Engaged learning is a key focus of University of Michigan's teaching efforts, given the power of active, immersive approaches for promoting student learning. Service-learning, fieldwork, and other forms of what is often called 'experiential learning' allow students to make discoveries about course content, connect realms of knowledge and experience, and think critically about their own actions.
Given the practical and logistical challenges often involved in setting up such experiential learning opportunities, how can instructors maximize the student learning that results? Several questions can be useful to consider carefully while planning such a student experience: What kinds of preparation will help students reap the greatest learning rewards of such activities? How can an instructor best connect an immersive activity to the learning goals of the course? How can the teacher effectively prompt students to reflect on their experience to promote learning?
At the U-M School of Nursing, Clinical Assistant Professor Michelle Aebersold
has led the way with integrating a powerful form of experiential learning—care for simulated patients—into the undergraduate curriculum, paying careful attention to all of those questions. In this video
, Aebersold explains how she structured the simulations to enable nursing students at the Clinical Learning Center
to practice key skills and apply their knowledge in a realistic but controlled environment. In these exercises, a few students interact with a state-of-the-art, high-fidelity mannequin or live simulated patient while instructors behind a two-way mirror control the patient responses (breathing and heart rate, for example). Classmates observe the activities through live closed-circuit video.
Discussing the key components that make these simulations powerful learning activities, Aebersold highlights three elements that research supports as good practice for any kind of experiential learning:
1. Pre-learning. In the simulations, nursing students complete activities that prepare them with the background knowledge necessary to successfully engage in the patient care simulations. For example, if the simulations are focused around a case of heart failure, students would study articles about current evidence-based practices pertaining to heart failure, explore specific communication techniques that they will need to use, or practice a set of skills related to the care of patients in these types of situations. Before the simulation, instructors can then assess their students’ readiness by quizzing them and discussing any questions or concerns that come up.
In any experiential learning exercise, such pre-learning activities can help students hone a subset of skills they will need to be successful in the simulation. By focusing students' preparation and checking for readiness before the experience, teachers can minimize problems that might derail the exercise. This is not to say that these experiential learning moments should be so scripted as to eliminate any chance of failure or unexpected challenge; rather, by preparing students with important background knowledge, instructors can help keep the experience focused on the learning goals of the course.