Journal of Nursing Education

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Nursing Education Component in Master's Programs

Marilyn H Oermann, PhD, RN; Marie T Jamison, MSN, RN

Abstract

ABSTRACT

The purposes of this study were to: a) describe the outcomes, content, and structure of master's programs in nursing in the functional area of teaching; b) describe related learning experiences of students; and c) identify trends in graduate nursing education in preparing students for the role of teacher. A self-administered questionnaire developed by the investigators was mailed to all NLN accredited masters programs (N = 139). The instrument collected data on the nursing education component of the master's program. Ninety-two questionnaires were completed and returned, resulting in a response rate of 66.2%. Only 10 (10.9%) master's programs offered a major in nursing education. More common were minors, elective courses, and tracks in nursing education, as well as other similar curriculum patterns (N = 66). Fifteen (16.3%) master's programs offered no courses in nursing education. There was a statistically significant difference between the mean number of credits of nursing education courses required in programs offering a major (M = 11.4) compared with a minor (M = 8.8). More than half of the master's programs required nursing education courses in learning theory, curriculum development, instructional design, teaching methods, clinical teaching, various aspects of evaluation, and grading.

Learning experiences in which students participated to prepare themselves for teaching roles included in the majority of programs: classroom teaching, clinical teaching (generally involving a practicum), clinical evaluation of students, development of a course/curriculum, and test construction. The research documents the continued emphasis on advanced nursing practice as the primary area of graduate study with preparation for teaching occurring through minors in the program. The issue of preparation for advanced clinical practice and a functional role continues to be one facing graduate nursing education.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

The purposes of this study were to: a) describe the outcomes, content, and structure of master's programs in nursing in the functional area of teaching; b) describe related learning experiences of students; and c) identify trends in graduate nursing education in preparing students for the role of teacher. A self-administered questionnaire developed by the investigators was mailed to all NLN accredited masters programs (N = 139). The instrument collected data on the nursing education component of the master's program. Ninety-two questionnaires were completed and returned, resulting in a response rate of 66.2%. Only 10 (10.9%) master's programs offered a major in nursing education. More common were minors, elective courses, and tracks in nursing education, as well as other similar curriculum patterns (N = 66). Fifteen (16.3%) master's programs offered no courses in nursing education. There was a statistically significant difference between the mean number of credits of nursing education courses required in programs offering a major (M = 11.4) compared with a minor (M = 8.8). More than half of the master's programs required nursing education courses in learning theory, curriculum development, instructional design, teaching methods, clinical teaching, various aspects of evaluation, and grading.

Learning experiences in which students participated to prepare themselves for teaching roles included in the majority of programs: classroom teaching, clinical teaching (generally involving a practicum), clinical evaluation of students, development of a course/curriculum, and test construction. The research documents the continued emphasis on advanced nursing practice as the primary area of graduate study with preparation for teaching occurring through minors in the program. The issue of preparation for advanced clinical practice and a functional role continues to be one facing graduate nursing education.

Introduction

Master's programs in nursing were first developed to prepare teachers and administrators. Acquisition of the knowledge and skills necessary for teaching in schools of nursing and other settings was a major focus of early graduate programs. As the emphasis in graduate education shifted toward clinical specialization, master's curricula provided for expanded content and experience in clinical practice while at the same time maintaining preparation for the functional roles of teacher and administrator. The relationship between preparation for advanced clinical practice and a functional role depends on the primary focus of the program (NLN, 1987). McKevitt (1986) reported that between 1979 to 1984 significantly fewer master's programs were offering nursing education as & primary area of study. Instead, nursing education was taken as a minor in the master's program with a clinical major.

In an early survey of masters graduates, respondents indicated preference for a program that included preparation in a clinical specialization as well as functional role (Donley, Jepson, & Perloff, 1973). Content areas such as learning theory, teaching methods, and evaluation were rated by respondents as important to their roles as teacher, clinical specialist, and administrator. Although later studies have analyzed the content and structure of master's programs in nursing (Beare, Daniel, Gover, Gray, et al, 1980; McKevitt, 1986; McLane, 1978), there are limited data as to the present focus of these programs in terms of preparing students for the role of teacher.

