Coordinating a course is anything but an easy job. Besides many critical responsibilities, there are also many smaller items which are duties I like to refer to as "minding the store." They are the difference between a course students refer to as "organized" or "confusing." These are the tasks that are time consuming, not readily understood by one's own faculty or superiors, and for which a coordinator may receive little credit, praise or reward. However, I firmly believe that successful coordinators are the backbone of an undergraduate curriculum and how she/he "minds the store" makes an enormous difference in the success or failure of the educational process.
The context upon which this article is based is a course in undergraduate maternity nursing. It is contained within the Parent-Child Nursing area administrated by an Area Chairperson.
My major objective in writing this article is to help people who are assuming positions of responsibility related to course administration.
Preparation for a course begins far ahead of its actual beginning. If faculty are on academic appointments, this means almost everything must be ready or in process with a secretary before leaving for the summer. This makes for pressure and many deadlines for the faculty. The university's calendar is a good place to start. Within these dates you can plan your class and clinical schedules. Whether the course is new or old, the coordinator should create a draft of the class schedule. The total faculty then can discuss the timing, sequence and content, arriving at an acceptable schedule. After this the coordinator needs to work with the secretary related to classroom requests. It is important that the classrooms fit the type of content being offered and the time of day or evening students will come and go. Film and projectionist orders must also be confirmed before the final copies are produced.
Another big preparation item is the course syllabus. Here delegation is vital. Each faculty member should be responsible for production or revision of the part they either did teach or will teach. Deadlines must be set and enforced. The coordinator should always proofread the final document.
After the syllabus is completed, the reserve book list must be compiled. Try to delegate this responsibility. Also do not forget to notify the local bookstores regarding which textbooks will be required for the coming year. It is a total faculty responsibility to review new textbooks but the coordinator should take a leadership role in seeing that discussions are held related to such a change. During the year, when new textbooks arrive from different publishers, faculty members should review them. I believe that the coordinator should review all eligible textbooks if humanly possible. Written summaries, using a common form, should be filed as the text is reviewed. They can then be referred to later when deciding on a change in textbooks. Film reviews can be handled in a similar manner.
Clinical orientation guides may be used by some courses. These are usually a collection of materials specific to a clinical setting. They may contain maps, procedures and policies which will be helpful to the students and new faculty members. Some agencies wish to add some of their own materials. All these guides need to be updated at least each year. Critical to any clinical course is the mutual respect and cooperation between hospital/agency staff and the faculty. The coordinator can do much to set a positive tone while working on contracts, attending meetings and orienting new faculty. She can also communicate a cooperative spirit to students at the beginning of the course. We need to do everything possible at a grassroots level to promote kinship, support and respect for each other as nurses.
Along with kinship for our service colleagues, the coordinator must set an example of kinship with fellow faculty members, graduate students and researchers. Too often a total faculty conflicts over special interests. Instead of vying for favors, the nursing community should be sharing ideas, offering support related to professional and personal problems and working for the betterment of nursing as a whole whether it be in an education, service or research setting. Faculty should try to put the goals of the school first, not those of each area of instruction or course.
Grading is an extremely important area of consideration for the coordinator. There are many different facets to this subject. Test construction can be a very time consuming and frustrating task. It can also be rewarding when the students report a fair and complete exam. ("The best we've ever taken.") One way to handle the exams, we have four, is by having exam committees. Each committee, with its chairperson, is responsible for production or revision of a test. Faculty members volunteer for the committees which will test the content they are teaching or for which they feel best informed. The members make our exam keys and monitor the exam. Then they or the coordinator see that it is corrected, recorded in the grade book and posted. The coordinator has the responsibility to compute final grades and post them with the university.
If the grading system also includes some type of formal paper, this must also be taken into account with the grades. Our students write a paper related to a family and maternity content. Their clinical teacher grades the papers according to a set guide contained in the syllabus. The coordinator, besides grading her own papers, may become involved if a student is not satisfied with her grade. Second readers may help solve such a problem. Some students are only satisfied if the coordinator is the second reader. It is helpful to suggest to all faculty that they have a second reader for all failing papers before they return them to the student. This can many times save student challenge and assure faculty of the accuracy of their judgment. It should be required that someone second-read several papers of new faculty members to be sure they are grading in the same range as their colleagues.
One of the hardest grading areas is clinical performance. Several years ago our course changed to clinical pass/fail. The student must pass both the clinical and theory parts of the course in order to pass the course. Although this relieves considerable tension for both students and faculty on the clinical unit, the decision to pass or fail is still present. The coordinator, besides having students of her own to evaluate, must also be available for support, consultation and advice both to her faculty and to their students. Fairness in the evaluation process is a must. It is important to create an atmosphere that is flexible but in which failure does exist if objectives are not met and clinical care given is not safe. Many newer faculty need guidance and support in writing meaningful anecdotal notes and final evaluations. In order to fail a student, the evidence must be present and substantiated. All faculty need colleague support at these times. Faculty must feel that their coordinator will be supportive. This can be very time consuming and anxiety producing but is a very important role of the coordinator.
