Evaluating the Student Clinical Learning Environment

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Introduction

According to Dunn and Burnett1, the student learning environment consists of all the conditions and forces within an educational setting that impact learning. Shuell2 visualized the student learning environment as a rich psychological soup comprised of cognitive, social, cultural, affective, emotional, motivational and curricular factors, in which teachers and students work together toward learning. Without the correct environmental ingredients, it is very difficult to achieve a satisfactory learning product.

Student learning at the primary and secondary educational levels generally takes place in the traditional classroom environment. In contrast, at the post secondary level, students experience an increasing number of applied learning environments, of which the clinical nursing education experience is a prime example. Clinical (applied learning) components of nursing education are critical to the overall curriculum, as they allow learners to “apply knowledge to practice, to develop problem-solving and decision making skills, and to practice responsibility for their own actions”3. However, the mere passage of time in this environment does not itself ensure clinical competence or a positive clinical experience. Many variables interact in the “soup” of clinical learning to contribute to student learning outcomes. In order to ensure that the interaction of these environmental ingredients supports learning, the factors impacting learning in that context must be identified and evaluated.

One means to identify and evaluate the factors affecting the effectiveness of the teaching-learning experience is to look at the clinical educational environment through the students’ eyes. Student perceptions of the quality of the learning environment can provide educators with valuable information related to student learning in these environments. Thus, this investigation was undertaken to test the accuracy and efficiency of an instrument, the Student Evaluation of Clinical Education Environment (SECEE) Inventory, designed to measure student perceptions of the clinical learning environment.

4Fraser, B. J. (1991). Validity and use of classroom environment instruments. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 26, 5-11.

5McGraw, S. A. et al. (1996). Using process data to explain outcomes: an illustration from the child and adolescent trial for cardiovascular health. Evaluation Review, 20, 291-312.

6Brown, J. S., Collins, A. & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18, 32-42.

7Slavin, R. E. Educational Psychology Theory and Practice (Allyn and Bacon, Needham Heights, MA, 1997).

8Brown, 1989.

9Goodenow, C. (1992). Strengthening the links between eduational psychology and the study of social contexts. Educational Psychologist, 27, 177-196.

Relevant Literature

The perceived significance and contribution of the learning environment to student learning is addressed by several learning theories4,5. Cognitive apprenticeship learning theories particularly focus on the applied environment setting. Cognitive apprenticeship is a process whereby the learner develops expertise through interaction with an expert who models appropriate behaviors and coaches the learner in development of skills6,7. The instructor/expert assigns realistic tasks or problems, and provides support to allow the student to complete a task or problem that would not have been possible for the student alone. According to the cognitive apprenticeship theory, learning and cognition are fundamentally situated, a product of the learning activity as well as the context and culture in which they are developed and used8,9.

10Marshall, H. H. (1990). Beyond the workplace metaphor: the classroom as a learning setting. Theory into Practice, 29, 94-101.

11 Cust, J. (1996). A relational view of learning: Implications for...
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