Building lifelong learning capacities and resilience in changing academic and healthcare contexts


what people do every day: how they behave, speak, relate and make things

Case study

These are the reflections of six different students studying nursing who are completing the first weeks of their first semester of study at university.

  • I’m 39 years old and mother of a 4-year-old boy and a girl of 15. I live outside a middle-sized country town. I am currently working at the base hospital as an AIN [Assistant in Nursing], and have always wanted to be a nurse. I am hoping to get my head around all this and do the best I can. When I get free time I love to spend time with my family, exploring different places, bush walking, and fishing, anything out doors.
  • I am a second semester nursing student on campus. I come from China and I have been in Australia for four years. I live without my family here. I was a nurse in China before, but I want to be a registered nurse and get my nursing degree in Australia. I like to help people and communicate with them, when I see their smiling face I think this is the best reward I got. I have learned English for four years. I think the language is my weakness for my study, but I study hard. I do not really have leisure time for myself because I work part time in a nursing home facility. Apart from that, I like reading, cooking, gardening and I go to a church regularly on Sunday if I do not work in the weekend. I am also a volunteer at my church if they need help. I meet my church friends in the church. That is a joyful time for me.
  • I am 26 years old and I live 150 kilometres away with my dad and step mum. I am currently travelling 150 kilometres to attend uni but am looking into accommodation as the travel is starting to take its toll on me and it is only Week 1!! I am in my first semester and so far I am enjoying it but at the same time a bit overwhelmed. After I graduated high school in 2007 I moved to a small mining town. After years of hard work I was finally employed as a Health, Safety and Rehabilitation Coordinator at the underground coal mine. This role was extremely challenging but always very rewarding. The skills and knowledge I obtained while in this position will assist me in the future. After six long years away from home I have returned to study my true passion of nursing.
  • I’m a 45-year-old mum of eight and have chosen nursing because my husband has MS and I care for him and would like to be able to do more for him. I enjoy reading so hopefully that will help me in my studies although it’s been a long time since school for me. Nursing has always been something that I wanted to do. I am a very caring person and enjoy helping people. It is a very rewarding feeling. I hope to one day become a midwife/paediatric nurse as I love working with children. This journey will be exciting as it will be nice to want to and enjoy going to work which I have not experienced in my previous positions. I find it hard to identify my strengths so I will share some of my weaknesses. Probably one of my biggest weaknesses is staying focused. Sometimes when I am reading, something will trigger me to think about something else and I will go in a different direction. Another weakness is getting motivated and organised. I lead a very busy life and the travel to and from uni does not help with motivation as I get very tired. This is something that I am going to work really hard on because I do want to get the best out of this course and I do want to achieve great things.
  • I graduated as an EN in 2012. I am married, and have four children and some pets. I work part time with my husband in our own business, doing everything from spray-painting to advising on Work Health & Safety and ensuring all first aid protocols are met. For the past eight years I have been a volunteer with St John’s Ambulance Event Health Services, where I mentor and train members and attend events such as V8 supercars, rodeos and school fetes, to provide first aid to event stakeholders and the general public. This work is what led me, with encouragement from my mentors, to enter into nursing, something I have wanted to do since I was a young child. I have decided to further my education because I want to expand my knowledge base and skill levels, and gain another level of understanding, and I love the learning environment. I have a love of our elders and the wisdom they impart.
  • I have recently completed my studies to be an enrolled nurse. My aim is to give myself every opportunity to find an area of the health industry that really interests me. I’m not sure what that is exactly yet but completing the Bachelor of Nursing will reduce the barriers to finding whatever it is. One of my strengths is an excellent work ethic. I believe this will assist me with completing my studies to the best of my ability. The most important strategy for this semester will be organisation. I have a lot going on so I need to be extra diligent with organising my time so I am always on top of my studies and not writing forums after the due date.

Critical reflection

Identify the previous learning experiences revealed through these reflections.

Specify the challenges experienced by the students that could affect their studies.

Write down a reflection about who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and the experiences that have contributed to your view of the world as you enter the higher education context.

While developing an understanding of who you are is very important to how successfully you can make a comfortable transition to successful study, understanding the requirements and expectations of the higher education environment or context you are entering is also critical. The next section will help you to understand some of the expectations the university has about how you will need to behave and perform in this context in order to achieve your goals and objectives.

