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What Does All of this Learning Truly Mean?

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My Thoughts and Only My Thoughts

As I review and scrutinize my transcript, I see 5 years of academic work that makes me question “what have I truly learned and how is this going to make me better at what I do?” At first glance it appears as though I have had a rather indecisive academic run. I began as a nurse practitioner (NP) student, transferred to the clinical nurse specialist (CNS) track and after 18 months of soul searching, found myself in the school of education. This is a rather interesting academic area to end up in because anyone that truly knows me, understands my love for clinical practice and working in the back of a helicopter, caring for the sickest and most critically injured patients imaginable.


With this being said, another passion that I have discovered over the years is helping individuals learn. I believe that this began when I was in Naval Nuclear Power School and my best friend at the time was struggling with math. He was one exam away from academic dismissal when I was able to assist him in identifying his areas of weakness and offer alternative study methods. This “academic tune up” not only helped him to pass the course, but graduate from Nuclear Power School. This individual ended up excelling in his naval career and became the command master chief of 2 nuclear powered submarines. After his retirement ceremony in 2008, he called me to say “thank you for getting me through math.” This provided me a fire like no other. However, I still lacked direction.


With an aching desire to continue my education, I entered the school of

nursing in 2010. While I valued what I was learning, I was uncomfortable

in the academic surroundings (interesting to admit as I am currently a nurse

and have been for nearly 20 years). I felt that the CNS role (albeit with a

concentration in nursing education) was not pushing me to innovate as an

educator, something that I desperately sought. I have seen far too many

practicing CNS’s in my own institution with the advanced nursing degree but

no vision how to educate. I came to yet another crossroads in my academic

career in which I had to decide if I wanted to teach others what I was taught

or become an educational mentor, teach for understanding and help to

change practice in a positive way.  


At times during my 5 years at MSU, I feel as though I have “gone through

the motions” in a robotic fashion. A more recent example of this was the

creation of my Annotated Transcript during my Capstone Course (CEP 807).

However, as I was nearing the end, and reflecting on what I have truly been

through, I have a deep understanding for what I have learned and the

importance of that learning.


By stepping out of my comfort zone professionally and academically, I have gained a unique perspective not typically afforded to healthcare providers. One caveat that I have learned in my 25 years of healthcare is that the best clinicians aren’t guaranteed to be the best educators. However in my particular set of life circumstances, and through my particular educational path, I have become an even stronger clinician and through a strong set of clinical skills have enhanced my abilities as an educator and more importantly, an innovative facilitator of learning.  


Courses That Have Inspired my Current Path

It is difficult to describe the impact that the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (MAET) program has had on me as a student and a professional without examining some of the more influential courses that I have taken. While I feel that I gained valuable tools for success in each course, there were courses that had a particular effect on me with respect to my vision, goals and direction. While it is certainly difficult to imagine this while blogging, posting discussions, creating projects, essays and lesson plans, I found that it “snuck up” on me when I least expected it. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to apply something learned in class to actual practice. I have experienced this reward on more than several occasions.


CEP 822 (Approaches to Educational Research) was my first and arguably one of my most impactful courses. It created a foundation for my original thoughts related to how I wanted this curriculum to shape my future and how I wanted to progress as an innovative healthcare educator. My Research Action Project allowed me to express a vision in learning and attempt to establish my unique role in academia. Through this course, I can now analyze, scrutinize and effectively utilize current evidence related to education which allows me to thoughtfully and deliberately change my practice as an educator.


In CEP 810 (Teaching for Understanding with Technology), I learned to become an effective steward of technology. I can better answer the questions “why do I want or need to utilize technology?” and  “is there a more appropriate learning medium?” While these seem like counterintuitive questions, especially in an Educational Technology program, a powerful undertone that I have held on to is the importance of purposefully integrating technology into an educational program. I have since been able to find the “right tool for the job” with respect to technology integration and instructional methods. CEP 810 taught me about some common technologies that were not so common to me, and that the “whys” and “hows” with respect to technology integration are more important than the technology itself. I feel that after this class, I have a better understanding for my staff. I know what sparks them, and how to respond to their individual and group learning needs.


CEP 817 (Learning Technology Through Design) simply stated, transformed me.

