Research News

Nursing school tests nontraditional teaching methods

Nursing professor leads class.

A nursing professor leads a class in Wende Hall. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published July 20, 2015

Susan Grinslade.
“The purpose of the KWLA+R and flipped classroom is to engage students in learning before they come into the classroom.”
M. Susan Grinslade, assistant dean for undergraduate programs
School of Nursing

To improve learning among nursing students, a group of UB researchers has turned to the kindergarten classroom for help.

In a new pilot study led by M. Susan Grinslade, assistant dean for undergraduate programs in the School of Nursing, researchers will test the effectiveness of KWLA+R, a teaching method mainly used in primary and elementary education, to improve critical thinking skills and academic performance among nursing students.

The researchers also will implement and study the flipped classroom, a nontraditional method of learning where students view lessons outside of the classroom — typically through video or audio recordings — and complete homework and other assignments in class with an instructor.

The study, “Does Innovative Use of the KWLA+R© and a Flipped Classroom Influence Achievement of Program Outcomes and ‘Think like a nurse’ In a Baccalaureate Nursing Education Program?” is funded by the Seed Grant for Promoting Pedagogical Innovation from the UB Center for Educational Innovation.

“Typically when you think of a classroom, you think of a ‘sage on a stage,’ where a teacher lectures for some time and shares information,” says Grinslade, clinical professor of nursing. “There is not a lot of student engagement. The purpose of the KWLA+R and flipped classroom is to engage students in learning before they come into the classroom.”

The study will examine information from more than 130 students in the traditional and accelerated BS in nursing programs who have used the KWLA+R. Researchers will collect data from completed charts to examine changes in critical thinking, as well as gather test scores and first-time pass rates for the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) — a licensing exam for nurses — to compare with previous classes.

Researchers also will simulate the flipped classroom with a group of student participants and gather similar data.

KWLA is a teaching method that breaks learning into three steps: Before starting an assignment, students examine what they already know about a topic; they then decide what they want to learn from the assignment; and after its completion, they reflect on what they learned. The information is recorded onto a chart, displaying their comprehension of the material throughout the assignment.

The method was developed in 1986 by education researcher Donna Ogle to help elementary teachers improve reading comprehension.

Grinslade first learned of the KWLA during a 2012 faculty development workshop for teaching online courses. She immediately saw its potential for use inside the college classroom.

To tailor the process to nursing students, Grinslade added a step for reflection, or “R,” where students are tasked with reflecting on how they will apply what they learned to their practice.

KWLA+R was introduced to a small group of UB students in 2012 and now has expanded across the undergraduate program.

“This tool seems to be critical to helping students see the transformation that is occurring within themselves,” says Grinslade. “That is important because there are some students who do assignments because their teacher told them to. This process helps breaks down those barriers to learning by making it personal and student-centered.”

Additional investigators on the study include Deborah Raines, associate professor; Theresa Winkelman, clinical assistant professor; Penelope McDonald, clinical assistant professor; and Linda Steeg, clinical associate professor, all from the UB School of Nursing; and Marie Larcara, education technologies program director at Canisius College.