Dr. McCurry is Assistant Professor, Department of Adult and Child Nursing, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, North Dartmouth, Massachusetts; and Dr. Martins is Associate Professor, College of Nursing, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island.
A University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Teaching Excellence-Teaching Development Travel Grant was received for the initial poster presentation of this study. The authors thank Dr. Kimberly Christopher for her review of the manuscript.
The authors have no financial or proprietary interest in the materials presented herein.
Address correspondence to Mary K. McCurry, PhD, RNC, ANP, ACNP, Assistant Professor, Department of Adult and Child Nursing, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, 285 Old Westport Road, North Dartmouth, MA 02747; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historically, nursing students have questioned the value of a nursing research course in the undergraduate curriculum and have not appreciated the research-practice link. These are important concerns in light of the increasing emphasis on evidence-based nursing practice. Nurse educators have struggled to develop teaching strategies that undergraduate nursing students find engaging and meaningful.
The majority of current baccalaureate undergraduate students are millennial learners. Millennial learners, born between 1980 and 2000, alternatively are labeled the Y Generation, the Internet Generation, Echo Boomers, the Nintendo® Generation, or the Digital Generation (Raines, 2002). Millennial learners grew up during a time when the focus was on the family. They “like” their parents, their mothers are older, and both parents are strong child advocates.
Millennial learners’ worldview is more global and multicultural. The tragedies of September 11, 2001, made terrorism, heroism, and patriotism part of their life experiences. The characteristics most commonly used to describe these students are sheltered, special, confident, team-oriented, achieving, pressured, and conventional (Strauss & Howe, 2006). Innovative approaches for teaching undergraduate nursing research must consider these millennial characteristics if current students are to be engaged.
Millennial students have a strong sense of self-worth and believe they are unique (Pattengale, 2008; Strauss & Howe, 2006). They welcome structure and require frequent, positive reinforcement. Raised by parents who both worked or in single-parent households in which the parent worked, these students were more likely to be exposed to surrogate parenting situations, and as a result, they are more group-oriented than previous generations (Arhin & Cormier, 2007). From the time they were old enough to sing a song or kick a soccer ball, millennial students have been exposed to group activities, resulting in strong team skills and powerful peer bonds.
Millennial learners are technologically savvy and comfortable with multitasking (Frand, 2000; Mangold, 2007). They are “digital natives,” meaning they grew up with technology, unlike most of their Baby Boomer professors who are “digital adopters.” Millennial learners value doing rather than knowing (Mangold, 2007), and they do not view their professor as an expert but rather as someone with expertise.
Traditional methods used to teach nursing research courses include reading in textbooks, using didactic lecture with or without PowerPoint® slides, incorporating objective testing, and having students critique papers of published research. These strategies are typically individual activities that use no or minimal technology, involve knowing rather than doing, or require students to critique other’s work. The more we learn about millennial students, the easier it is to understand why they have difficulty engaging in traditional methods of learning and often remain unable to articulate the importance of the research-practice link at the end of the course.
According to Raines (2002), millennial students’ learning preferences include teamwork, technology, structure, entertainment and excitement, and experiential activities. These learners prefer group assignments rather than individual work, and they are uncomfortable with critique and debate. Therefore, teaching strategies that successfully engage these learners need to be interactive, group focused, objective, and experiential. Recommended teaching activities include experiential projects, in-class demonstrations, structured multipart papers (with feedback provided for each section before students submit the next section), interactive presentations, and worksheets that test mastery of core skills (Pattengale, 2008). To date, little research has systematically tested the teaching methods recommended for millennial learners (Mangold, 2007).
The purpose of this study was to develop innovative assignments for teaching undergraduate nursing research to millennial learners and to compare students’ perceived effectiveness of innovative strategies to traditional assignments. The university’s institutional review board approved the study as exempt due to the educational nature of the plan and the use of data that could not be linked to any individual student.
Junior-level nursing research course objectives required students to learn research terminology and processes, critique research, and understand evidence-based practice and the research-practice link. Both authors previously taught this course using a mixture of individual and group assignments. All assignments from previous syllabi were reviewed. Those that were identified as effective were included in the new course with modifications as needed. Newly designed innovative activities were developed based on criteria that they be interactive, group focused, objective, or experiential.
Activities that met the criteria for being innovative were based on the learning preferences of millennial students and included:
- Worksheets for collaborative learning.
