As a nursing educator, over the years Margaret McAllister has come across many students who did not share the passion, or concern she had (and still has) for vulnerable groups and populations. It was (and still is) her belief that nurses can and should play a pivotal role in working with these people because nurses are trusted, and can often persuade people quite gently to make small changes in their life.
Margaret was concerned; that students failed to care about these things worried her. How would they ever be proactive, positive change agents, if they already didn’t care?
Taking time to reflect on a student’s world around the mid-1990s, Margaret began to see that sometimes learning and studying could be repetitive and boring. So she set herself a personal challenge. She set out to invigorate her classroom encounters so that students went away from her lessons having learned and remembered something, and most importantly, having been moved emotionally.
What Margaret was embracing was Transformative Learning.
Transformative Learning involves a reawakening of the senses. It provides the theoretical underpinnings for classes that are designed to have strong emotional pull, and plenty of room for students to practice learning the new cognitive or technical skill being conveyed. Students can find it energizing, engaging, surprising, and sometimes unsettling. It develops creative thinking so students can open up new ideas, and for nursing students, the approach can encourage them to think of ways to be more human, more humane in the ways they work with people.
Margaret says she can remember starting to use film excerpts, and setting film analysis assignments for popular films such Falling Down (1993), Benny and Joon (1993), The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992) and The Fisher King (1991). Students had to analyse these to identify stereotypes and transgressive messages about mental illness, and make the decision as to whether they would recommend the particular film to others or not.
Margaret explains, ‘I remember that students really enjoyed the activity because it was novel, and it gave them permission to watch movies, and not just hit the books. I also remember one student thanking me at the end of the semester and jokingly saying ‘I will never be able to just lie down on the couch and watch a movie ever again’’.
For Margaret, taking the Transformative Learning approach and the development of the STAR framework – Sensitise, Take Action, Reflection – has been vindicated: ‘Students say they love my classes. I’ve won awards for teaching. I get asked to do workshops and key note addresses all over the world. I’m now known for my innovative approach. I can keep an audience engaged, and I can go with them too. Being creative, searching for great films, music, stories, anecdotes. Telling stories. Moving away from ‘just the facts’. Allocating more time to interesting PowerPoints and learning how to use them well. Also, I aim to put on a performance when I teach. It’s exhausting but it’s worth it. I also spend time getting to know who my audience is, so that they feel spoken to, engaged and not patronised or ignored’.
Despite such successes however, some serious issues and challenges remain. According to Margaret, ‘social and health inequities just have not been resolved. People of low SES and Indigenous groups remain over-represented with every health problem you can think of: diabetes, obesity, smoking related disease, cancers, cardiovascular, mental health problems and even disabilities’ while it’s also challenging to teach in an online environment and still have the same emotional pull with students. ‘Getting to know each person takes time’, says Margaret. At the same time she feels positive about the future stating, ‘as long as we are resourced for the teaching, it can [all] be done’.
That said, major challenges remain for the profession: ‘Nurses and nursing are relatively slow in responding to these issues. This is in part because governments and policy makers overlook nurses when it comes to consulting around systemic change, and also because nurses are not strongly affiliated with professional groups who have lobbying power. Nurses tend to be politically naïve and inactive’, Margaret says.
It’s my mission to empower students so that they can be more vocal in the future, and more impassioned.
Watch the video and join in the discussion by answering questions below, or put your own point of view forward.
Margaret McAllister – Transformative Learning Part 1
A class divided
Margaret McAllister – Transformative Learning Part 2
Disorientating dilemmas are the trigger for an educator to devise a new approach to learning. In her video and above, Margaret mentions some that puzzled and motivated her. What other disorientating dilemmas have you encountered as an educator? Something like where clients continue to be poorly served by clinicians; or where students just don’t seem to get the point of something?
Margaret also mentions that in nursing there is a need to develop 1)technical as well as 2) cognitive skills in students whilst also assisting them to 3) unlearn habits of mind that impede learning. What are some of these habits that may need to be unlearned that you have noticed?
What does a threshold concept mean to you? Can you identify threshold learning concepts relevant to your work area?
Cousin, G. (2006). An introduction to threshold concepts. Planet 17, 1-5.
Infinito, J.(2003). Jane Elliot Meets Foucault: the formation of ethical identities in the classroom. Journal of Moral Education, 32 (1).
Johnson, B. (2005). Overcoming “doom and gloom”: Empowering students in courses on social problems, injustice and inequality. Teaching Sociology, 33(1), 44-58.
McAllister, M. (2010). Awake And Aware: Thinking Constructively About The World Through Transformative Learning. Tony Warne & Sue McAndrew. (eds).Creative approaches in health and social care education. (pp.157-172) London: Macmillan.
McAllister, M. (2012). STAR: A transformative learning framework for nursing education. Journal of Transformative Education.9, 42-58.
McNair, R .(2005). The case for educating health care students in professionalism as the core content of interprofessional education. Medical Education, 39, 456–464.
Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2003).Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge(1): linkages to ways of thinking and practising, in Rust, C. (ed.), Improving Student Learning – ten years on. Oxford: OCSLD.
Mezirow, J. (2000) Learning as Transformation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Pratt, D.D. (2001). Good teaching: one size fits all? In An Up-date on Teaching Theory, Jovita Ross-Gordon (ed.), San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
The Freire Project: http://www.freireproject.org/
The Transformative Learning Centre, University of Toronto: http://tlc.oise.utoronto.ca/
The Journal of Transformative Education: http://jtd.sagepub.com/
for more information on Jane Elliott, go to: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/divided/etc/faq.html