A goal of educators who are passionate about learning is student success. This is a concept that most educators accept as a basic principle of our profession. Student success is defined in many ways, and that definition often depends on the context of the discussion at hand. Success can relate to the pass-rate in a specific course, the perception of students when asked for feedback on a given course or professor, the extent to which students meet specific objectives in a particular course, or the extent to which the course achieves the educational institution’s mission and goals. The list goes on!
Perhaps the more pertinent question is how do we, as educators, interact with students in a way that helps ensure their success? I believe the answer is through active learning. This evidence-based learning practice fosters student engagement in course activities, and it promotes positive interaction between students and faculty. If we focus on the scope of student-faculty interaction and communication, we quickly see that a culture of trust is essential for student success.
I am a professor in a distance-learning program, so my communication with students is through an online course platform, which includes chat sessions, discussion forums, a private e-mail system, and several other channels. My interaction with students is not typically face-to-face. This has prompted me to consider how best to create a culture of trust. Trust begins with establishing values. At AdventHealth University (AHU), our mission asserts that we offer healthcare education in a faith-affirming environment. Our core values include nurture, excellence, spirituality, and stewardship. From my perspective, a faith-based culture of trust in the active learning process is closely aligned with AHU’s mission, vision, and goals.
The culture of trust begins with mutual respect on the part of the students and educator. I convey my respect for students enrolled in my class by simply telling them that I understand their commitment to our profession, which is medical imaging, and that I want them to draw upon their own experiences in their specialty as well as learn from the experiences of their classmates. Typically, the class is composed of a diverse group of students from a geographic and professional perspective. Because the course is online, students are often located worldwide, and they work in every sphere of medical imaging, including radiography, nuclear medicine, sonography, cardiovascular procedures, radiation therapy, etc.
I share a Bible verse and devotional message with the students each week. I am heartened by the number of students who comment on the particular verse and what it means to them. Sometimes the messages I receive are as simple as, “Thank you, I needed that.” Sometimes the messages prompt a particular student to open up about her or his particular situation or needs. I intend to convey to the students that I am genuinely interested in their learning needs and their subsequent success. This sense of trust prompts them to engage in class activities (coursework and assessments) that are assigned. Additionally, it motivates them to trust me to make reasonable assignments for the class. The resulting culture of trust is an example of how active learning supports the course goals as well as AHU’s mission and goals.
Further, my aim is to motivate students to commit to mastering course material because they trust that the assignments and assessments are beneficial and in line with their own educational and personal goals. The faith-based component of this process lasts far beyond the course itself. Students enrolled in my class hold a minimum of an Associate of Science degree in Medical Imaging or Radiologic Sciences. Two assignments require a level of research and scholarly writing commensurate with their degree and their additional work in the Bachelor’s degree program.
Some students struggle with these assignments. Recently, a particular student reached out to me expressing her anxiety over scholarly writing assignments. She told me that she appreciated our class devotions and was encouraged by this particular week’s Bible verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 NKJV). This was the beginning of a productive interaction between us. I worked closely with her, critiquing her work as she created her assignments. By the end of the course, her writing (both content and style) improved appreciably. I truly believe that the faith-based connection we developed was a significant factor in her active (as opposed to passive) learning experience. This case is a good example of how a faith-based connection helped create a culture of trust. I hope this positive learning experience will continue to prompt this student to engage in active learning as she continues her education.
- AdventHealth University. (2019) Mission, vision, and values. Retrieved from https://www.ahu.edu/about/mission-vision-values
- Bathgate, M., Cavanaugh, A. J., Chen, X., Frederick, J., Graham, M. J., & Hanauer, D. (2018) Trust, growth mindset, and student commitment to active learning in a college science course. Life Sciences Education, 17.