In what concerns teaching, the list of points for improvement and self-improvement can be virtually endless. Learning about learning and keeping constantly updated is imperative in the volatility of the contemporary scholarly environment. In the position of a nursing educator, the sheer vastness of the fields, procedures, and practices to be explored can be quite unnerving. Setting clear goals and objectives when creating and implementing instructions is, therefore, a skill of immense value. Indeed, in the daily challenges of teaching, a correct mindset is important, but hardly anything can be quite as helpful in following the vision that all educators share as informed goal-setting.
Clear-cut goals are an indispensable part of instructional design, which, simply put, is a systematic process of creating instruction (Carr-Chellman, 2016). Logically, the systematic component of instructional design subsumes that the outcomes should coincide with the initial goals. Practically, whether they achieve the goals or not depends on a multitude of factors – their background knowledge, their eagerness to learn, but primarily, it means that the instruction should be so designed that the students are able to reach what is expected from them – which is the teacher’s prerogative. The position of an educator, at that, is to share their own experience and knowledge, which is kept attuned to the objective reality; in other words, the educator’s lifelong mission is to explore new possibilities, to seek out new procedures and methods of learning and bring fresh ideas out to the students.
Based on that same logic, the content should be systematized as well, as an ordered array of interrelated ideas, which the students are able to digest, internalize, and later apply (Paul & Elder, 2014). Such a directive is sufficient in helping both the students and the educator stay focused on the narrowed goal of every separate lesson and the course as a whole. It would also be safe to assume that, psychologically, the content so organized gives all parties involved a sense of purpose; it is important that the students see the system, know the exact reasons they are involved in this or that activity, and be able to project the immediate outcomes of it. A system implemented wisely is the one that is aligned with the student’s background knowledge, resources, and motivation, that can be easily reconstructed by the timeline of instruction, that gives room for analysis and interpretation, and the learning outcomes of which can be reproduced using simple language by every student.
Systematic learning is a process based on a proven and efficacy-tested foundation, relying heavily on the basic logical conceptual hierarchies of cause and effect. Such learning is perfectly in line with the fact that, while the teachers design their own instructions, they are required to operate within the standards (Read the Standards, 2016). The logic of the instruction as a system coincides with how the standards appear: evidence-based, content-based, clear, consistent, transparent, and aligned with the missions of educational institutions and the students’ aspirations. One of the standards concerned particularly with nursing makes a point of updating the information included in the curricula to follow the changes in the healthcare delivery system to the last step – a position that every educator must share and practice. Another valuable point is that the contents of courses outlining the core competencies and thus directing the educators as to what the desired outcomes should be are present in open access (Curriculum Standards, 2016). The students get a chance to review the contents of what they are enrolling into, but, importantly, the openness enables the educators to share and learn from their colleagues. Provided, of course, that the practices being shared are compliant with the standards (which is to say, they are informed, understandable, and consistent), the directive of sharing unites the educators under a common goal and makes them part of a globalized community, to which the latest scientific advancements, changes in populations, techniques, prevalences, and genomics are available. The contents of instruction may vary from discipline to discipline, but the standards provide the basic understanding of the fundamentals, i.e., what the duties of all practitioners are, what are the roles of a nurse, what approaches to practice are most effective, what reasoning should a nurse rely on when making a decision, how is the nurse accountable for these decisions, etc. All this the students will be able to carry out from their curriculum as the standards, the design, and the means of transfer provide for maximum comprehensibility of the instruction.
As it were, standardization appears to be a seriously debated issue. Particularly, Ravitch (2014), a signature figure in education, devotes some of her writing to critiquing the education reform. One of her ideas is that a reform that promotes excellence (gauged by standardized testing) is oblivious to the educational capacities of an individual. In other words, students, teachers, and whole institutions are regarded as “failures” if they slip on the way to excellent academic performance (Ravitch, 2014, p. 17). Another concern of hers is that standardized curricula facilitate marketization of the educational system, which is less relevant to the aims of the present paper. The author’s point on standards, however, deserves special consideration because, in a sense, it might be valid. Increased competitiveness and the emphasis on perfection in all academic respects – again, as estimated by standard testing scores – may leave little room for talent that can only be assessed individually and non-conventionally. However, there is a serious logical flaw to the author’s reasoning, namely: there are fields of practice that cannot rely on individuality alone because they allow no imperfection. When human lives are concerned, standardized procedures derived from solid academic evidence and laws of causality provide more chances of a positive outcome than a visionary flash of non-conformant inspiration, however talented this person may be. Because the standards are derived from evidence and are not implemented until thorough field tests have been conducted, their applicability is hardly questionable – unlike that of an individual’s rule of thumb. Besides, although they might appear off-the-shelf and generic to some, one of the standards’ functions is to promote unity under the common goals. Commitment, specific in any individual classroom and universally valuable, is the first step to becoming a successful educator (Wong & Wong, 2009).
From that, one can witness the duality of the educator’s role: encouraging the students to follow the best efficacy-tested procedures and inspiring them to academic inquiry with a healthy critical mindset. It is true that the contents of the course, although systematic, should not be confined to the textbook, and neither should the textbook be regarded as the only source for the curriculum (Wiggins, 2013). Indeed, the goals and outcomes of the course may not be perfectly aligned with these of a particular book. All learning materials must facilitate the achievement of the outcomes, and if the textbook-to-course alignment is lacking, it would be only logical to integrate other sources into the course, at the same time isolating the learning goals and outcomes from learning activities (Wagner, 2014; Reeves, 2011).
A mindful approach to goal-setting, therefore, subsumes proactivity: no content should be transferred for the sake of itself. That would blatantly contradict the imperative for systematization and relevance of everything that is taught. Illogical structuration of the instructional design would inevitably miss some of the thinking levels, leaving the students with knowledge and comprehension gaps, or totally unable to synthesize, analyze, evaluate, and apply what they learn, as per Bloom’s Taxonomy (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2014). Creating content, an educator should consider multiple factors; apart from the relevance of the material and compliance with the standards, some good questions for a teacher to ask themselves are what levels of thinking the course activates in students and how it can be structured to activate them all.
To reiterate, ensuring that the instruction is designed with a view of transparent and consistent goals is imperative for any educator, nursing included. Just as any level of thinking left inactive during the course creates a knowledge gap, the lack of feasible learning objectives undermines the design of instruction. The role of an educator is to ensure that the goals are set and that all other components of instruction – e.g., the sources, the means of transfer, the standards and procedures to rely on – are attuned to them to create a harmonious and comprehensive system.
Carr-Chellman, A. A. (2016). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Curriculum Standards. (2016). Web.
Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2014). How to improve student learning: 30 practical ideas (3rd ed.). Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.
Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of Error. New York, NY: Vintage Books. Read the Standards. (2016). Web.
Reeves, A. (2011). Where Great Teaching Begins. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Wagner, K. (2014). Objectives/Targets: Alignment of Lesson Components. Web.
Wiggins, G. (2013). Understanding by Design. Web.
Wong, H. K., & Wong, R. T. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher (4th ed.). Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.
Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (2014). Educational Psychology: A Century of Contributions. New York, NY: Routledge.