Nursing prof receives COUPN Award for out-of-the-box teaching style

COUPN Award winner and Nursing prof Jason Kirenan talks about the impact of nursing and how to make tough concepts stick

2016 COUPN Award Winners

They are the researchers who have devoted their careers to cancer prevention and treatment. They are the professors who use storytelling, drawings, and reflective discussion to enhance student learning experiences. They are the preceptors who walk students through the emotionally difficult decision-making process of withdrawing life support from loved ones.

Tonight, at an awards ceremony held in Toronto, the annual Council of Ontario Universities Programs in Nursing (COUPN) Awards will celebrate exemplary nursing students, faculty, and researchers who are making a difference for patients through their contributions to nursing.

Eight awards of excellence will be presented to Ontario university students, nursing faculty and researchers.

What follows is the story of University of Windsor Prof. Jason Kiernan – who will receive the COUPN Award for Excellence in Teaching. We sat down with him to ask about his thoughts on nursing, teaching and the COUPN Awards.

Can you talk about the importance of nursing?

While nurses have an impact on the patients that they care for on a day-to-day basis, the profession also has an impact on the person who is a nurse. There’s something fundamentally gratifying and human about caring for another individual; not only is the individual helping another individual in their time of need but the profession itself is bringing out the best in that individual.

Why do you think you were nominated for this award?

I’m really new to the world of academia. I would like to think that I’m doing things a little avant-garde, a little unorthodox and that students are responding positively to that.

The COUPN Award is about the highest honour I could receive, because it’s where my heart is. I genuinely enjoy taking difficult material and making it fun, digestible and easy to learn. So getting something like this means the world to me. It validates everything that I believe in and am trying to do.

What’s your teaching approach?

I seek to entertain. I am fascinated by how people can watch a movie or listen to a song once, and have it stick in their brain. And I ask myself, ‘why can’t teaching and instruction have that same kind of ‘adhesive quality?’ So what I try to do when I teach is to entertain.

I’m very loud, very vocally dynamic. I tell lots of jokes. Lots of jokes. There’s a performance aspect: I occasionally stand on furniture. I move around incessantly. And I use a lot of multimedia in my presentations – clips from YouTube or Google videos – and use video editing software to personalize them for the class.

I teach three-hour lectures, and I know by about the two hour and 15-minute mark that everyone is asleep. In one of the lectures, I have a very realistic green screen spider that crawls over the screen; it appears as if it is on the projector lens itself. So when the students see it, I walk to the front of the room, look at the front of the projector, and then say something along the lines of, “Glad I’m not sitting where you guys are!” It’s just something to bring people’s attention back to the front.

How do you create a sense of approachability for the students?

At the first lecture of any class, I wear a Tim Hortons t-shirt. For my introduction to the class, I’ll say, “I’m wearing this shirt because I see myself as your employee. You’re paying me to teach you about cancer. Therefore, between this moment now and the final exam, I work for you. So you tell me what you need and I’m here to deliver it.” l hope it changes the way the students view a typical relationship between an instructor and a student.

When it comes to office hours, my students email me for an appointment, let me know when they’re on campus, and I’ll see them five days a week. I value one-on-one time, and from what I know about teaching and pedagogy, one-on-one learning seems to be where you’re really driving things home in regards to comprehension.

Do you have some advice for future nursing students?

My advice: pay attention in your biochem class. When I talk to my class about cancer, I tell them that they’re going to be administering drugs that are specific to a genetic profile, and about drugs that interfere with proteins in the cytoplasm of the cell, proteins that tell the cell to grow that need to be turned off. Genetics and biochem are crucial to the administration of medications that nurses are giving and need to monitor for. When they’re in a class that’s talking about something like cancer, they’re able to see how the science side of things applies to what they do.