Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Conceptual Understanding: A Concept Analysis

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Conceptual Understanding: A Concept Analysis

Article excerpt

Nursing curricula has been moving away from a content focus to a more conceptual foundation. Teaching students to understand concepts as opposed to memorizing content is necessary in the current health care environment. Rapid advances in medical knowledge and technology have demonstrated that it is impossible to teach students everything they will need to know to practice nursing (Dalley, Candela, Benzel-Lindley, 2008; Giddens, 2007; Giddens & Brady, 2007; Hardin & Richardson, 2012; Ironside, 2004, 2005). Therefore, it is necessary that we equip students with the tools for conceptual understanding.

Many nursing students will tell you they are not good at mathematics. However, it is extremely important that nurses are able to correctly perform and determine the accuracy of medication calculations. I was a nurse who thought that I would never excel in mathematics. However, as a novice teacher I was asked to teach a medication calculation course. This course was different from the one I had in my own undergraduate education. Rather than memorizing a formula, as I had been taught, students were encouraged to solve medication calculations in any way that made sense to them. A fire was ignited as mathematics suddenly made sense to me and I was able to problem solve through most calculations.

Conceptual understanding was a term mentioned regularly in preparing to teach medication calculations to undergraduate nursing students. The term was cited in nursing literature (Kelly & Colby, 2003; Wright, 2007) related to teaching medication calculations however, no definition or description of what it meant to have conceptual understanding or to teach for conceptual understanding was evident. The intention of this concept analysis was to begin to uncover what it means to have conceptual understanding. The foundation of this concept analysis was utilized in building a grounded theory of conceptual understanding in nursing students learning medication calculations (Mills, 2012). The application of the process of conceptual understanding goes beyond one topic in a curriculum and has potential for influencing many areas of education.

Dimensional Analysis as a Qualitative Inquiry

There are various methods available for concept analysis. Walker and Avant (2005) described a procedure for concept analysis that included identifying antecedents, defining empirical referents, and distinguishing cases such as model and invented cases. This procedure was not consistent with an abstract concept such as conceptual understanding. The method of dimensional analysis (Caron & Bowers, 2000) seemed more consistent with the investigator's belief that constructivist pedagogy is best when teaching for conceptual understanding. The foundation of dimensional analysis in pragmatism and symbolic interaction was congruent with constructivism. Discovery of the social construction of the concept further allowed the investigator to examine conceptual understanding through other's contexts and perspectives. Dimensional analysis was developed by Schatzman (1991) as "a methodological approach to the grounding of theory in qualitative research" (p. 303). For these reasons a qualitative approach to a concept analysis of conceptual understanding was deemed appropriate.

Data Sources

In dimensional analysis the definition of a term can vary depending upon the contexts and perspectives in which it is used. Caron and Bowers (2000) stated "The outcome of dimensional analysis is intended to provide a better understanding of systematically generated differences in meanings and uses of the concept" (p. 297). Therefore, reference materials were sourced in areas in which the term conceptual understanding was found. Data was located using an electronic literature search of the Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health (CINAHL), Psychological Literature (PsycINFO), and Education Literature (ERIC) databases from 1980 to 2014 using the keyword conceptual understanding. …

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