The University of Nebraska College of Nursing offers an off-campus program which enables registered nurses throughout the state to work toward the bachelor's degree in nursing. Efficient methods of delivering course content - including audiotaped lectures, printed study guides, and telephone conference discussions - have proven successful in providing baccalaureate-level instruction in nursing research. Despite limited student-instructor interaction, off-campus students earn test scores and grades comparable to those of students in traditional classes on campus. This article describes the situation and the strategies used to meet needs identified for the research course in the offcampus curriculum.
Nebraska's only state-supported university is located in the eastern section of the state. Consequently, it is not conveniently accessible to people in greater Nebraska, the sparsely populated central and western regions which are up to 450 miles from a university campus. The University of Nebraska, however, strives to be responsive to the educational needs of citizens throughout the state. The off-campus nursing program was established in 1977 in response to the expressed desires of registered nurses in greater Nebraska for a more accessible way of obtaining the bachelor's degree.
The on-campus curriculum serves as the prototype for the off-campus program, with methodological changes made as necessary. The College of Nursing in 1982 revised its curriculum, separating the introductory research content from the clinical course within which it had been incorporated. The result was a one-credit course to acquaint students with the research process and the evaluation of scientific findings for applicability to nursing practice.
The research course content is developed within the framework of the conceptual, empirical, and interpretive phases of the research process as discussed by Batey (1971). Steuer and Marram's (1976) proposed approach to evaluation of research findings for applicability in practice also is incorporated. Throughout the discussions of the research process, emphasis is on application of the content in evaluating reported research. Students use the guidelines developed by faculty for writing evaluations of research articles. This evaluation format is used in subsequent courses throughout the baccalaureate curriculum.
A major methodologie focus of this course is disseminating basic information. Oncampus information is presented in scheduled lecture-discussion sessions, augmented by students completing assigned readings. For the off-campus program, audiotapes were selected as an alternative to the scheduled lecture sessions.
Audiotaped delivery of content was chosen for several reasons. First, it permits the flexibility needed for offering the course to students in widely dispersed sites, and for allowing each student to arrange a time convenient for listening to the didactic presentation. Second, the use of audiotapes is an economical approach to providing students off campus with a learning experience similar to that of students on campus. Recording and playback equipment is relatively inexpensive and consequently readily accessible. The tapes were prepared with the technical and production assistance of the University's Biomedical Communications Center to ensure their quality. A third advantage of audiotaping is that recording of already prepared lectures does not require an inordinate amount of faculty time. In addition, the approach facilitates offering the course both on- and off-campus simultaneously.
A limitation of audiotapes is the absence of a visual component. This deficit was circumvented through the development of a study guide which serendipitously provided benefits for use by on-campus students as well. The information and illustrations provided on overhead transparencies during in-class presentations were incorporated as figures within the study guide. Outlines for notetaking focus students' attention on the content being presented and include definitions and key explanations which had previously been time consuming for students to copy.
In the study guide, color-coded pages facilitate its usage by students. For each presentation, white pages include an overview of the class, study questions, and required readings designed to help the student prepare for the taped class presentation. This is followed by a yellow content outline for notetaking and blue pages with the figures containing the information from classroom overheads. The appendices, printed on green pages, include the guidelines for writing evaluations of research reports as well as an example of such a written report.
In the on-campus course, two small group discussions are a consistently used teaching strategy to facilitate comprehension, application, and retention of content. This is congruent with rationale discussed by Kramer, Haladay, and Hoeffer (1981) for the importance of small groups. The focus of the discussions is evaluation of a selected research report utilizing the established guidelines. This strategy was retained with off-campus students via telephone conferences, enabling students at the various sites to interact with instructors and each other.
Students on and off campus have completed this one-credit introductory research course. Both groups utilized the study guide, with the off-campus group receiving course content via audiotapes and the on-campus students attending classroom presentations. The small group discussions were held for on-campus students and were accomplished via telephone conferences with the off-campus group.
Student performance was evaluated by two objective exams and a written evaluation of a research report. No notable differences were identified between the two groups using these evaluative measures. Difficulties and achievements of students in applying the content were comparable.
The course evaluations completed by students both on and off campus indicated that they liked the organization of the study guide and found it easy to use. The majority rated the color-coded pages as helpful in locating information and the outline for notetaking as being beneficial. However, a few students on campus expressed the opinion that the color-coding and the additional pages necessary for the inclusion of the notetaking outlines added to the cost of the study guide and consequently were not warranted.
Although students off campus have had no difficulty using the study guide, audiotape, and telephone conference format, several have suggested there be an additional telephone conference scheduled prior to their submission of the initial section of the written evaluation and the first exam. This proposal is presently being implemented and further supports the benefit of small group discussions in facilitating comprehension and application of content.
From the faculty's perspective, the use of the study guide has greatly facilitated the flow of class presentations. Providing definitions within the notetaking outlines enables students to attend to the accompanying explanations, rather than focusing on transcribing the definitions into their notes. Use of the packaged format enables students at off-campus sites to complete course requirements with minimal instructor contact while maintaining a level of achievement comparable to that of students in the on-campus course.
The question might be asked as to whether this course could be made entirely self-instructional using the described materials. While this might be an option, the benefits of the small group discussions ought not be ignored. The dialogue among instructors and students seems to be essential in assisting students to master and apply the content as they read reports of research and consider its relevance to their nursing practice. Effecting a positive attitude toward research also may be enhanced by these discussion opportunities.
In conclusion, the packaged format in conjunction with several telephone conferences during the semester has been an effective and economical approach to providing students in diverse locations with a course comparable to that presented to students enrolled on campus.
- Batey, M.J. (1971). Conceptualizing the research process. Nursing Research, 20, 296-301.
- Heermann, JA. & Craft, B. J. (1983). Introduction to research in nursing: Study guide. Unpublished manuscript, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha.
- Kramer, M., Holaday, B., & Hoeffer, B. (1981). The teaching of nursing research - Part III: A comparison of teaching strategies. Nurse Educator, 6, (2), 18-28.
- Stetler, C.B. & Marram, G. (1976). Evaluating research findings for applicability in practice. Nursing Outlook, 24, 559-563.