This post is about how my learning advisor colleague, Bronwen Dickson and I used the ‘caring science’ pedagogy to provide online library workshops to nursing students. I’ll describe how the workshops came to be, and how Bronwen and I used four principles for online educators as described by Watson and Sitzman’s (2016) ‘cybercaring’ framework. In a second post I will tell how the students undertaking the workshops demonstrated caring in the online environment.
Bronwen and I were referred a largish group of students who had been cautioned for poor referencing practices. The faculty asked us to provide some in-depth instruction around academic integrity: the nuts and bolts of APA referencing (me) and note-taking, paraphrasing, and synthesis (Bronwen’s domain).
We didn’t know exactly who our students would be, but we knew that each student was likely to fit one or more of the following descriptions:
- mature aged, with a long gap between previous formal education and enrolment at our uni
- speak English as a second, third or fourth language
- working to support self, perhaps working irregular hours
- first in family to attempt tertiary education
- a carer – of children or elderly parents
- completing a full-time practicum
- studying externally (some students are interstate or even overseas)
- new to uni, to our expectations, and to scholarly discourses
- unfamiliar with or lacking confidence in technologically-mediated learning
the teachers: Bronwen and me
Bronwen and I are both qualified teachers. We are both experienced in designing and facilitating interactive face-to-face classes incorporating active learning, yet neither of us had done that within an online environment. Thinking about the students and their circumstances, it was obvious we would need to provide online workshops, and we just had no idea what that might look like. I was even thinking it was not possible to do it at all. But in that meeting with faculty I said we would do it, Bronwen then thought I could because I said we would and because she had confidence in me, I started to believe it myself.
synchronicity: introduction to Watson’s caring science and some help with ‘zoom’
The day after that initial conversation with faculty I was helping out with a seminar, setting up the online aspects. It looked like an interesting topic on nursing pedagogy and I asked: could Bronwen and I attend? Yes we could! And so we were introduced to a pedagogy with a developed set of online practices for facilitators and students that would clearly allow us to provide the excellent learning experience we wanted. And in the break I mentioned I was a bit unsure about the online technology and was told: Sue Griffits is brilliant with ‘zoom.’ Sue was happy to give us a hand, and with a little more research, and a few hours of planning, Bronwen and I were ready to go.
Watson’s ‘cybercaring’ principles for facilitators and what this looked like in our workshops
Watson and Sitzman (2016) describe four principles that effective facilitators of online education adopt. [There are also expectations of students and I will cover these in a second post].
The first principle that facilitators need to attend to is simply: to provide clear instructions. Our workshop provided many opportunities to provide clear instructions. Even before the workshop commenced, Bronwen and I needed to communicate with students how the workshop would be run; that they should download a ‘conversation guide’ before the workshop; and how to join the in with zoom. I wrote the instructions and tested them first on Bronwen and then on a colleague who works with students on the front desk, and library chat service. I responded to their feedback to make the instructions as clear as possible, and then emailed these instructions to the cohort of students. Over 40 students completed the workshop and only one did not download the instructions prior to attending. I do believe the clear instructions set students up to succeed.
The second requirement is: cultivate a caring professional demeanour. Bronwen and I paid particular attention to this as we guessed that many of the students may have found the situation stressful, or even shameful. I provided a personal welcome email to all who registered, thanking them for their interest. Bronwen and I both communicated in a warm tone during the session and I provided a follow up email thanking the students for their participation in the workshop, mentioning specific questions or contributions that they had made where I could. In this email I gave students links to resources and library help, plus slides illustrating key concepts. Many of the students still contact me from time to time with questions about the topics we covered – I believe the ‘caring professional demeanour’ was evident to the students and created the possibility of an ongoing professional relationship with them.
The third cybercaring requirement of facilitators is to share self, including sharing enthusiasm for online teaching and learning. At the beginning of the session I shared how my former boss had to spend a weekend correcting my APA errors on a report that was to go to a government committee. I believe this helped defuse any embarrassment: students laughed at the story and many felt comfortable to share their varied ‘how I came to be here’ experiences in a small group chat. Bronwen and I also expressed our genuine desire to grow and be excellent teachers when we asked for feedback. Interestingly, the feedback we received was very detailed and constructive, and included advice we could action in the next workshop: very different to the usual “I liked the librarians, the workshop was good.” comments I have received in the past. Thank you, students!
The fourth principle of cybercaring is that the facilitator pursues lifelong learning. To this end, Bronwen and I found, read and incorporated ideas from a number of books and journal articles describing cybercaring in particular but also Watson’s caring science more broadly. Bronwen has since returned to high school teaching but I have continued exploring caring science, completing the Caring Science Mindful PracticeMOOC (a free online course offered once a year). The impact of this learning has been an increase in my confidence and ease in my ability to communicate with the students during the session.
reflection on the four cybercaring principles for facilitators
I was shocked and delighted by the experience of providing this workshop. The workshop was fun to teach. There was a lot of laughter. And students and faculty have provided plenty of positive feedback. Students learned and were able to apply what they learned to future assignments. Although the principles originally seemed either trite (provide clear instructions!) or confronting (share self…) Bronwen and I were very glad we took a risk and explored this option. I am certainly using this approach in my current online teaching.
I’d be very happy to hear your comments on any elements of this post
Sitzman, K., & Watson, J. (2016). Watson’s caring in the digital world: A guide for caring when interacting, teaching, and learning in cyberspace. New York, NY: Springer.