Sunday, May 25, 2008

My teaching philosophy

My Teaching Philosophy


My teaching philosophy centres on the importance of helping students to transfer their surface learning into deep learning. For this to happen, I believe creating a learner centred environment is essential. This environment shifts the balance of power from me as the teacher and changes my role to one more of facilitation. It also puts more responsibility for learning, on to the students (adapted from Weimer 2002). I could partly sum it up by saying my philosophy is ‘knowing the how and why of the that’.
I have identified three main learning concepts that I believe are central to this process of deep learning within my role as a lecturer in the nursing school; task-conscious or acquisition learning; social and situational learning and reflection.

Task-conscious/ acquisition learning

Entwistle (1996) cited in Moon (1999) describes deep learning as a process where the learner aims to gain an understanding of the ideas that have been presented to them. If the learner only does the work to get the task out of the way, then this will only enable surface learning. Another way of looking at this is described by Smith (1999) as the difference between ‘knowing that and knowing how’. Smith describe Ryle’s (1949) example of a Surgeon. Although the Surgeon would have learned by instruction and observations he/her would also need to learn by practice.
I teach in the nursing profession at undergraduate level. We have theory weeks where I impart the knowledge and skills and then clinical weeks where they take their skills and knowledge and practice them in the ‘real world’. Saljo (1979) reported five main categories of learning; the first three involved acquiring information, memorising and acquiring facts and skills. The last two categories were about making sense of the subject matter and understanding reality in a different way (cited in Smith, 1999). What I have discovered is that students quickly learn what they need to know to pass the quizzes or exams but frequently when they are in clinical practice, this knowledge eludes them. The knowledge acquired in theory weeks at Polytechnic in labs and lectures, relates to the first three categories. Clinical visits and tutorials are absolutely essential to help my learners make sense of and understand the knowledge in order for deep learning to occur (the last two categories).

Social and situational learning

When the students work with Registered Nurses (RN) preceptors in clinical practice, task-conscious or acquisition learning described by Smith (1999) is unconsciously occurring. In addition, social and situational learning, one of the four learning theories described by Merriam and Cafella (1991), also occurs. This learning orientation is based on the belief that learners learn by observing and interacting with others. The students observe many different styles of nursing, practiced by different RN preceptors, and they also practice the new nursing skills and tasks they have learnt during theory weeks. This can be both positive and negative as they can also be quickly socialised into the ward ‘norm’ which is not always positive due to many different stresses.
To enable this acquisition, task conscious and situational learning to facilitate deep learning, another concept central to my teaching philosophy is utilised; reflection.


I use refection in both my one on one visit with the student and in my tutorials. In tutorial the first hour is spent allowing a small group of students to share the experiences they have had that week on the ward. As a group and with my facilitation, the students are encouraged to make ‘sense’ of the situations and make connections to their theory. This makes the difference from knowing the theory to knowing the ‘how’ or even more importantly the ‘why’ of what they are doing as a nurse in clinical. I also use this tool in portfolio development. The students are asked to utilise either the DeBono’s six hats model of reflection (Kenny, 2003) or Gibbs Reflective Cycle (1988) cited in Bulman (1994) to describe an experience they had while in clinical. This reflection helps the student to understand what they already know, identify what they need to know, make sense of the information and helps to guide them when making choices about further development (accessed from


I want my students to know not only how to do nursing cares but also to understand the ‘why’ of what they are doing. This will enable them to give a much higher standard of care and will make them safer nurses as they will know when to report the abnormal. By creating a learner centred environment with me been a facilitator not just a teacher and encouraging the students to engage in reflection, I believe this will help the students to transfer their surface learning into deep learning.


Bulman, C. (1994) Exemplars of reflection: Other people can do it, why not you too? Reflective practice in Nursing. Blackwell Science: Oxford
Introduction to Reflective Practice
Retrieved from:
Kenny, L. (2003). Using Edward de Bono’s six hats games to aid critical thinking and reflection in palliative care. International Journal of Palliative Nursing, 9 (3) 105-112
Merriam, S.B. & Caffarella, R.S. (1991). Learning in adulthood. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Moon, J. (1999). Reflection in Learning and Professional Development. London: Kogan Page Limited.
Smith, M.K. (1999). Learning theory. The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved on 26 June 2004 from

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