By Emily Kuhn, Realityworks Marketing Communication Specialist
Note: This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of Techniques. ACTE members can read the complete article on page 19 of the current issue. Not a member? Click here to join and access this monthly career and technical education publication.
Healthcare educators are changing the way they teach patient care skills, and for good reason. Not only is U.S. demand for healthcare expected to grow twice as fast as the national economy in the next eight years, but older Americans are retiring in droves 800,000 in the last quarter of 2016 alone (Carnevale, 2012 & Kawa, 2017). As demand for nursing and geriatric care skills increases, so will the importance of using teaching tools and resources that truly engage the new generations of healthcare students — students with shorter attention spans, better technology skills and a stronger desire for authentic, real-world learning experiences than their predecessors (Hawkins, 2015).
“Curriculum may not have changed, but students are definitely changing,” said Kasey Carlson, RN, MSN, M.Ed. A nursing faculty member and educational technologist at a Wisconsin college, Carlson was a registered nurse for six years and has taught in the healthcare field for more than 10. “We used to do a lot of textbook and lectures, with very little hands-on experience. When I went to school, we didn’t have a whole lot of technology; a standard mannequin was a brand-new concept to us. But now we are looking at a generation that has been brought up with multimedia and video games. They are more real-life focused. They remember more if they have an experience.”
Teaching Today’s Digital Natives
You may have heard the term “digital native” used to describe today’s students, most of whom were born after 1995 and are therefore members of “Generation Z.” They are considered digital natives because they grew up with technology, and have never known a world without media. This means that the standard classroom model where an educator stands in front of the class and lectures just doesn’t work. Generation Z students want to be successful — in fact, the desire to change the world is a hallmark of this generation — but they will disengage with the discussion if they don’t feel connected or if they don’t see the relevance (Wotapka, 2017). Generation Z students are accustomed to immediate feedback. Current technology enables them to learn anything, anytime, anywhere. The world is at their fingertips. Thus, these students are not satisfied simply hearing about a topic. They want to see it, touch it and feel it.
That’s why Miranda Kessler, RN-BSN, is using interactive tools like age simulation suits in her health occupations program at Nicholas County Career and Technical Education Center in West Virginia. Not only do her feedback-hungry students thrive when given opportunities to engage in active learning opportunities, but such activities can help them develop employability skills like critical thinking, problem solving and attention to detail — skills that some hiring managers have found lacking in today’s students (Dishman, 2016). In the two decades she has been helping 11th- and 12th-graders prepare to obtain their state nursing assistant certifications, Kessler has seen firsthand the way her students’ learning styles have changed, and she strives to incorporate interactive teaching tools like simulators as often as she can.
“Years ago, everything was done with paper and pencil. You read the book, did the worksheet, took a written test and moved on until you got through the material and it was time for clinicals,” said Kessler. “Now, technology is front and center. Anything that captures students’ attention and can get them excited and make them want to learn is welcome in my classroom. And ‘cool tools’ like simulators always keep my kids’ attention.”
Cool Tools for Engaging Generation Z
When Kessler saw literature for the RealCare Geriatric Simulator at an education conference, she went straight to her administrator to share the discovery.
“When I told my principal about the simulator and he saw how excited I was to implement it into my program, he bought in immediately,” recalled Kessler. “He was actually the first person to try it when it arrived! He was amazed by how it changed his normal, routine activities and made everything feel much more physically demanding.”
The Geriatric Simulator sensitivity suit allows students to experience a variety of age-related physical challenges. It includes a weighted vest, ankle weights, wrist weights, elbow restraints, knee restraints, gloves, a cervical collar and visual impairment glasses. When students try to accomplish tasks like walking around, opening pill bottles and buttoning shirts, they begin to understand the way physical challenges like decreased mobility, stooped posture, cataracts and glaucoma can affect daily life.
“I wanted to be able to teach my students to be more understanding and empathetic with the aging process once we made it into our clinical rotation at the local nursing home,” Kessler said of why she incorporated the simulator into her program. “I wanted them to understand why the residents moved so slowly and I wanted them to learn to be patient and kind while working with them.”
According to Carlson, tools like wearable simulators can help healthcare educators address employability skills like empathy and sensitivity toward the elderly.
“Empathy is one of the most difficult things to teach a student. It’s something students have to experience and grow themselves, versus being told to do it,” Carlson said. “The hands-on component allows students to think critically through a procedure, but also focus on the patient, and on professionalism.”