Journal of Nursing Education

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Educational Innovations 

Graduate Student Seminars as a Faculty Development Activity

Helen Zsohar, PhD, RN; Jackie A. Smith, PhD

Abstract

Because most new nurse academicians are prepared as expert clinicians, rather than as educators, they lack the skills and knowledge of effective teachers when they accept a position in an educational institution. In this article, the authors discuss a program in which graduate students being prepared as entry-level nurse educators have the opportunity to practice the art and science of teaching in a supervised environment in which seminar participants are their peers, novice faculty, and seasoned faculty. Teaching seminars conducted by graduate students are a successful component of faculty development in teaching. Graduate students, known as faculty interns, are able to share their newly acquired skills and lived experiences with novice faculty not prepared as nurse educators and seasoned faculty who need updates on current educational practices and strategies.

Abstract

Because most new nurse academicians are prepared as expert clinicians, rather than as educators, they lack the skills and knowledge of effective teachers when they accept a position in an educational institution. In this article, the authors discuss a program in which graduate students being prepared as entry-level nurse educators have the opportunity to practice the art and science of teaching in a supervised environment in which seminar participants are their peers, novice faculty, and seasoned faculty. Teaching seminars conducted by graduate students are a successful component of faculty development in teaching. Graduate students, known as faculty interns, are able to share their newly acquired skills and lived experiences with novice faculty not prepared as nurse educators and seasoned faculty who need updates on current educational practices and strategies.

Drs. Zsohar and Smith are Associate Professors (Clinical), University of Utah College of Nursing, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Address correspondence to Helen Zsohar, PhD, RN, Associate Professor (Clinical), University of Utah College of Nursing, 10 South 2000 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112; e-mail: helen.zsohar@nurs.utah.edu.

Received: August 05, 2008
Accepted: September 17, 2008
Posted Online: March 05, 2010

In today’s educational climate in graduate nursing, the primary emphasis is on the preparation of clinicians instead of educators; yet many graduates who have been prepared in primary or acute care roles accept teaching positions and have little or no knowledge about learning theory or effective teaching strategies. Faculty in undergraduate programs may be nurse practitioner graduate students who are working as teaching assistants or graduates who have been prepared in advanced clinical nursing roles, not in education roles. With the current faculty shortage, graduate programs increasingly emphasize the preparation of nurse educators who need the opportunity to practice the crafts of an educator as students.

In this article, we discuss a faculty development program in which students being prepared as educators are able to share their newly acquired skills and lived experiences with new faculty not prepared as nurse educators and seasoned faculty who need updates on current educational practices and strategies. The program is a series of faculty development activities planned and implemented by graduate students in the final semester of a master’s program that focuses on the preparation of nurse educators. Students are able to practice teaching an audience that greatly benefits from the topics discussed, and the students benefit from evaluation of their supervised teaching performances.

In 2006, the National League for Nursing (NLN) Board of Governors issued a position paper on the importance of mentor programs for the ongoing development of new nurse faculty. The NLN Board of Governors (2006) stated that:

The multidimensional nature of the nurse educator role…is difficult to balance for new faculty, many of whom were not prepared as nurse educators.

Similarly, in 2008, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) published a document, The Preferred Vision of the Professoriate in Baccalaureate and Graduate Nursing Programs, which stated:

Courses in the nursing programs will be taught by faculty with graduate-level academic preparation and the advanced expertise in the areas of the content they teach.

So where do we get our new faculty, and how do we make sure faculty have the knowledge and skills in education when they begin teaching positions that we expect recently graduated RNs to have beginning their first staff nursing positions? Many challenges face neophyte faculty members, including learning the culture of the institution, both from an instructional and community perspective; understanding the elements of a performance review; developing a program of enhancing teaching, scholarship, and research; understanding the importance of public service; and, perhaps most important for the beginner, developing beginning expertise as an educator (McCormick & Barnes, 2008). Hessler and Ritchie (2006) offered the following suggestions to help neophyte educators and increase recruitment and retention of novice faculty:

Provide guidance, foster socialization, encourage flexibility, conduct orientation, provide support, facilitate collaboration, allow for mistakes, grow your own, and offer rewards.

Faculty mentoring programs have also been demonstrated to increase work satisfaction, facilitate tenure processes, and reduce stressors associated with being a new faculty member (Blauvelt & Spath, 2008; Bullough & Draper, 2004; Jocoy, 2006; Sorcinelli, 1994).

