The impact of instructional interventions on students' learning approaches, attitudes, and achievement.
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Many interacting factors need to be considered when contemplating the optimum conditions for the creation of a learning environment that is compatible with the aims of tertiary teaching and learning. In the current economic climate, the costs of creating learning environments that foster these aims is also a major consideration. Further, in this era of rapid technological development and change, there are increasing numbers of students of divergent age, experience and ability entering the tertiary sector. Teachers at this level are therefore faced with real problems in providing students with interesting and innovative learning environments that influence and encourage the use of a deep approach to learning and the development of real understanding.This longitudinal research project sought, through the development and introduction of various teaching and learning interventions, to influence nursing students' attitudes towards microbiology and consequently their approaches to learning and achievement. The instruments used in the intervention practices were developed as a result of suggestions by students and staff during the course of this study and were fashioned along the lines of two models of student learning developed by Kember and Gow (1989) and Biggs (1993a). The study also attempted to elucidate the major factors affecting student attitudes towards teaching and learning with multiple media and the relationship between students' attitude, achievement and their learning approach.Significant relationships were established in the study between positive attitudes towards microbiology, higher scores for higher level learning approaches and higher academic grades.The major factors that appeared to influence students' attitudes towards microbiology included: (1) students' interest in microbiology; (2) the relevance students perceived microbiology had to nursing; (3) students' perceptions of the quality of the microbiology unit and learning materials, (4) the nature of the pastoral care provided; (5) the availability of independent study options; (6) students' perceptions of the degree of difficulty of the unit; (7) the credit point values for the unit and (8) students' perceptions of overload.In this study, freedom of choice of learning materials and the factors interest in, and relevance of microbiology to nursing practice appear to be major forces associated with increased use of deep approaches to learning by the different student groups. Perceptions of a heavy workload, overload of information, lack of pastoral care and perceived inadequate credit point value given to the microbiology units demonstrated little effect in increasing the use of surface learning approaches by students. However, when students' ratings for interest and relevance were low, and these factors were present as a group or individually, they were shown to influence an increase in surface approaches with a corresponding decline in use of deep approaches to learning.Overall, the results derived from this study with regard to learning approach and attitude suggest that if interest in microbiology and the perceived relevance of microbiology to nursing is high, these factors will have a greater positive effect on the use of higher level learning approaches than the variables of overload, inappropriate credit point values and nomenclature problems will have in increasing the use of lower level learning approaches by students.Part of this investigation involved the possible identification of learning strategies that were used more often by students who tended to utilise higher level learning approaches in contrast to students who used lower level approaches. Strategies that evolved from the data collected across the quasi-experimental cohort included (1) discrimination between specific learning materials that best fitted with students' lifestyles and learning preferences; (2) discrimination between specific learning strategies that better suited different subject areas; (3) interrelating microbiology theory with patients' clinical presentations in the hospitals; (4) using self-assessment, working in groups or with a friend; (5) the use of organised and consistent study habits; (6) the use of mnemonics, note taking, rote learning and continual revision of facts to establish a base knowledge of the subject before linking of material across areas could be made; (7) use of graphs, diagrams and flow charts; and (8) the use of more interactive learning materials such as the CAL.
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