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Teaching Excellence

Katie Haerling

Innovative instructional techniques

What motivates you to integrate innovative instructional techniques into your teaching? You’ve taught your course the same way for a few semesters and it’s going well, so why change? Sometimes opportunities immerge in the form of increased support for a program, interdisciplinary partnerships, or technological advances allowing you to do things not previously possible. Sometimes new realities like budget cuts, changes in accreditation or clinical hour requirements, or administrative mandates emerge and require unwelcome, but necessary changes. However, the best reason to integrate innovative instructional techniques into your teaching is this: Through careful student, peer, and self-assessment, you’ve observed an opportunity to improve students’ achievement of learning outcomes.

So, the first take-away from this post: Implement a robust process for capturing, analyzing, and applying student, peer, and self-assessment data about your teaching. Parts of this assessment process are likely built into your institutional policies. You administer the university’s generic course evaluation forms at the end of each term, you fill out your merit, promotion and tenure self-evaluations telling of your triumphs in teaching, and you invite peers to periodically observe your instruction. Done! Right?

Depending on the quality of the assessment process at your institution, there is likely room for improvement. Most of the aforementioned assessments have the unspoken goal of highlighting your instructional “wins” leaving opportunities to innovate un-examined. A few strategies I find helpful for critically assessing my teaching include gathering with my colleagues to discuss teaching (not curriculum-- teaching), creating opportunities for students to provide anonymous feedback about my courses in the middle of the term, and implementing various forms of reflective practice. The key is to make sure you have ample opportunities to critically assess your current teaching practice and identify opportunities to improve through innovation.

So, innovate means padding your pedagogy with some high-tech gizmo, right? Wrong. This brings us to take-aways two and three: Innovative instructional techniques do not need to be high-tech and just because something is high-tech does not mean it is an appropriate innovation. Depending upon the student learning outcome you need to address, the innovative instructional technique you adopt may be as simple as adding a point-bearing activity to the end of each 2-hour class to encourage students to attend the whole session or adding low-stakes writing assignments early in the semester to give students additional practice summarizing research articles and using APA Style.

Conversely, “innovative instructional techniques” adopted for the sake of innovation often fall flat.  When nursing programs started using computerized mannequins for simulated clinical experiences in the 00’s, it seemed simulation was being proposed as the solution to every problem nursing education was facing: the faculty shortage, theory-practice gap, budget constraints, and student assessment challenges. Similarly, today, we see programs turning to online learning and the flipped classroom and asking nursing faculty to achieve super-human feats by reaching two, three, and four times the number of students there would be in a face-to-face class whilst improving outcomes and lowering costs. We now know that neither of these hopes were realized: Simulation is really effective for addressing specific learning needs, but it can also be really expensive and take enormous amounts of student, staff and faculty time. Likewise, online learning compliments more traditional approaches in nursing education, but it still requires theoretically sound teaching practices and reasonable student-teacher ratios.

The final take-away: Regardless of the type of innovation you identify to address your teaching challenge, do your research. You are likely not the first person who has encountered this challenge and likely not the first person to consider this innovation. You can learn a lot from those who have gone before. We all prescribe to the importance of evidence-based practice in nursing and healthcare. However, we need to do a better job of implementing evidence-based teaching practices in nursing education. If, after a thorough literature search, you realize you HAVE stumbled upon a unique pedagogical challenge or come up with a novel innovative instructional technique, you know what to do: Write an article! Sharing your innovative instructional techniques is an important part of building the evidence base for nursing education scholarship and an opportunity to integrate your teaching, research, and service.

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