Nurse educators continually strive to find new ways to engage students and improve teaching. Finding the time and space to collaborate with faculty colleagues can be challenging (Wingo, 2017). Faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham often gathered informally after organizational meetings to briefly discuss ideas to make courses and teaching sessions more engaging and innovative. During these discussions, faculty expressed their desire for a dedicated time and space to gather and discuss strategies for better teaching.
When a new addition was constructed for the School of Nursing, a high-technology room named “the Collaboratory” was included. Designed for interactive teaching and learning, and ideal for facilitating group work, the Collaboratory features 14 pods with screens and an HDMI connection for laptops. A numbered light that students can activate as green (when they have finished work) or red (when they need assistance) tops each pod. Other tools include a digital podium for easy projection and annotation, a screen-sharing application, a document camera to project images of tangible objects, and dual projectors with whiteboards.
After the addition was finished, faculty recognized the need to learn how to use the tools in the Collaboratory to promote active learning and engage students. They also realized that the space was perfect for them to embrace as a gathering spot to demonstrate and share innovative teaching ideas. The group designated late afternoon on the third Monday of each month as a dedicated time to meet. They named the event “Coffee in the Collaboratory” and served coffee, touting the time as a “pick me up” for weary faculty. The mission of this monthly meeting is to (a) advance nursing education by fostering the development of teaching strategies for live, blended, and distance courses, (b) create a collaborative environment for faculty to interact to optimize innovation, and (c) advance the use of new technology in the classroom and online.
In addition to sharing teaching strategies, one faculty member leads the group in icebreaker activities each month to demonstrate short, creative ways to engage students and to help the group bond. For example, participants have played games such as Making Lemonade From Lemons to demonstrate how to help teams to cultivate positive mind sets. Volunteers then lead participants in active learning ideas to demonstrate possible teaching strategies, such as a puzzle contest that required each team to put together a 24-piece puzzle, take a picture of it, and use screen-sharing technology to be the first to share it with the entire class. Activities may or may not be nursing focused, but group members discuss how they could incorporate the methods used for each activity to reinforce nursing concepts. Additional discussions have included topics that incorporate best practices for creating active learning environments in both face to face and distance accessible courses. Together, faculty examine teaching challenges and explore opportunities to enhance learning.
The Coffee in the Collaboratory event has given faculty an opportunity to practice and master technological tools for teaching in a relaxed and friendly environment. It has provided a place for faculty to gather to support each other, discuss teaching strategies, and collaborate on new ideas. Rather than seeing it as another meeting, faculty have expressed their views of it as a support group. As one faculty member recently claimed, “This has become my new favorite club!” Many faculty have also been quick to implement some of the strategies in their own courses after trying them out at Coffee in the Collaboratory.
Finding time to add one more meeting is challenging to those responsible for professional development in both academic and clinical settings. Marketing the event to faculty and staff as a nonmandatory gathering in the spirit of collaboration and innovation can be appealing. Also, promoting faculty development as an opportunity for many to get involved with and lead may be a strategy to promote engagement. Offering sessions for both night shift and day shift would increase accessibility for educators and staff to attend. Protected time and space for faculty and staff to drop in and share ideas is an easy way to invest in professional development. This event could easily be adapted to other settings where nurse educators want to share ideas and support each other to develop teaching innovations.
- Wingo, N. (2017). If you give a nurse a cookie: Sharing teaching strategies for nurse educator development. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 48(1), 12–13 doi:10.3928/00220124-20170110-04 [CrossRef]