Understanding the new higher education context

The higher education context can be visualised as being like a new culture (Chapter 5 will also develop this concept). Like any new culture, it has a number of characteristics and a range of understandings and expectations about how you need to act, behave and communicate if you are to be successful in your study. These ways of behaving or acting are also called various names. In education theory they are called literacies – for example, academic literacy and numeracy refer to the skills of being able to read, write and do maths. In sociological or cross-cultural theory, they are called cultural practices – for example, there are cultural practices related to marriage, giving birth and funerals. They can also be identified as languages – for example, administrative language.


characteristics, understandings, expectations and ways of behaving or acting in a certain context or culture – for example, academic literacy and numeracy refer to the skills of being able to read, write and do maths

cultural practices:

the non-verbal and verbal behaviours and rituals that are shared by cultural groups or sub-groups

Case study

When I began this semester, I found it hard – especially with electronic communication. I honestly had issues finding my way in the study desk, the power points and the learning system as a whole. It actually took me some time to familiarise myself with the online forums throughout this semester. One of the barriers I have had to overcome, other than lack of confidence in myself, was terminology. I found that the concepts being taught were the same as things I already knew, but they were just called something different.

Critical reflection

What have you noticed about the new higher education environment? Are there any barriers that you find surprising?

Are there any rules and regulations about how to behave?

Where do you find information about how to become familiar with these rules and regulations or overcome any barriers?

The university, or higher education institution, is a culture that actually comprises a range of subcultures. Each subject, discipline area, program, course or degree has its own practices, with its own particular language, or jargon. Each area of the university has its own ways of doing things, or cultural behaviours or practices. For example, there is the library with its practices – which are often called information or database literacies. There is academic integrity and its referencing practices; for instance the APA or Harvard systems of referencing. There are the computer and learning management systems which have very technical specifications. Each university sporting or support club also has its own cultural practices. There is academic literacy, or how to write persuasive academic arguments that achieve high marks. Not to mention the administrative jargon or language: GPAs, course specifications, exemptions, academic misconduct procedures, etc. The case study above also refers to a range of other practices or behaviours that students need to understand and become confident in if they are to succeed at their studies. These include a range of organisational, social and personal practices – for example, time and stress management and achieving a work/life balance, which are often critical to your perseverance in study.


refers to the meanings of words and technical or specialised language shared by a specific cultural group or sub-group

Case study

To enable to start developing their understanding of the new academic culture, first-year nursing students were asked to interview a more experienced student. Here are some of their findings:

  • My interview subject was very interesting, and the one thing that stood out for me, that I didn’t expect, was that good study habits don’t always come automatically; it is something that comes with trial and error and is an individual process. My main strategy for this semester will be to organise my study area into subject groups rather than whole-semester groups, which was my previous practice, as this should make it easier to locate any research, notes, etc. that I may need for assignments or study. As I am someone that is a fan of the written word (the ones I physically write) and has never used Facebook and Twitter, etc. … and until this week had never posted anything anywhere except a big red mailbox. This course is helping me become familiar and hopefully competent at these new tasks, which will eventually enable me to manage my time more effectively. I hope I will be able to manage my time, interact with others on a professional level, work autonomously and for myself personally upgrade my meagre computing skills which are all essential skills that are needed to be a successful, competent nurse.
  • I interviewed a graduate nurse who studied full time on campus while juggling two children and part-time employment. Most of her practical experience was in large hospitals, and since graduation she has been based in a rural community. The most surprising thing I learnt from the interview was hearing how nurses in the varying hospital settings treated her differently as a work colleague and the role variation in each location. I intend to plan ahead as much as possible. Like the graduate nurse, I have children and part-time employment to consider so it is essential I organise my time effectively. I have written all assignment due dates in my diary and regularly check in with study desk for updates and notifications. I have not written academically for many years and I lack confidence with referencing so I look forward to improving these skills.
  • I interviewed a second-year student who is studying a Bachelor of Nursing; her husband is also a nursing student. One surprising thing that I found was she and her husband felt exactly the same way as I’m feeling in my first year of nursing. They both stated that with time the nerves will subside and the excitement of learning new things and paving the way to our new-found career. Helen’s strategies for keeping on track for studies are lots of coffee, a study buddy to help focus, ensure that tasks are in on time and not leaving things to the last minute.
  • I interviewed a qualified registered nurse who graduated last year. It was really good to talk to someone who had already been through the whole process and survived!! It was interesting and also refreshing to know that she went through the same emotions that I am going through when she first started uni. So we are not alone and she assured me that it does get better. The best tip that she gave me was to stay organised. This is an area which I need to improve and think that if I can get organised it will assist in making my uni experience a lot better. Strategies that I am going to put in place is assigning myself studying time in my diary and trying to stick to it. Put a big calendar on my wall which outlines assignment due dates. I need to stay motivated and stay confident.
  • I interviewed my husband who is a second-year student. One of the surprising things I learnt from the interview is the difference in our study styles. I am quite used to jumping around with three or four tasks at once whereas he really requires a good few hours in one sitting concentrating on the one subject. This semester I am actually going to try and take something from that and seek out a set time for me to do the work I need to do so it isn’t being forgotten. I also intend to follow some advice he gave me last semester, which is to really look at previous assessments when studying for final exams. It helped last semester and will surely help this one too.

