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Reciprocal relationship of subject and object

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 168-175)

5.2 Case Study One Findings

5.2.2 Making Sense of the Learning Object

5.2.2.4 Reciprocal relationship of subject and object

which often fuel the messy process of building consensus and negotiating meaning may not be appropriate within this context and could endanger a student‘s continued enrolment in the programme. Knowledge is not emergent and uncertain in this context, but rather, there is a sense that it is fixed and uncontested, and there is a strong sense that the concept of discussion is at odds with the underlying values of the educational context.

In summary, as the participants related to the learning object and engaged in its transformation, they were profoundly influenced by the need to adhere to safe practice. For the teacher, this manifested itself as an expectation that the postings would display cautious and thoughtful understandings of nursing practice. For the students, this belief manifested itself as an extreme reluctance to express ideas they were unsure about and to initiate discussions by posting first. In some ways, an appreciation for safe practice was a highly desirable attribute to foster in a nursing student, however there was a sense that this belief dampened critique and spontaneity and favoured the production of cautious and formal writing during the learning activity.

The learning activity reached out to the target practice in deeper and more profound ways which implicated issues of personal identity. Students were not just expected to acquire the core skills and knowledge base of nursing; they were expected to show a shift in their ways of thinking, doing, and being as they moved from student nurse towards a practising nurse. Early in the course, the teacher articulated the objective that the students be transformed through their engagement in the activity. While marking an EAL student‘s work she complained that:

Her last statement was total rubbish and I realised then that she hadn‟t been internalising what she was writing she was just transcribing it as it were. She wrote about nursing work is using knowledge but not using skill … she wrote down all the words that she had been writing about previously but the way she had put it together didn‟t make any great sense at all – a language problem really … and again that student‟s playing the game, they are doing what they think is the right thing to do not what they believe … she couldn‟t have written that if she had believed what she was writing. (Teacher 1/Account 1)

The teacher went onto elaborate that:

They can only show that they are doing it truly when they get into, as Canper 1978 [name of nursing article] describes it, knowing themselves, learning who they are, and knowing what it is they have read, knowing what they read really applies to them in their practice, and I think the playing of the game and not getting into it properly is just skimming through that from our point of view.

(Teacher 1/Account 1)

Through these comments and others, the teacher articulated the goal that the students integrate theory and experience. By engaging in the learning activity and making the course content meaningful through the lens of their own experiences, it was anticipated that the students would begin to internalise key nursing concepts and ideas and be transformed in the process. Student Five insightfully observed that ―if

… I use my personal experience that means these things are from my heart … and I understand it, I accept it, and am going to apply it to my practice (Student 5/Account 4).

It is interesting to note that, as the course progressed and the students commenced their clinical rotations in nursing homes, hospitals, and clinics, they appropriated these experiences as resources to make the theoretical content meaningful in the context of their own lives. This is illustrated by the following quote where Student Four recounts her recent experiences in the clinical setting and integrates the theoretical course content with practice:

For instance, I am in the detox for clinical placement. There was a client who attempted to commit suicide few days before she admitted in the detox. I was curious about that, such as “Why excessive drinking people will deliberate harm themselves? Is there anything I need to pay attention when caring this person?”

After reading some reports, I found that Alcohol dependence and misuse are strongly associated with suicidal behaviour (Bale, Casey, Haw, & Hawton, 2005). I need try to talk with the client and encourage patients to express their feelings in order to help her build up self-esteem (Sinclair & Green, 2005). The application of research evidence may clarify the rationale for clinical decisions (Thomas, Wearing & Bennett, 1990). (Student 4/Online Observation 16)

Through their participation in the e-tivity discussion postings, the students expressed new ways of thinking and doing which were aligned with common practices in nursing. In the quote below, Student Three articulates new understandings and describes how her nursing practices are changing:

At this stage in my clinical practice, I am forming a habit to read my patients‟

notes before I start my shift to obtain a basic outline of my patients‟ health conditions. I am also learning how to write nursing notes, how to document well so that it is much easier for the nurse from next shift to read and make appropriate decisions. By reflecting on my clinical practice, I understand the real meaning of documentation. It is not only writing something down on the paper, it actually influences the continuing of delivery of quality care in the future.

