The traditional nursing classroom often is stifling to students and teachers. Freire (1970) labeled this traditional classroom experience as information banking, in which teachers are the all-knowing experts depositing information into supposedly unknowing students. This oppressive educational experience places students in spectator roles instead of becoming inspired by an interactive process of co-learning. A dynamic co-learning experience creates a potential to move students from merely obtaining knowledge to practice. Heidegger (1968) provided guidance on how transformative learning is co-created and initiated by teachers. He considered teaching to be more difficult than learning because teachers must be genuine and non-authoritative while letting students learn.
Diekelmann and Scheckel (2004) described an innovative approach to nursing education as narrative pedagogy, in which teachers and students come together to tell stories of their experiences and question their assumptions. Teachers and students engage in a circular dialogue that provides student-centered learning experiences in which both teachers and students co-create the learning activities (Diekelmann & Lampe, 2004). As knowing and connecting occur, students translate those concepts to their own nursing practice (Ironside, Diekelmann, & Hirschmann, 2005).
This article presents an exemplar of transformative learning that can be integrated into classroom lectures or in an online format in nursing education. This approach, called the compelling teaching approach, uses four concepts: caring, comedy, creativity, and challenging (the four Cs) (Story, 2006). With this innovative teaching method, opportunities are created for authentic co-learning to occur.
Compelling teaching begins with teachers conveying genuine caring for students and their learning experience. Students have an innate need and desire for their teacher to care for them. According to Heidegger (as cited in Zimmerman, 1990), caring is the way humans participate and connect with the world—opening the possibilities. Caring adds humanness to the learning experiences, limiting the cold, authoritative atmosphere that suppresses the authentic learning that enriches everyone.
Watson (2003) noted that caring begets more caring. After being initiated by the teacher, caring becomes a “to and fro” between students and the teacher, creating a circle of caring through this interaction. Students move caring into their own lives and transform their nursing into a caring practice, which ultimately widens the caring circle.
To initiate this circle of concerned caring, teachers need not craft heroic acts. Caring often shows up in small acts, such as listening to students’ concerns and being authentic. These small acts can be accomplished by simply drawing on past personal and nursing experiences.
Nursing faculty members have many previous caring experiences with patients from which to draw. Students are not much different from patients; students often experience many emotions simultaneously, including stress and anxiety. By treating students in the same manner of treating patients, nursing faculty can convey authentic caring.
Encouraging open dialogue in the live or online classroom also fosters a caring environment, similar to what Diekelmann and Scheckel (2004) described as narrative pedagogy. This dialogue should include students’ expectations for the class and faculty’s expectations of students, with concerns addressed as they arise. Continuous assessment enhances the likelihood that dialogue remains open and pragmatic. However, in open deliberation, teachers should be prepared for students’ honesty. The perceptions of teachers and students in regard to the progress and experience of the class could be completely different, in which case teachers should reevaluate the conflict so that students’ expectations can be met.
Other caring acts teachers can foster include having an open-door policy, being fair, and celebrating small accomplishments. An open-door policy can be translated to online learning by accepting or eliciting chat invitations, clarifying on the announcement board, and facilitating dialogue on the discussion board. Asking and valuing students’ opinions on classroom approaches, activities, and policies conveys caring. Teachers must practice active listening in live or online sessions to bring about a caring ambience.
Another ingredient of caring is fairness, which means treating all students exactly the same. Students will feel a sense of caring because they will have the comfort of knowing they are equal representatives with equal opportunities. However, fairness does not mean that teachers give in to all individual requests.
Celebrating small accomplishments, such as bringing refreshments for the last class, exhibiting students’ special projects, or recognizing academic improvement, also represent caring acts teachers can easily accomplish. Small acts can culminate into extraordinary caring.
Although caring is vital for building a transformative learning environment, caring for students’ learning does not mean that teachers must give of their entire selves to students and their learning. Self-preservation and boundary setting are imperative for teachers to realize effectiveness as learning facilitators. Setting limits with students can prevent learning through caring from becoming caring without borders. Teachers illuminating authenticity and caring enhance the learning experience for everyone engaged.
The benefits of humor are well established in education, spiritual, healing, and New Age literature. Using humor decreases tension, anxiety, and stress. Bringing comedy into the classroom facilitates learning by lessening the burdens impeding that process. Comedy enriches learning by reducing learning anxiety and also brings interest to the content in delightful ways.
Nursing curriculum is convoluted material that students struggle to grasp, with little frame of reference on which to build. Humor assists to demystify the material, making it less somber and dull.
Similar to caring, comedy in the classroom can be presented in small acts; however, comedy should be presented in small doses. For instance, beginning each class with a joke, cartoon, or humorous story provides a break to diminish apprehension associated with anxiety-provoking activities and examinations. Monotonous content can be quite grueling, but involving content-related humorous quotes or having a comical sense of humor can pave the way to student interest and stimulation.
Teachers should choose the approach that best suits their personality. Ulloth (2003) emphasized that teachers need to develop their own sense of humor before trying to implement humor in the class. For example, if a teacher recognizes that storytelling is not a personal strength then using cartoons may be a better approach.
Teachers do not have to look far to find humor. Past nursing experiences can be a rich source of humor. Students can be given the opportunity to lead such activities as well. Students relating brief, wholesome, funny incidents they have experienced in nursing school or elsewhere can lead to divergent thinking about the day’s classroom content. Modeling this type of behavior strengthens students’ skill in humor so they can initiate it as praxis in the clinical setting with their patients, who also are experiencing stress and anxiety.
Although comedy in the classroom has its benefits, it is worth noting that a vigilant selection of appropriate material is crucial. Parrott (1994) stated humor could be seen as:
ridicule, sarcasm, racist or ethnic jokes…. The wrong kind of humor can be demeaning and destroy self-esteem and confidence, interfere with communication and sever relationships.