Methodology

This was an exploratory descriptive study using a mailed questionnaire. One hundred thirty-nine master's nursing programs accredited by the NLN were included in the study. Excluding the researcher's college of nursing, this represented the entire population of accredited schools in the United States (NLN, 1987). Ninety-two questionnaires were completed and returned, resulting in a response rate of 66.2%. The study met human subject guidelines. The questionnaires were identified by code number only with anonymity of the respondents maintained in the analysis of results.

The instrument used for data collection consisted of a self-administered questionnaire developed by the investigator designed to collect information on the nursing education component of the master's program. The questionnaire was divided into three sections: a) characteristics of the masters program in nursing, b) description of the nursing education functional area, and c) characteristics of the respondent. An appropriate admixture of open- and closed-ended questions was used to obtain the responses. Content validity and reliability of the questionnaire were established in a pilot study.

The questionnaire was mailed to the dean of the nursing program with a cover letter explaining the purpose of the study and directions for completing and returning the questionnaire. A self-addressed and stamped envelope was included to facilitate return of the instrument. Questionnaires were completed by either administrators of the school of nursing or graduate program (78.2%) or faculty responsible for teaching the nursing education courses (17.4%). Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, ttest, and chi square.

Results

Characteristics of Master's Programs

Findings revealed that 96% (N = 88) of the masters programs surveyed offered both full and part-time study. Only three schools had full-time masters programs exclusively; one offered only a part-time program. The majority (94%) of the master's programs required a baccalaureate degree in nursing for admission. McKevitt (1986) reported that 75% of master's programs expected applicants to have a baccalaureate from an NLN-accredited program, which is similar to the findings in this study. Only six programs allowed a baccalaureate in another field for admission to the program. The number of full-time faculty who taught in the master's program ranged from O to 82, with a mean of 21. Part-time faculty ranged from O to 30, with a mean of five.

In general, the primary purpose of the masters program was to prepare clinical nurse specialists (82%). Advanced nursing practice was also the most common area of study in master's programs in 1984 as well as 1979 (McKevitt, 1986). Programs continued to identify as one of their purposes to prepare graduates for positions in nursing administration (76%) and nursing education (71%), although these were fewer in number.

Nursing Education Functional Area

In regard to nursing education, only 10 (10.9%) master's programs offered a major in nursing education. More common were minors (N = 34), elective courses (N = 18), and tracks (N = 3) in nursing education as well as other similar curriculum patterns (N = Il). Seventy-six (82.6%) master's programs, therefore, offered some coursework in nursing education although generally not as a major area of study. Of the 92 graduate programs responding to the questionnaire, 15 (16.3%) programs offered no courses in nursing education.

For programs offering nursing education either as a major or minor (including électives, tracks, and other similar curriculum patterns), purposes were twofold: to prepare the graduate for teaching in a college/university (81.5%) and clinical setting, such as staff development and patient education (63%).

The number of credit hours required for completion of the master's program ranged from 20 to 49, with a mean of 38.8. (For schools of nursing reporting quarter hours, credits were recalculated in terms of semester hours.) The mean number of credits of nursing education courses completed was 9.06. The range was 2 to 20 credits.

Of the schools surveyed, 2 to 3 courses in nursing education were usually required for students electing this area of study. The number of required nursing education courses ranged from one to seven. Most schools (83.6%) also offered elective courses in nursing education, ranging from one to nine with a mean of 1.7. In 28 programs students completed courses in education outside of the nursing department, either as required or elective courses.

In more than half of the programs, the courses in nursing education included content on teaching methods, curriculum development theory, learning theory, clinical teaching, instructional design, clinical evaluation, testing, evaluation theory, grading, and other aspects of evaluation (i.e., program evaluation, accreditation, and teacher evaluation). These content areas were generally included in the required nursing education courses and less frequently in elective ones.

Respondents reported a variety of required learning experiences for graduate students preparing themselves for the role of teacher. Predominant on this list were experiences in classroom teaching, clinical teaching, clinical evaluation of students, curriculum/course development, and test construction. Fewer programs offered experiences in counseling students and developing and evaluating media.