Of the institutional mandates generally placed on a new faculty member, teaching is one that carries great importance but may not be given adequate support. Conventional wisdom dictates that new faculty members are supposed to be good teachers, especially if their own educational program placed any importance on the foundations of effective pedagogy. However, after hire, many do not receive mentorship in this role. The provided mentorship usually comes in the form of assistance in preparing research grants and publications.

Method

At our institution, we were interested in three aspects of faculty preparation for teaching. First, we explored how we could maximize the experiences of our graduate students who are learning to become nurse educators. Second, we were interested in providing a needed faculty development activity for our new and some not-so-new faculty who needed and wanted to strengthen their knowledge about the newest cutting-edge instructional techniques and strategies. A third goal was to engage faculty who simply wanted additional information on some of the intricacies of navigating academia for the first time, especially if their formal academic preparation was not directed in this manner. So what are some of the skills and insights new faculty need as they begin working at an academic institution? Authors such as Boice (2000), Lowman (2000), and Lucas and Murry (2007) provided valuable insight into the approaches to teaching and becoming successful in academia. Emphasis was placed on the importance of focusing on the art and the science of teaching, the need to participate in a good faculty mentoring program, and understanding that the skills of effective teaching take time to develop. All of those authors focus on the importance of preparation for the role. Although many educational references and practical experiences are incorporated into the nursing education curriculum, many nuts-and-bolts kind of issues exist that confront novice educators and become a rich and valuable source of discussion.

The last semester of our graduate program for nurse educators involves both clinical and seminar work. The clinical portion is called the residency and focuses on allowing graduate students to experience all facets of the beginning faculty role. In the residency, students are assigned to work with experienced faculty mentors whose role is to assimilate them into the world of academia. The students in our program are called faculty interns to help differentiate them from graduate students in other roles and to help them distinguish themselves from the undergraduate or graduate students with whom they have contact in their role of learning to become nurse educators. The term facilitates the role transition and socialization that is so important in the academic community.

We try to match students with faculty at an educational institution where they hope to accept their first teaching position. In assigning the preceptor-preceptee dyad, we include the essentials of a good mentorship relationship, as outlined by Smith and Zsohar (2007). Through placement with faculty in the academic institution where they hope to be employed following graduation, both the student and faculty have an opportunity to conduct preliminary assessment of the individual’s likelihood of accepting a faculty position.

The Teaching Seminars Program

The residency experience also includes a series of seminars taught by the faculty interns. These seminars have become a faculty development series for all faculty who wish to or are assigned to participate. The seminar topics are selected by the participating students and focus on the newest evidence-based educational practices. Topics address creative, innovative, and recent teaching pedagogies, especially those involving the use of technology. In addition to addressing educational innovations, the seminars also provide an opportunity for professional mentoring partnerships between seasoned faculty and faculty interns. Experienced faculty sharing their insights with the faculty interns and others attending the seminars has proven to be a value-added component of the experience.

To plan the seminars, faculty interns are divided into dyads and select topics they believe will be of interest to their peers and other faculty. Topics usually focused on issues that will facilitate adaptation to the role of new faculty members. Topics such as how to prepare for an academic interview, address classroom incivilities, present self competently and professionally, manage large classrooms, facilitate active learning in a large classroom, and practice deciphering an item analysis on a quiz are timely and appropriate for the student group. During the past year, three of the seminars focused on learning to use rubrics by comparing and contrasting cookies (and eating them afterwards), sharing knowledge through pod-casting, and using student response systems in large classroom settings. Many topics selected by the students have applicability for any neophyte faculty member, and the topics that address newer technologies have been helpful to even the most experienced faculty.

To prepare for the seminars, the faculty interns submit at least two relevant readings to their peers and interested faculty at least 1 week before the seminar, along with the objectives for the seminar and one or two questions for participants to think about. The usual attendance of designated faculty preceptors has given the seminars a value-added component through the blend of the experienced and inexperienced views in the discussion. Feedback from faculty who attended seminars in the past provided the impetus for expanding the audience and designated the seminars as a faculty development activity.

