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Through the looking glass

Teaching Tools for Today, continued

  • Linda Owen Pedroley
  • Published: Feb. 19, 2010
View from inside a car looking through the windshield.

A "windshield survey' consists of driving through a community and assessing the factors that may affect the health of its residents.

Not all instructors need to use the latest technology for innovative teaching. For her senior-level community nursing class, Tina Bloom wanted her students to not only get out of the classroom, but to also get out of their comfort zone and into the communities the School serves.

She began using a “windshield survey” assignment to help her students learn how health-care workers assess communities and the factors that affect public health.

A windshield survey consists of driving though a community and literally “looking through the windshield” to observe and assess factors that contribute to community health.

Bloom divided her class into teams and had them ride Columbia’s bus system to collect data on the neighborhoods through which they passed.

“It’s useful not only because they can observe and write without driving, but also because many of them have never ridden the bus and it can be eye-opening. It can help them appreciate the challenges that their patients who lack transportation have to face,” said Bloom.

Each team assessed a section of Columbia by observing the condition and availability of factors such as housing, open spaces, schools, shopping areas, transportation and protective services. Students entered their data on a wiki-style web page to create a complete picture of the city. They also discussed their observations online and in the classroom.

Since she introduced the assignment in 2009, Bloom has surveyed her students to find ways to improve it. Most students found the exercise to be a useful way to learn about the community, rather than reading about it in a book. Others, though, were uncomfortable with the feeling that community members on the bus might feel as if the students were judging people and their lifestyles.

Bloom shares these anonymous evaluations with her class and uses them to improve the assignment for future nursing students. For example, concerns about how community members might feel about students on the bus was a jumpstart to discussions about respect and sensitivity, and how future nurses felt they and their colleagues should interact with and be part of the larger community. She wants them to transition from thinking about health as an individual phenomenon to thinking about health on a population level.

“As seniors, they are still focused on acquiring basic skills and caring for patients, and we are trying to get them to think about the big picture,” said Bloom. “Some come to that naturally, but others need hands-on experiences to help make sense of it all.”

Go to "Teaching Tools for Today."