(Student 3/Online Observation 18)

As they participated in the learning activity, the students not only experienced changes in their ways of thinking and doing, but also changes in their sense of identity. At times, participation became more than simply writing a text – it became an expression of identity transformation and an articulation of an ontological shift in the student‘s ways of being which must occur if she is to move from lay person to nurse. Student Five insightfully articulates a changing sense of identity from the

frivolity of a young woman who has to decide what to eat for lunch to a nurse making serious decisions for her patient.

It‟s different, you make a decision as a girl, as a classmate from like as a nurse, nursing student … as a person I only take responsibility for myself, but as a nurse you might need to take responsibility to your patient, to your client, to your colleague, to your hospital, to your things you have here (points to heart) ... not only for yourself. You can like I can choose am I going to have lunch or not … it‟s a huge thing. (Student 5/Interview 1)

In summary, the data presented here show a reciprocal relationship existing between the students and the learning object – as the object was transformed, so too were the students as they began to inhabit new ways of thinking, doing, and being.

5.2.2.5 Summary

To summarise, this section has examined the concept of object orientedness – or how the participants ascribed meaning to the learning object – in relation to Case Study One. Four aspects have been explored: internal contradictions in the learning object, the prevalence of limited forms of cooperation, the influence of the objective of safe practice, and the reciprocal relationship of subject and object. The analysis of the data suggests that the subjects‘ relationship with the learning object was both rich and complex. This richness stems from the omnipresent element of historicity which precedes and shapes activity. As they transformed the learning object, the teacher and students were influenced by historical factors that affected the nature of their relationship with the learning object and the manner in which they engaged with it.

5.2.3 Occupying the Role of Knowledge Resource

This category considers the data in relation to how the work involved in the transformation of the learning object or engaging in the e-tivity discussion was distributed and managed amongst the group. A prominent theme in the data has

centred on how the role of resource was occupied during social interaction and how this shaped the nature of participation. Two major points will be examined: issues relating to the teacher‘s role and the spontaneous adoption of initiator and responder roles by the EAL students.

5.2.3.1 The teacher’s role

The data analysis suggests that the teacher‘s role was manifested in inconsistent ways as the participants engaged in the activity. During the first half of the course, the teacher adopted the dual roles of both assessor and contributing participant by assigning a numerical grade to student work and also posting a message at the conclusion of the forum which revealed her thoughts about the topic and offered resources for students. The teacher explained her behaviour in terms of being

―partners‖ with the students in their learning (Teacher 1/Account 4) and wanting to

―give them that sense of sharing‖ (Teacher 1/Interview 2). She added that:

I wanted to be encouraging, I wanted to have them thinking I was part of the group as well … that I had done a little reading, that I had picked up, I wanted to say what I had thought, what I had said to them was genuine about how good I thought they were. (Teacher 1/Account 2)

The teacher perceived there were both cognitive and affective aspects to her role – as providing her own perspective on the topic and identifying useful resources, but also offering support and encouragement. The timing of the teacher‘s posting was also significant. The teacher told the students in a tutorial that she would ―guide the group‖ and ―suggest avenues of thought‖ (Tutorial Observation 6); however, by posting after the students had finished, she appeared to understand this role as summative not formative in nature. She did not see her role as ongoing in terms of prompting, provoking, and generally stimulating students while the discussion was occurring. Indeed, her participation was strictly a singular event – entering the discussion forum once after the students had finished posting. She was fearful that

her intervention might alter the course of the discussion, invoke teacher-pleasing behaviour, and generally be detrimental to the students‘ learning:

What can happen, um, is that I will then throw them off their thoughts and they will follow my thoughts … Because that‟s what they do, the teacher said it.