Each seminar lasts 1 hour, which gives the seminar leaders an opportunity to practice not only their teaching skills but also their time management skills in a safe environment. All participants are viewed as learners, which helps promote confidence in the seminar leaders. After the seminar, the leaders are given the opportunity to self-reflect by completing a self-evaluation form. They also benefit from the written evaluative comments of all participants, who complete seminar feedback forms that are shared anonymously with all of the faculty interns in the cohort. As a result, faculty interns who are not the seminar leaders also benefit from the feedback given to their peers.

The seminar series is in its formative stage; however, it has already provided a valuable faculty development option for the entire college, as well as a valuable teaching experience for three cohorts of faculty interns. Comments on course evaluations attest to the relevance of the experience for students:

  • This course was geared to the learning needs and professional development of the student [faculty intern]. It was also individualized to meet the specific goals of the group.
  • This was my favorite course in the Teaching Nursing Program. I found it to be perfect timing for the end of the program.
Faculty who attended the seminars made such comments as:
  • I felt like I could share my opinions and that others could do the same. These topics are so important for us to think about and discuss as we will be (or have already been) confronted with them on a daily basis.
  • The cookie analysis was creative for teaching about rubrics, and was very useful, as it forced you to think about what qualities you were looking for, rather than just rating the cookies.

A Mutually Beneficial Educational Experience

McCormick and Barnes (2008) reported that being a faculty member:

is creative, exciting, and energizing work; however, transitioning into that role can be difficult, daunting, and draining.

Graduate students enrolled in a study program focusing on education were required to design, teach, and evaluate classes on a regular basis. Depending on the institution, the teaching episodes may be educational exercises or an integral part of the school’s faculty development program. We think that future nurse educators learn best when the activities in which they participate have interest and relevance for a wider audience than their peers. We also recognize that the opportunity to practice and role model the best practices in education can positively influence the educational experience of all faculty. Often, new faculty believe that added faculty development activities are a burden for an already full agenda of socializing to a new faculty role. According to Boice (2000), novice educators need to:

begin early to collect ideas and themes for classes…and stimulate imaginative teaching by linking it to real-life experiences.

Linking graduate students who are finishing their program of study to inexperienced and experienced faculty through a faculty development activity fosters the educational mission of the institution and produces better prepared, creative, and enthusiastic faculty.

References

  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing. (2008). The preferred vision of the professoriate in baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs. Retrieved June 16, 2008, from http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Publications/positions/preferredvision.htm
  • Blauvelt, M.J. & Spath, M.L. (2008). Passing the torch: A faculty mentoring program at one school of nursing. Nursing Education Perspectives, 29, 29–33.
  • Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Bullough, R.V. Jr.. & Draper, R.J. (2004). Mentoring and the emotions. Journal of Education for Teaching, 30, 271–288. doi:10.1080/0260747042000309493 [CrossRef]
  • Hessler, K. & Ritchie, H. (2006). Recruitment and retention of novice faculty. Journal of Nursing Education, 45, 150–154.
  • Jocoy, C.L. (2006). Surviving the first time through: A new instructor’s views on designing and teaching economic geography and how mentoring early-career faculty can help. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30, 419–425. doi:10.1080/03098260600927286 [CrossRef]
  • Lowman, J. (2000). Mastering the techniques of teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Lucas, C.J. & Murry, J.W. Jr.. (2007). New faculty: A practical guide for academic beginners (2nd ed.). New York: Palgrave.
  • McCormick, C.B. & Barnes, B.J. (2008). Getting started in academia: A guide for educational psychologists. Educational Psychology Review, 20(1), 5–18. doi:10.1007/s10648-007-9058-z [CrossRef]
  • National League for Nursing Board of Governors. (2006). Position statement: Mentoring of nurse faculty. Retrieved May 14, 2009, from http://www.nln.org/aboutnln/PositionStatements/mentoring_3_21_06.pdf
  • Smith, J.A. & Zsohar, H. (2007). Essentials of neophyte mentorship in relation to the nursing shortage. Journal of Nursing Education, 46, 184–186.
  • Sorcinelli, M.D. (1994). Effective approaches to new faculty development. Journal of Counseling & Development, 72, 474–479.
Authors

Drs. Zsohar and Smith are Associate Professors (Clinical), University of Utah College of Nursing, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Address correspondence to Helen Zsohar, PhD, RN, Associate Professor (Clinical), University of Utah College of Nursing, 10 South 2000 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112; e-mail: .helen.zsohar@nurs.utah.edu

10.3928/01484834-20091022-01

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