- Presentations by clinical nurse researchers from diverse clinical and professional backgrounds.
- Mandatory attendance and participation with self-evaluation and peer evaluation.
- Joint assignments with the corequisite clinical course.
- Oral group research presentations and posters.
- Research grand rounds.
- “The Great Cookie Experiment.”
Students completed each activity as part of the course assignments, and participation in small groups and group presentations was evaluated by peers.
Worksheets for Collaborative Learning. Students completed the worksheets in small groups of five or six. These small groups remained consistent for the duration of the course.
Several types of interactive worksheets were developed that reinforced the topic of the week. Worksheet structure varied depending on the concepts covered in the readings and lectures. For example, reinforcement of identifying the purpose and problem of a research study was accomplished by asking groups to select the appropriate sentences from a portion of a published research study. The difficulty of the questions increased as the students progressed through the worksheet. Identification worksheets were used to review independent and dependent variables, and problem solving worksheets were used to reinforce statistics, data analysis, and evidence-based practice.
Clinical Nurse Researcher Presentations. Several times throughout the semester, nurse researchers presented select diverse studies from their programs of research. These guest researchers were recruited from college of nursing faculty and regional university hospitals.
Presentations were interactive, lasted 30 to 45 minutes, and included topics such as “Health Seeking Behaviors of Caribbean American Women” and “Health Care Experiences of People Who Are Homeless.” Students were encouraged to ask questions, and the course faculty worked with students to connect concepts from the course, such as sampling, ethics, and research design, with the corresponding aspects of the research presentation. In addition, faculty and students discussed the link between the research presented and clinical practice.
Mandatory Attendance and Participation with Self-Evaluation and Peer Evaluation. Attendance and participation in class were mandatory and accounted for 20% of the course grade. Class participation was assessed by self-evaluation and peer evaluations. Specifically, students evaluated the other members of their small group on preparation and participation in worksheet activities, oral research presentations, and research grand rounds. The rating scale was A, B, C, or D, and any rating below a B required written rationale.
Joint Assignments with the Corequisite Clinical Course. An experiential assignment combined the research concepts of database searches and literature review with a clinical paper assigned in students’ concurrent adult health medical-surgical course. After choosing topics with their clinical instructors, students completed a database search and obtained six scientific or theoretically based articles that were summarized in a 3-page paper.
To assist students with this assignment, they attended an orientation session on the library’s electronic database system. Students also met with the course faculty individually and in small groups to refine electronic searches, critically examine the literature, and identify articles as research based or scholarly discussions. Abstracts from the six articles and a reference list following the American Psychological Association’s style were submitted to both research course and clinical faculty.
Oral Group Research Presentations and Posters. The objective of this assignment was for students to have the experience of preparing and presenting a mock oral research presentation and a poster. Each group was assigned a different published nursing research study. The activity required members of the group to prepare PowerPoint slides and present and critique their assigned section of the study. Students were evaluated by faculty based on their preparation, presentation, poster, and overall comprehension.
Research Grand Rounds. Again working in their small groups, students read assigned studies on topics of clinical interest to nursing students. These topics included hand washing (Sharir, Teitler, Lavi, & Raz, 2001), stethoscopes and infectious disease control (Maluf, Maldonado, Bercial, & Pedroso, 2002), and congestive heart failure (a clinical topic from students’ medical-surgical course) (Sethares & Elliott, 2004). The assigned articles were the subject content for research grand rounds, which were conducted several times during the semester.
Objectives for the assignment varied. Initially, students were asked to identify various study components such as problem, purpose, hypotheses, research questions, and methods. As students gained more knowledge, the assignment objectives became more advanced and students were required to critique the study, explain the statistical analysis, identify limitations and assumptions not addressed in the article, and develop ideas for linking findings from the study to clinical applications.
The “Great Cookie Experiment.” This assignment was completed in class on the first day and was based on an activity by Thiel (1987) and Kearney (1988), and then later applied to music by Sternberger (2002). The purpose of the assignment was to use experiential learning to introduce the course topics for the semester.
After reading and signing a consent form, students were given two chocolate chip cookies, one low-fat and one original. Each student rated the cookies based on visual appeal, texture, and taste. As a class, data were summarized and the results were discussed and linked to evidence-based practice. Although this is not a new classroom activity, it met our criteria for an innovative teaching strategy and was included in the course.
