Meaning Making – Providing transformational education through metaphor construction


When did you first introduce the innovation?

Less than 12 months ago

Please describe the innovation you have developed

This experiment in teaching innovation was carried out with a cohort of 18 MSc Nursing students undertaking a 60 credit Level module titled ‘Teaching Learning and Leadership’. They were selected as a group that represented very specific signature pedagogy (Nurse Education). The cohort also represented a Community of Practice in that they were a group of international students, who were all studying in English as a second language. The aim of this project was firstly to explore how international students might be facilitated in making meaning of their educational journey through the module via a media of communication that might transcend written discourse and secondly to equip them with a methodologically robust means of evaluating the process. Capturing the degree to which nurse education can have a transformative impact on personal and professional development, through a mechanism (metaphors) that facilitates critical reflexivity and introspection was a topical area in the light of the Francis Report (2013) and the Cavendish Review (2013). A visual metaphorical journey, constructed very basically using pictures and photographs was the means of students expressing their perceptions of their journey through the module.

What prompted you to develop this innovation?

The vast majority of our MSc Nursing students come from a wide variety of international backgrounds. I wanted to provide them with a mechanism of expressing their inner meaning making with something that transcended language and written discourse so that I could capture the essence of who they were as people first and students second. I also wanted them to realise their individual inherent value to the University in terms of the experiences and lived experiences they brought with them. this approach allowed me to use something that was not familiar to any of them and to give them the creative freedom and capacity for self expression that traditional models of education didn’t. I was aiming to let them see that as they became educators they had the capacity to change the lives of others and that authenticity was everything in this process. This challenges traditional approaches where trainee teachers emulate others or remember poor teaching and avoid ever adopting the approaches that fail to stimulate their motivation to learn more. Fundamentally it was a way of them acknowledging that if they could not express their inner selves and acknowledge who they were as potential educators it would be virtually impossible for them to try to change the conscious thinking of others by connecting with them on a cognitive and emotive level. I wanted them to see education and learning as the social experience it ought to be and not just a commodity to be acquired.

In your view, what is it about this innovation that makes it different/important?

This approach impact on the student experience in terms of changing conscious thinking and meaning making in relation to applied clinical practice and the support of others who are learning. To be able to teach others how to teach is a privilege, the impact of which has the potential to influence hundreds of people and not just the 18 students in front of me. Recent reports such as Cavendish (2013)and Francis (2013) have provided all healthcare professionals with reason to reflect on their social interaction with patients they recognise as people first and foremost before any other medical label that can shroud their individuality and worth as a unique human being. Facilitation of students in this process as they seek to mentor, teach and care for others is pivotal in awakening the inner consciousness that is responsible for making meaning of every experience and every human interaction. This approach is both different and important in terms of how it is achieved and the very tangible impact on the students that it made. This is particularly true of the students who expressed that the project had done more than provide a learning experience; it had fundamentally changed them as people.

To what extent does your innovation make use of existing approaches, resources or technologies?

This work builds on the existing work of Mezirow whose seminal work on the impact of transformative learning on people in relation to how they perceive, internalise, construct and validate the meanings they attribute to educational experience. In terms of the practical execution of the project, students developed their metaphors and presented them in poster format so that as objects they became a visual expression of their inner meaning making.

To what degree has this innovation led to changes in education or clinical practice?

Meaning making and metaphors with storytelling is being integrated into a Professional Doctorate module titled Critical Reflective Practice from September 2015 onwards. I am planning to integrate a different mechanism of meaning making into this module every year and I will be using other methods of creative expression such as painting and music to continue this mechanism of transcending written discourse in terms of encouraging self expression and the articulation of inner meaning.

What evidence do you have of the impact of the innovation?

Selected Student Testimonies:

‘… it helped me in constructing my own meaning and as a way of communicating my ideas and dreams. More so, as nursing is a discipline in transition, inculcating the use of metaphor to relate abstract ideas to a real life event, will help students develop their metacognitive skills.’ (A Abia)

‘This piece of work has awakened my awareness and made me understand my purpose in my chosen profession. I cannot under estimate the fact that it has broadened my academic scope by igniting my criticality…’ (J Akintaju)

‘The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires (William Arthur Ward).I see you as my inspiring great teacher. Metaphorically I am clay and you’re an architect who will design me as a wonderful pot. I hope my metaphorical journey is a wonderful opportunity for developing my portfolio. I am able to think independently and make meanings which is the wonderful skill developed by you’. (S Jagannathan).

‘Permit me to say that it is the most interesting module that I have done…the journey through this module has been amazing. I enjoyed every bit and minute spent in this module. It helped me to bring abstract things to reality (real life), encourages critical thinking and reflection. The metaphor project is a form of transformational learning.’ (E Amabuo)

‘Not just that I have learned something new and huge. I saw learning take a whole new dimension. It’s absolutely a privilege to be a part it this. The metaphoric journey created a whole new meaning to learning and gave me an opportunity to learn more about learning and how people can be helped to learn.’ (U Nwankwo).

To what degree has the innovation been disseminated in your organisation or elsewhere?

Hayes C (2015) Postgraduate International Students Self-Discovery in Learning through Metaphor; Engaging Autoethnography as a Mechanism for Critical Introspection for SAGE Research Methods Cases, Open University Press (In Press).

Please provide details of any plans you have to disseminate the innovation in the future.

Hayes C, Abia A,Amabuo E, Akintaju J, Amenaghawan S, Attah O, Bohr S, Jagannathan S, Lasisi M, Madunezim S, Mildren N, Nwankwo U, Nwauzor K, Ofurum L, Okelola A, Sandhu H, and Ugbana A (2015) ‘Meaning Making in Learning Journeys- The Metaphor Project (A Collaborative Staff / Student Partnership Project With Postgraduate International Nursing Students) Conference Presentation, Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching, University of Sunderland Learning Enhancement Annual Conference, 3 July 2015.

Hayes C (2015) Postgraduate International Students Self-Discovery in Learning through Metaphor; Engaging Autoethnography as a Mechanism for Critical Introspection, Poster Presentation, Researching, Advancing & Inspiring Student Engagement (RAISE) Conference, Nottingham, 10-11 September 2015.