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Published October 21, 2019
Paula Belknap, an assistant lecturer in the University of Wyoming’s Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing, is this year’s recipient of the Wyoming Innovations in Teaching Award, presented by the Wyoming Department of Education.
Belknap will receive the award at the Wyoming Innovations in Learning Conference luncheon Nov. 7 in Gillette.
The Wyoming Innovations in Teaching Award recognizes not only excellence in teaching, but also innovative ways in which teaching is delivered to students. Whether in the classroom or through distance learning, successful innovations in teaching help students -- from entry level through completion of their program of study -- to become competent, critical thinkers, able to achieve their academic goals and pursue career options in their chosen fields.
In 2000, Belknap received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Graceland College and, in 2007, she earned a master’s clinical nurse specialist degree in family nursing, a nurse educator focus and a post-master’s certificate for nurse educator from Graceland University. In 2017, she received a Ph.D. in education, with a specialty in nursing from Capella University. Belknap joined the Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing in 2018.
“Receiving this award provides additional support for the changes I have made to the courses I teach,” Belknap says. “As any educator knows, change in curriculum and curriculum delivery can be difficult, as well as time-consuming. However, understanding that doing it the same way simply because ‘We have always done it that way,’ or ‘If it’s not broke, why fix it?,’ does not promote the level of thinking needed in new nurses for direct patient care with the changes in health care related to increasing patient population age and acuity.”
One of the primary goals of teaching is connecting with students so that they can benefit from the material being taught. Seeking innovative ways to connect with nursing students has been a focus for Belknap.
“I employ a flipped classroom setup to help students prep outside of class and become initially familiar with the concept/exemplar of the week through assigned readings and videos,” she says. “After class most weeks, they have an assignment that helps them go back into the information and think through priority care. I also utilize a team approach to most activities in and out of class, including collaborative testing, so students can learn from one another, hear one another’s thinking out loud and grow in their communication skills.”
Belknap notes the importance of successful innovations in teaching, especially related to students pursuing careers in the field of nursing.
“The goal is to bridge the education-practice gap through making connections and promoting nurse-related thinking,” she says. “If they can move away from strict memorization and task-focused nursing and move to that higher level of thinking, they will be better nurses in their monitoring/trending of patient data. This will allow them to pick up on patient changes earlier and intervene timely, potentially saving a life.”
With the delivery of health care education evolving continuously, faculty members from all areas of the health sciences are seeking ways to be more innovative in teaching their students, helping them to prepare for successful careers as health care professionals, Belknap says. She says there are several resources to assist faculty with innovative ways to connect with students.
“Completing a Ph.D. in education, with a specialization in nursing, and passing the Certified Nurse Educator exam were a help to me,” she says. “There also are many experts around the country who offer their knowledge in the form of conferences, webinars and consulting. The nursing education databases are filled with evidence-based research to support changes in content delivery to a more active-learning one and, in many instances, provide examples of how to employ it.”
She adds reinforcing the need for faculty to seek innovations in teaching will benefit all students.
“Finding those who can help you understand that a change is needed and to guide you through that change is a wonderful gift in nursing education,” Belknap says. “I imagine there are these types of resources in all education focuses.”