I attained, and continue to utilize valuable tools for designing solutions to challenges,

regardless of the size or scope. It is because of the Stanford Design Model that I now

look at problems much differently. During this course, and through my Problem of Practice

project, I created a “first of its kind” curriculum for air medical transport. Long after this

course was over for me, I utilized the design process to address yet another problem

within my team, one that when a workable solution is in place, will transform how

Survival Flight practices and how its team members work together for a common set of

goals and shared vision.


Particulars and How I Now Approach my Own Job

As someone who grew up in the 1980’s I could not conceptualize the impact that

computers, mobile phones and gaming systems would have on the world today. Having

been on the cutting edge so long ago with my Atari 2600 and my Commodore 64

computer, it still would have been difficult to imagine that I could one day order and

track a food delivery from my mobile phone, play a videogame for school credit or take an entire graduate school curriculum without ever having stepped onto campus. It is exciting to have the feeling of wanting to embrace technology as so many of my contemporaries still

wish to avoid it.


As a result of this new focus, I have become a resource for addressing issues and solving problems within my organization. Beyond my newly acquired tools for instructional delivery, I have a renewed mindset for assessment and how best to guide my team’s learning needs. I have been able to apply what I have learned to practice. Globally, I can see examples of this within the context of experiential learning, innovation and engagement.  


Before the MAET program, the term experiential learning was merely a buzz term and like any in education, was fairly foreign to me. This particular term and its meaning however, has become the basis for how I train new employees and progress the practice of current flight nurses. This has been most noticed by the manner in which I now coordinate and run our case reviews (educational discussion of patient transports) and debrief our scenario-based education (practice of actual patient care situations utilizing human patient simulation (HPS)). The foundation for these activities is reflection, allowing participants to apply what they experienced and what they have learned to similar practice. This has created education that is applicable to practice and appropriately timed (i.e., participants can apply what they have learned, thus making it meaningful). Through the application of experiential learning, I have transformed my position from that of an administrator to an individual directly responsible for creating and refining practice.


This practice and approach requires innovation. I truly feel that there is no such thing as a problem that cannot be solved. Something that I have embraced as a result of this innovative thought process is providing pertinent and timely education. Having a team that works around the clock, 365 days per year requires instruction that is available at their convenience rather than mine.


An example of pertinent and timely education is the creation of an instructional video library. Currently under development and housed in YouTube, this library will provide visual instruction for high risk, low volume procedures. Video instruction was something that I learned to harness in CEP 810 and continue to find unique ways utilize. My team has learned to embrace the power of this media as evidenced by increased competency in some of the more infrequent procedures that we perform and pieces of equipment that we utilize.


Likewise, through changes in practice and process, in situ medical simulation has become a cornerstone for training. By making our equipment mobile, I am able to bring training to the participant. Traditionally, learners would need to come to specialized centers that house the type of equipment that we utilize in order to provide the highly technical medical training called for with HPS. By repurposing retired equipment and emergency vehicles, we are now able to take this training to the crew, providing applicable education in the environment that the flight nurse practices in.


By creating pertinent, timely education in an environment that allows for the participant to reflect and learn from experience, I feel that I am well on my way to creating education that is engaging. Through a well crafted, evidence-based curriculum and instruction on how to use technology thoughtfully and deliberately, creating engagement is becoming more intuitive to me. The MAET program has helped me with a foundation for moving forward as I obtain more technical skills rather than a “I now have skills but what do I do with them?” mentality. This program has taught me that it isn’t always about technology but it is about learning the right thing for the right reason. This I feel  can create more engagement.

Bringing it Full Circle

As I again review and scrutinize my transcript, I see 5 years of academic work that makes me question “what have I truly learned and how is this going to make me better at what I do?” The answer to that question is “plenty.” Not only have I learned through academic work, I have learned through making mistakes and reflection (experiential learning) and I have learned through discovery. I have learned how to problem solve. I have learned how to find what I need to find and repurpose tools and technology to meet my needs. Most importantly, I have learned how to learn. While at first glance, it appears as though I have had a rather indecisive academic run, I realize that my academic path, and the route that I have taken, has been the correct one in order to get to where I am at and to help me get to where I want to go as an innovator of healthcare education. The MAET program has helped me understand what it means to educate and what I must do to attain my professional goals. Now that I understand what my education has done for me and the true meaning of the academic path that I have chosen, what I choose to do with this knowledge and new found skill set is truly up to me.

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