Especially with the non English speaking students if the teacher said it, it must be right. And so if I went in with something that was a little bit from left wing just to make then think I could throw those ones badly. (Teacher 1/Interview 3)

What is interesting here is that she did not consider different forms of teacher participation that might not evoke these student responses. She dismissed her role as an ongoing participant ―out of hand.‖ The teacher‘s lack of pedagogical understanding emerges here again as she appears to lack a pedagogical ―tool box‖ so to speak. For example, she showed a lack of awareness of moderating techniques which might have allowed her to prompt, coax, and provoke students without necessarily imposing her viewpoint.

Reinforcing the teacher‘s belief that acting as an ongoing participant would be detrimental was an underlying perception that the students were autonomous agents who could manage their own learning. Drawing upon her past experiences as a nursing student, the teacher defined her role as an opportunity creator and guide, believing that learning should be managed by the students, not by the teacher.

We are here to guide them, they‟ll get through in spite of us, not because of us and the quality of the nurse they become will sometimes depend on how much we back off and let them be themselves. I look back at my own time here and I can think of tutors who didn‟t ever hassle me, but they were always there if I needed them and they just let me make my own minor mistakes and that was great, that was great. And those people I still hold in great respect. (Teacher 1/Interview 3)

She added in a later interview that:

They are again mature adults and the choices are there for them to make. If they have an opportunity to interact and to read what other people have said, and they turn that down, that‟s not my problem. It‟s for me to give them as a facilitator to give them opportunities. I‟ve had to learn this over the years, I am not God, I am just there to put something before them which they may take up. (Teacher 1/Interview 3)

Her comments touch upon a crucial issue of how the teacher relates to adult learners.

In the excerpt, the teacher has suggested that adult learners are autonomous agents, capable of effectively managing their own learning. However, the findings from the data suggest that students may choose the path of least resistance in an effort to complete a learning task as quickly as possible. The students in this study often bypassed their peers‘ work, only reading postings that helped them complete their work. It appeared that they were motivated less by the desire to learn from their peers and more by the desire to quickly complete the task and gain marks. A tension is suggested here in the teacher‘s role between the need to respect these adult students as autonomous agents and the need to ensure that their learning is supported in optimal ways. This issue raises important questions about where the teacher‘s responsibility ends and the students‘ begin.

Moreover, the findings question whether the students were cognitively and affectively capable of extending each other without the teacher. For example, the student-to-student interaction was infused with a sense of congeniality as student-to-students identified commonalities with their peers and expressed goodwill, yet avoided challenge or critique. There was a sense of uniformity in the postings noted by Student Four who said ―I feel everyone tell similar things except the examples and clinical experience‖

(Student 4/Interview 3). Observations from student interactions show that no students in the online group (both ENL and EAL) attempted to conduct a dialogue with their peers to negotiate understanding. In addition, the EAL students adopted a form of self-marginalisation by adopting responder rather than initiator roles in the forum (to be discussed in the following section). One is left to speculate as to the nature of the participation if the teacher had altered assessment practice to reward dialogue or had been actively involved in provoking, stimulating, and generally encouraging the students to advance their own ideas and challenge the assumptions of their peers. However, this activity may have jeopardised the maxim to adhere to safe practice.

Significantly, during the second half of the course, as time limitations affected her participation, the teacher ceased to post a message to the forum except to assign individual marks for the students. It appears that the text-based nature of the communication combined with the expectation of formal writing was time consuming and demanding for both the students and the teacher. When asked why she was not posting a message, the teacher responded:

… because I‟m just trying to get the marks to them at this stage and it does take a few minutes to write up a reply so that‟s at the bottom of my priorities, but that‟s what I intend to do. (Teacher 1/Account 4)

The use of the phrase ―bottom of my priorities‖ is significant, suggesting that acting as a contributing participant who engages with the students was optional. It indicates that ultimately the teacher perceived her role as assessing student work and assigning a grade. In addition, even if the teacher wanted to actively contribute to the discussion on an ongoing basis, this would have been difficult. Dialogues inherently demand time to read others‘ work, negotiate meaning, and formulate responses, and this has to be factored into workloads.

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 168-175)