Traditional activities used in this course included reading assignments in a nursing research textbook, didactic lecture with PowerPoint slides, unannounced reading quizzes, and an orientation to the library including instruction on how to search nursing databases by the librarian. Students also were required to write a critique (five to six pages in length) of a published nursing research article.
Seventy-two junior baccalaureate students participated in the course and completed the course evaluation. Using a Likert scale (1 = not effective, 5 = extremely effective), students were asked to evaluate the effectiveness of each teaching activity. A t test was used to determine whether there was a statistically significant difference between the means of the traditional assignments and the means of the innovative assignments.
Data analysis determined statistically significant differences existed between the groups (t = 6.93, p < 0.0001). Students consistently rated the innovative assignments (mean = 3.84, SD = 0.113) as more effective than the traditional assignments (mean = 3.38, SD = 0.115) in helping them meet the course objectives. Scores for the innovative assignments ranged from 3.70 to 3.98, whereas scores for traditional assignments ranged from 3.21 to 3.53 (Table).
Table: Effectiveness of Innovative Versus Traditional Teaching Strategies
A qualitative instrument asked students to evaluate the activities they enjoyed the most and that were the most effective. Students also were asked what they would do to change the class.
Consistent with the known learning preferences of millennials, more than 75% of students had favorable comments about group work or interactive activities. Students’ responses indicated most of them enjoyed the group interaction that was experienced in the Great Cookie Experiment, the research roundtables, group worksheet activities, and group oral research presentations.
The Great Cookie Experiment was described in one evaluation as a “fun and interesting way to introduce us to nursing research.” One student reported “group work was a great way to break up the class.” The only activity that was reported as being enjoyed that was not a group activity was the guest researchers. This activity also was reported as helping students understand the research-practice link. In addition, numerous students noted they found it effective when “assignments coincided with their medical-surgical nursing paper.”
When asked what changes should be made to the course, more than half of the students reported they wanted “more interaction with small groups.” Several students suggested adding online activities.
Little research has tested the recommended teaching methods for millennial learners (Mangold, 2007). This study corroborates previous findings in the literature that support millennial students’ preference for activities that are interactive, group focused, objective, and experiential (Clark, Stanforth, & Humphries, 2009; Mikol, 2005; Pardue & Morgan, 2008; Skiba, 2005).
Students in this study also rated innovative activities as more effective than traditional assignments in helping them to meet course objectives. Thus, addressing the learning preferences of millennial students resulted in increased classroom participation, collaborative learning, and ultimately, greater mastery of course objectives.
Consistent with previous findings by Pugsley and Clayton (2003), faculty reported students were more engaged and better able to articulate the value of the research-practice link when innovative, interactive assignments were added. As faculty, we grow as teachers by adjusting our teaching styles and assignments for millennial learners, guiding them in scholarly pursuits that expand their thinking and move them toward critical reflection.
This study demonstrates how nursing research faculty can easily modify current assignments to make them more appealing to millennial learners. Carlson (2005) reported millennial students would prefer to see faster and more interactive, online course-management systems, such as WebCT and Blackboard. Teachers of nursing and nursing research need to heed Carlson’s (2005) call to “imagine systems that ‘learn’ how you learn and adapt to your style.” We need to reflect on our former traditional methods and continue to create strategies that stimulate and inspire current nursing students in higher education.
Millennial learners present faculty with unique challenges. Effective teaching means educators must connect with their learners. Students’ positive responses to the innovative learning strategies evaluated in this study support the nursing profession’s need to continue to develop activities that engage millennial students and enable them to clearly articulate the value of the research-practice link vital to evidence-based nursing practice.
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Effectiveness of Innovative Versus Traditional Teaching Strategies
|Teaching Strategy||Mean Likert Score|
| Clinical nurse researcher presentations||3.98|
| Class participation and attendance, peer evaluation||3.95|
| Small group work and worksheets||3.91|
| Collaboration with clinical course||3.84|
| Oral research presentation and poster||3.75|
| Research grand rounds||3.73|
| Great Cookie Experiment||3.70|
| Textbook readings||3.53|
| Critiquing research article||3.41|
| Reading quizzes||3.37|
| Library orientation on nursing databases||3.26|
| Didactic lecture||3.21|
|Innovative versus traditional strategies||t = 6.93 (p < 0.0001)|