Critical reflection

Describe the issues that the student nurses find surprising about their interviewee’s experiences of study.

List the strategies the students put in place to help them study more effectively as a result of their reflections.

Conceptualising transition

So far, we have discussed the role of the new student accessing the university or higher education context or culture, and bringing with them their own expectations, backgrounds and ways of behaving, and previous educational experiences. In order to succeed at their studies, the new student needs to understand, or become familiar with, the practices and behaviours in the higher education culture. They also need to master and demonstrate these practices. For example, in your first assessment – usually in Week 4 or 5 – you will need to be able to use the university computer systems, assignment submission software, referencing and academic writing skills.

As shown in Figure 3.1, the literacies or languages required are many and varied. Many are quite complex – for example, what is critical thinking and how do you do it? You will develop your understandings of some of the literacies throughout your whole degree and into your career: they take time to develop. Nevertheless, you need to understand that these literacies or practices exist, and that they may be unfamiliar and unexpected. It is also important to understand that sources of help or information are readily available in the institution to support you. However, in order to take advantage of these resources, you do need to develop some practices or strategies of your own to use to access this support.

Figure 3.1 Model for student transition

So what are the practices or strategies that will help you to become familiar with, engage in and master these cultural practices and behaviours? Again, they can be illustrated in a model (see Figure 3.2). This model presents three practical strategies that can assist you to make an effective transition to any new context or culture. These are reflective, communication and critical practices.

Figure 3.2 Model for success strategies Source: Adapted from Lawrence (2009).

Reflective practice

The first practical strategy you can use to help you become comfortable with the new culture or context is your ability to reflect on the behaviours, languages or jargon of the context or culture. In a practical sense, this means that you need to observe, monitor, watch, listen to and reflect on others’ behaviours and practices, and learn from your observations. In assessment terms, for example, how do you set out, structure, reference and write assignments? How do you submit them? Do you need a cover sheet and do you need to sign a statement that the assignment is your own work? Why do you need to do this? What happens if you don’t? Where do you need to go to find out about these requirements? Is there an online source of help and assistance?

How do you write at university? Kossen, Kiernan and Lawrence (2013) suggest that one way to understand this is to watch how your lecturers and tutors write for you, and to analyse how the textbooks and research articles are written and set out, the kinds of information that are valued and whether, for example, they are peer reviewed (and what this means). Such observations provide a template of how your readers (your markers) want you to write for them. Samples or models help you to understand the kinds of formats to use, how to structure your writing, how to include graphs and figures, how to integrate tables and so on. Good observation techniques can save you a lot of time as well as help you to identify the group and/or individuals with whom you need to communicate in the new context (Kossen, Kiernan, Lawrence, 2013).

It is also important to recognise that if you do not know the practices in the new context you are not deficient, you are just unfamiliar. Korporaal (2014) provides the example of Ben Roberts-Smith, who spent 18 years in the military, served in Afghanistan six times, was a member of the elite Special Air Service (SAS), risked his life often and has been awarded a string of honours, including a Medal for Gallantry and a Victoria Cross. However, when he decided to do a higher education degree he had to learn to write essays and assignments:

I don’t have a degree. I have 18 years of experience in the military. I have written reports, I have done courses, I have studied everything from demolition to qualifications for being a paramedic, but I have never been involved with business. For me to come in here and do a 2500-word assignment, it’s not something that I find is difficult to do, it’s just that I have never done it before. Most people have been through this process before whereas for me it’s a whole new learning process.

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Jan 30, 2017 | Posted by in NURSING | Comments Off on Building lifelong learning capacities and resilience in changing academic and healthcare contexts

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