School of Nursing University of West Georgia

Cindy Johnson, Tanner Health System School of Nursing University of West Georgia


Key Statement: Reflection can create connection and caring between faculty and students, enhance learning and success, and promote collaborative professional encounters.


Keywords: Reflection, Connection, Caring




Introduction


The authors are nursing faculty at a large public university and a private liberal arts college in the Southeast United States. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we adopted an Online/Hybrid Learning Delivery with mandated social distancing policies when teaching face-to-face. To promote reflection and a sense of connection and caring between faculty and students, we incorporated principles of Duffy’s (2009) Quality-Caring Model© and Watson’s (2011) Caring Science Curriculum Model in our graduate and undergraduate courses. Both models focus on the importance of developing caring and collaborative relationships in nursing education and provide the framework for implementation of a curriculum based on caring (University of West Georgia School of Nursing, 2021). We were so pleased with the results, we continue these activities in our courses regardless of the learning environment (face-to-face, online, or hybrid).

Image courtesy of Wix.


Strategies


We applied these strategies with a class of 37 undergraduate BSN students, a class of 78 undergraduate BSN students, and a class of 11 graduate students pursuing their doctoral degrees. All classes took place in Fall 2020. These methods were used as an evaluation of teaching strategies and not a research project. Comments were provided anonymously and used with permission.


Status Updates


One strategy was having students post status updates in the learning management system. These updates could be written or a video. The updates included a synopsis of what students learned, an aspect of the class or text they enjoyed, questions they still had and how they would answer them, and a goal (including a challenge they anticipated and a strategy to overcome that challenge). Graduate students submitted an individual update bi-weekly, and undergraduate students submitted a team reported weekly. No course grade was associated with participation, and no incentives were provided for this activity.

We (the authors) made a point to respond to the status updates and were able to validate students’ comments and offer follow-up. For example, we wrote this response to an undergraduate student: “Of course, we can review the quiz or anything else you would like to discuss in class or via a remote office session. Whatever works best for you!”


We were able to provide feedback to the graduate students as well and were able to validate their concerns. One student stated that “the status updates allowed us to ask questions about what we didn’t understand and then [ask] the professor for knowledge. In that vein, we commented to one graduate student, “You ask great questions which are not readily answerable, but present fantastic research opportunities.”


We sought student feedback on the use of status updates and received the following anonymous comments from the undergraduate students (shared with permission).

“The status updates helped my group stay on task and plan for the next week.”

“The status updates allowed us to ask questions about what we didn’t understand and then the professor reviewed the content in the next class.”

“The status updates helped us to realize things we had learned during class and through our readings.”

“Stating our goal for the next week ensured every group member knew their assignment for the next week. “

“Our group was able to communicate any questions/concerns through the video instead of in front of the whole class.”



Four-Item Midterm Survey (Modified Brookfield Critical Incident Questionnaire)


Another activity included a four-item midterm survey to evaluate the undergraduate learning experience and assess their physical and mental well-being. Undergraduate students found discussions very effective and generally reported healthy physical and mental well-being. A limitation of the survey was that it was anonymous, and we could not follow-up with those undergraduate students who reported unhealthy physical or mental well-being. To mitigate this issue, we reviewed the health and counseling resources available to undergraduate students with the entire class when we shared the results with the class. See Table 1 for an example of the midterm feedback survey for the undergraduate course, including both questions asked and a breakdown of responses.


Table 1. Midterm Feedback Survey (Modified Brookfield Critical Incident Questionnaire)

The status updates also allowed students to reflect on their mental health. When a hurricane interrupted power, one undergraduate student reflected in their update, “We enjoyed having a day off class to spend time with family in the dark.” Another undergraduate student reflected, recalling a class period spent at a school festival, “This past week I really enjoyed being able to sit in class and have some free time, we got to spend time with each other outside of class at the lawn party we went to for a few minutes, and it felt like class was back to normal which was extremely fun.”



General Undergraduate Student Feedback


Undergraduate students stated that discussion reduced anxiety. “Being able to discuss as a group and ask questions with Dr. Morales herself has reduced a large portion of our anxieties that come along in this class. Face-to-face interaction has provided us with the motivation to complete this assignment to the best of our abilities.”

Reducing anxiety helped to promote learning. An undergraduate student commented, “Something that stood out to our group was when Dr. Morales mentioned how sometimes when you feel like you’re not learning anything is when you are learning the most. Evidence-based practice has challenged us to think in a way we are not used to and see nursing in a different way.”

Another undergraduate student commented, “I did like how you mentioned when you were in your masters, or doctorate, you felt like you had no idea what was going on in the class or what you were doing but in the end, you really did learn a lot. I feel like I’m clueless most of the time and I’m glad that's normal.”



General Graduate Student Feedback


Graduate student feedback was also overwhelmingly positive. We received the following comments from the graduate students, when prompted with the statement “Things I Enjoyed in This Course”:

  • “I like the level of engagement that our professor is showing for this course. Thank you very much for your patience and understanding.”

  • “I learned a lot when the professor shared her expertise in this course. This is high level/ doctoral level of teaching. The professor of this course is very engaging and inspiring.”

  • “I enjoy high levels of critical thinking and new learning. The professor of this course meets my expectation of quality education.”

  • “The professor is very collaborative and supportive to students. I believe she is well versed with the concept of andragogy and pedagogy. I support diversity of ideas and eclecticism.”

  • “The professor of this course knows how to help students meet the objectives of this course.”

We commented to a graduate student, “I appreciate your transparency about your feelings about your research topic. Research is supposed to create knowledge so never be afraid if you are out there on your own. Let me know if I can help.”

We also posted our own status update video every three weeks in the graduate course which was well received by the graduate students. One graduate student commented, “I also want to say how much I appreciated your status update video. I think, particularly in an online EdD program, and having everything online at work, this past year has felt even more isolating than before (I find nursing education more isolating than I thought it would be, having come from the bedside). Midterm time is always rough, but it does seem rougher this year. UNC canceled spring break this year, so it feels like even that moment to come up for air has been taken away. That being said, I appreciate your transparency and being so real with us when it sometimes feels like it must just be me struggling. Thank you!”



Conclusion

As class sizes and faculty workload increase, the following four iterative steps can promote reflection and a sense of connection and caring between faculty and students and ensure student success regardless of the learning environment (face-to-face, online, or hybrid) or level of student (graduate or undergraduate).

  1. Implement regular status updates for your course.

  2. Address concerns reflected in updates in class.

  3. Administer the four-item midterm survey (Brookfield Critical Incident Questionnaire, modified as needed).

  4. Evaluate general feedback end of course surveys and adjust as needed.



Discussion Questions

  1. Considering your class structure, how can you promote reflection and a sense of connection and caring between faculty and students?

  2. Considering your current workload, what are the benefits of promoting reflection and a sense of connection and caring between faculty and students? What are the challenges of promoting reflection and a sense of connection and caring between faculty and students?

  3. Considering the strategies, models, and feedback presented here, what ideas do you have to promote reflection and a sense of connection and caring between faculty and students?



References

Brookfield, S. D. (2015). The skillful teacher (3rd ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Duffy, J. (2009). Quality caring in nursing: Applying theory to clinical practice,

education, and leadership. Springer.

University of West Georgia School of Nursing. (2021). Philosophy: Nursing.

https://www.westga.edu/assets/nursing/docs/THSSON_Faculty_Handbook.pdf

Watson, J. (2011). Human caring science: A theory of nursing. Jones & Bartlett.



About the Authors



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