Material suitable for the content will be more likely to enhance learning rather than distract from it. Because overuse of comedy can minimize its effect and trivialize the content, small doses are preferred. Comedy can bring pleasure to the learning experience while creating infectious scholarship.
Torrance, a groundbreaker on the research in developing the creative potential in education, stated “Don’t be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity” (Torrance, n.d.). This lays the framework for the third C of compelling teaching, creativity. Teachers who embrace the idea of curiosity and creativity bring excitement and exhilaration to the student-teacher learning process.
In a study spanning 30 years, Torrance (1993) identified 10 characteristics that point to creative individuals. Four of these characteristics are finding delight in deep thinking, having a love of one’s work, having a clear purpose, and possessing the courage to be creative. Thinking outside the box, a trendy phrase used to describe creativity, means to think the previously unthought. Teachers who exhibit this level of creativity possess a sense of wonder that arouses learners to search for meaning and understanding of the course content.
Learning without creativity translates to a dull task of obtaining facts. Practicing creativity is not complicated. Brief moments of creativity generate interest and comprehension of the content. Small acts of creativity can be as simple as initiating a game on the day’s content. There are many game templates available online that are free of charge and can be tailored to any content.
Some creative activities can be accomplished with food products. Using food, through the senses, makes a lasting impression on the students while creating a deeper understanding of the content. Many recipes are available on education Web sites and can be molded to suit specific content areas (e.g., edible cells and edible blood).
Other creative activities include role-playing. Similar to comedy, role-playing provides an opportunity for modeling behavior in the classroom that students can move into praxis with their patients. The classroom provides students a safe environment to experience and discover best practices with peers. In addition to live classroom activities, teachers can combine class supplements on Web-based course management systems to initiate meaningful activities for an ever-increasing group of technologically savvy students. Students who are uncomfortable contributing to live class activities may flourish in the online classroom where written participation can result in less threatening feelings.
Although creativity can generate excitement in the classroom, using too much of any one activity with the same student group may diminish its effect. With each group of students, teachers should use a variety of approaches to maintain student interest. Student evaluation of activities will provide valuable information regarding the activities’ fit for that particular group. Not all activities will generate meaning for all groups, and after determining a group’s preference, changing preconceived plans may be necessary. Creativity, at its finest, can give rise to a learning experience that stimulates all learners, both students and teachers.
The last C of compelling teaching is challenging learners. Nursing curriculum is complex and demanding, but with the competitive nature of nursing student admissions, students are exceedingly qualified and prepared for the challenge. Students are not alone in this challenge. Nurse educators have uppertier students but are also faced with program priorities such as retention and NCLEX® pass rates. Balancing retention and pass rates can create pressure for teachers to maintain retention rates while struggling with the rigor of preparing students for the NCLEX. Teachers and students must overcome and rise above this paradox.
Teachers and students need not be overwhelmed by these challenges. A priority for teachers is to maintain an expectation of student performance excellence, which ultimately will boost high quality outcomes. An expectation of excellence in student performance requires superior teachers to facilitate this outcome. Teachers need to identify and manage inappropriate behavior or subpar expectations and outcomes to rise successfully to the challenge. Respectful articulation and dialogue can support this process. Facilitating dialogue in the live or online classroom where students ask questions and deliberate with each other encourages students to learn through questioning and critical inquiry. Teachers must challenge students by holding them accountable for previous and current content to promote knowledge retention and critical thinking.
Incorporating stimulating, challenging expectations into the learning process is possibly the most difficult aspect for everyone involved. Teachers need to push themselves before they can begin to challenge the students. Teachers need to support students to meet increasingly challenging expectations. Although difficult to implement, a challenging education can create a co-participatory learning process that can transform teachers and students into lifelong scholars.
Nursing education, similar to the traditional classroom, can be an oppressive experience of information banking that deprives involved learners of joy and excitement. Freire (1970) and Heidegger (1968), and more recently Diekelmann and Scheckel (2004), can teach valuable and insightful perspectives if approaches are adopted that promote their ways of thinking about transformative learning, taking nursing education to a higher level of liberation and meaning. One such approach to transformative learning is compelling teaching with the four Cs: caring, comedy, creativity, and challenging.
This approach to nursing education can enrich the learning process to become one of authentic learning that transforms the teacher and students. Compelling teaching strategies are not meant to substitute essential lecture formats but rather to augment the teacher-student learning process. The four Cs can be used to provide brief stimulating breaks at any point in time in classroom lectures or in an online format.
This approach to nursing education can enrich the learning process to become one of authentic learning that transforms the teacher and students. Compelling teaching has multiple implications for nursing education because the transformative learning process is not merely the procurement of information. Those involved learn how to learn, find passion for learning, and become compelled to continue learning beyond any one course, program, or focus, meaning that teachers and students become lifelong curious learners. Learning is moved into praxis where nursing students can craft similar transformative experiences for themselves personally and the patients they encounter, which leaves a positive impression on patients and the nursing workforce at large.
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- Diekelmann, N. & Scheckel, M. (2004). Leaving the safe harbor of competency-based and outcomes education: Re-thinking practice education. Journal of Nursing Education, 43, 385–388.
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- Ironside, P., Diekelmann, N. & Hirschmann, M. (2005). Learning the practices of knowing and connecting: The voices of students. Journal of Nursing Education, 44, 153–155.
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- Story, L. (2006, April) Compelling teaching with the four Cs: Caring, comedy, creativity, and challenging. Faculty presentation at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg.
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- Zimmerman, M. (1990). Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity: Technology, politics, and art. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.