4.1 Cooperative learning
Current literature considers the impact of cooperative student support on the learning journey in practice as an addition to formal mentorship arrangements. This is an area that you may think about implementing within your own place of work. Ruth-Sahd (2011) discusses student nurse dyads that create a community of learning in the practice setting: first year students are paired with a more experienced student for support and mutual learning and reflection.
This concept of cooperative learning is well evidenced within classroom settings through strategies such as problem-based learning, where student groups co-construct knowledge and apply it to care situations (Roy and Andrews, 2008). Using this to enhance learning in practice environments is a strategy that you may want to consider with individual students depending on the specific resources available in your practice area. In particular, this has been shown to help ease anxiety and increase socialisation where students perceive themselves to be ‘all in the same boat’ (Hatmaker et al., 2011; Houghton, 2014).
Activity 4 Scenarios in practice
Read the three case studies below. Identify the learning opportunities that they present.
Stacey is a second-year student nurse who has arrived at your practice area a day earlier than you expected. She is wearing jewellery (bracelets and necklace) and her uniform appears to be dirty and creased. She mentions that she needs to have early shifts planned for the next three weeks due to childcare arrangements and would like to have the opportunity to go out and work with a variety of community services. However, you had already planned her working pattern to complement yours. She appears anxious and states that she is very nervous about this placement.
Conor is a final-year student nurse who has recently returned to his programme of study after a period of absence due to a previously failed module. He arrives at your placement area and says that he feels he has forgotten many of the skills and competencies previously learnt. He also mentions that he is thinking of leaving nursing as soon as he completes the programme, as he has not experienced many positive placements over the past two years and just wants to complete his degree so that he can move onto a graduate programme elsewhere.
Jo is a first-year student nurse who has previously worked as a Health Care Assistant within a community setting. She arrives at your placement area an hour early, smiling and feeling very positive to be part of the team. She knows three members of staff within the placement and goes to have coffee with them before her identified work pattern begins. You hear her laughing and joking with staff, saying that she’s done more as a HCA than she’s experienced as a student nurse to date and is fed up of just talking to clients.
You will have identified what your responses would be as a mentor, how comfortable or confident you would be in addressing some of the issues presented, and what you feel works does or does not work well in optimising learning opportunities within the clinical environment. Additionally, you might have had the opportunity to speak with experienced practitioners to determine how they might have best facilitated learning in the three case studies. You may have also considered the possibility of cooperative student support. The individual mentor–student relationship will create a variety of responses that depend on the clinical and learning situation. What is paramount is that these responses and actions:
- are underpinned by evidence-based practice
- protect patient safety
- are fully explained to, and understood by, the student
- promote quality patient care
- adhere to professional body requirements and standards.
Remember that you need to seek support as necessary and do not feel that you have to solve every issue that arises. Your own response, had you faced the situations described in the case studies above, may have been to contact relevant personnel who could help both yourself and the student. This could be your own mentor assessor or other colleagues, manager, practice link staff, the student’s personal tutor, or other support networks. It is always useful to seek support sooner rather than later.
If you are completing these learning materials as part of an NMC mentor preparation programme, use the protected learning time allocated to discuss with your own mentor assessor or other experienced practitioners how you would facilitate the learning in the above case studies.
Reflect on your own experiences with students in the practice environment. Reflect on the positives and negatives of these, what you have learned, and what you would do differently. It may relate to your own experience of inputting to a learning opportunity with a student, or as an observer of a mentor/student relationship. Write this as a case study to include in your portfolio, remembering to ensure confidentiality. Specifically include:
- how the student’s learning needs were identified
- how learning opportunities were planned and facilitated
- how the learning was evaluated.
Upholding the values of the profession, discussing student responsibilities and adapting to unforeseen circumstances are key to the mentor role. The case studies above also present learning opportunities that can be discussed with the student. You may have identified specific areas to discuss with the student, including safety issues, professionalism, nursing roles, care and compassion, teamwork, required skills and competencies, and communication skills, amongst others. They also give an opportunity to discuss individual learning needs and goals, clarifying skills and competencies that require additional supervision, and negotiating appropriate action plans to achieve these.