A coordinator may be responsible for simply a course or it may more resemble a mini area. If not totally responsible for hiring and firing faculty, she is usually involved in some part of the process or at least her opinion is respected. Recruitment and interviews need arranging. Wellorganized, friendly and honest sessions seem best. Faculty responsibilities must be clear. There is no reason to hire or propose for hiring a person who will not work the clinical hours or hospital/agency that will be assigned to her.
Most coordinators hold the ultimate responsibility of orienting new faculty. If it is a large university, all new faculty may receive orientation to the university and school of nursing via another channel (i.e., faculty development). This leaves only an area orientation. Delegation of at least some of these responsibilities can be done through an area big/little sister system which is very effective in furnishing extra and ongoing support and assistance. This should not deter the coordinator from going over material such as the areas' philosophy of teaching, care and clinical supervision, student requirements, grading, class assignment and expectation of the new faculty member. The coordinator also needs to help new faculty members make the transition to being a teacher but also remembering the importance of the patient. The coordinator should also remind new faculty about coming deadlines, etc., since all orientation can never be remembered.
Coordinators should be available to consult with all faculty related to class problems, student evaluation problems, legal responsibilities related to teaching and clinical supervision and faculty relationships. Some coordinators are asked to evaluate their faculty even if the final evaluative responsibility lies elsewhere (i.e., area chairperson). Also the illness of a faculty member puts an extra burden on the coordinator, indeed upon the total faculty. How the coordinator handles these situations can greatly affect the total faculty's morale. The coordinator may also be asked to write promotion recommendations for her faculty members. These need to be accurate, supportive and helpful.
The coordinator also needs a support person. If available, an excoordinator may be the best person because she will understand the problems, stresses and need for confidentiality. If the coordinator has a clinical group herself, all the usual responsibilities exist. She may also be an academic advisor.
The coordinator is responsible for chairing her faculty's meetings. The style of leadership depends on the personality of the person. However, while freedom of discussion and opinion are paramount, some decisions must be related to budget, feasibility and implementation. Therefore, the coordinator must retain the power and respect to make some decisions.
One of the newer problems that may face a faculty is part-time members. It is not easy to write a job description which is fair to all. The coordinator may find that either the part-time member is overvolunteering or the full-time members feel they end up taking on too many of the "minding the store" activities. Leadership in this situation is most important to keep the morale of the faculty in a proper perspective.
The coordinator, along with the area chairperson, should be encouraging her faculty to participate in and attend conferences, conduct research, write for publication and seek further education. This can be done verbally and by creating an atmosphere where this is possible. Scholarly activities are hardest to fit into the undergraduate faculty's workload because of committed clinical supervision time. New innovative workload patterns can help remedy this situation.
The coordinator generally has to set up some materials for registration even when the actual procedure is handled by the university. There may be a lottery for selection of courses and clinical placements. Class schedules and clinical hours must consider the student's health, sleep patterns, ability to work extra if needed, safety during late hour clinicals or classes and the opportunity to participate in campus activities, i.e., athletics, music, etc. The coordinator should be willing to listen to reasonable student requests and be flexible where possible.
The coordinator will probably teach the first class of the course, generally an overall introduction and orientation class. Never underestimate the power that this class holds. If the coordinator "comes across the footlights" as warm, friendly, willing to listen and excited about her subject, she has come a long way in motivating the students to learn and enjoy the course. If, however, the impression is one of disorganization, dull content and a rigid faculty, it may well be an uphill climb to regain the interest of the pupils. All faculty members need to be accountable to their students. Most of all the coordinator needs to be a role model for students and faculty alike. Accurate information, keeping one's word and accountability for one's actions are all vital characteristics.
The coordinator should also communicate the faculty's expectations to the students. If you expect them to be on time, study and be responsible, they usually will try to live up to these expectations.
The coordinator should also be an intermediary for students who may have special problems or needs. Some of these special people may include: intercollegiate athlete, marching band member, single parent, older student with a family, minority student, foreign student, LPN, RN, etc. They all must meet the objectives of the course but strengths and differences should be built upon and not destroyed.
The coordinator will also move outside the area and many times represent it. She must defend the course's place in the total curriculum, its credit allowance and perhaps its very existence. She will defend the value of clinical teaching and look at workload problems.
The coordinator should attend meetings faithfully and conferences when feasible. Attendance at faculty, staff, university and community receptions is a must. It is here that you not only represent yourself but your area, your school, your university, and your profession. It is a good time to develop and maintain relationships. I find my tennis club to be an exceptional place to meet university and community leaders. To know the medical professionals in a social setting can be helpful. To be visual is to be remembered. Colleague support does not come to you. You must seek it out, cultivate it and earn it.
One of the most valuable people to a coordinator will be her secretary, even if you share her with 20 other people. Good public relations with outsiders and the faculty itself, accuracy in written material and messages, and independence of thought are all valuable to the total effort of education.
Last, but by no means least, the coordinator is responsible for keeping current and skillful within her own field and specialty. This is no easy task under any circumstances, but it is really hard while "minding the store."