Further data analysis was done to compare programs in which nursing education may be taken as a major area of study with those offering it as a minor. For this analysis, programs other than the ones offering a major in nursing education (i.e., minors, elective courses, tracks, and other similar curriculum patterns) were grouped together and for purposes of reporting the results, are labeled as a minor. Collectively, these options totaled 66 programs, compared with 10 with a major in nursing education. The mean number of credits of nursing education courses required in programs offering a major in nursing education was 11.4 (SD = 4.8) compared with 8.8 (SD = 2.9) for those with a minor. The t-test indicated that this difference was statistically significant [t(66) = 2.34, p = 0.02]. Findings indicated that no statistically significant differences existed between these programs in terms of the number of required and elective nursing education courses.

All ten programs with a major in nursing education reported that the purpose was to prepare students for teaching in a college/university setting, compared with 58 (87.9% ) programs with a minor in nursing education. Eight of the ten programs offering a major also indicated that a second purpose was to prepare the individual for teaching in a clinical setting; 44 (66.7%) programs with a minor in nursing education had this as an additional purpose.

To further identify differences between a major versus minor in nursing education, a comparison of content areas was done using chi square. No statistically significant differences were found. All programs with a major in nursing education offered content on teaching methods, curriculum development, clinical teaching, instructional design, and clinical evaluation. All but one program required content on learning theories, testing, grading, and program evaluation. These content areas also were included in programs with a minor in teaching, although not to the same extent.

Theory on computer-assisted instruction (CAI) was taught in all but one of the programs with a major in nursing education, but only as required content in 30 (45.5%) of those with a minor. Content on evaluation theory, accreditation, and teacher evaluation was included in both types of programs although more frequently among those offering a major. Content on multimedia, while used widely in teaching today, was included in required courses in only 60% of the programs offering a major in nursing education and 31 (47%) of those with a minor.

In programs offering a major in nursing education, all students completed experiences in classroom teaching, clinical teaching, and clinical evaluation. All but one of the programs also required students to develop some aspect of a course/curriculum and test items. These same learning experiences were included in most of the teaching minors.

Open-ended questions provided additional data as to the learning experiences of students in clinical teaching. Considering all programs offering courses in nursing education, 63 (82.9%) of the respondents indicated that students completed an experience in teaching undergraduate students in associate and baccalaureate nursing programs or other types of learners, e.g., in staff development. While a few of these experiences were simulated or limited in scope, most tended to be teaching practicums that extended over a quarter/semester, depending on the nursing program.

Typically, respondents indicated that graduate students worked with a master teacher in the clinical field, assuming responsibility for one learner or a selected group of learners. In this role, the graduate student assessed learning needs, planned the instruction, selected patients and other learning experiences, interacted with staff in the setting, and participated in the clinical evaluation of the learneris).

Direction was provided by the master teacher in collaboration with the faculty responsible for teaching the nursing education course. In some practicum experiences (N = 22), students also were required to attend meetings of the nursing faculty, curriculum commi ttee(s), and/or university. Respondents indicated that such experiences provided an opportunity for students to develop an understanding of the role of nursing faculty in higher education or a community college. For students preparing for teaching roles in clinical settings, the practicum experience was generally in staff development, with students carrying out the instructional process with nursing staff under the direction of a master teacher in the setting. A few respondents (N = 6) also indicated that students sometimes conducted workshops/continuing education programs as their practicum experience.

Discussion

The majority of masters programs offered both full- and part-time study. Since most nurses who continue on to graduate education are actively employed, they desire a program that offers part-time study. Forni (1987) writes that part-time enrollment in graduate programs will continue to be greater than full-time because of the need to work while in school (p. 75). The emphasis on preparation for advanced nursing practice as the primary goal of the master's program reflects the continuing trend toward clinical specialization rather than functional role prepara- - tion.

The types of programs offered in nursing education may be classified as either a major or minor in the masters program. This latter type included a minor in teaching, elective courses, tracks, and other similar curricular patterns. Few programs offered a major in nursing education. Most provided for preparation in nursing education through minors in the masters program. As can be expected, credits required in nursing education were significantly higher for programs offering a major in teaching.

Reilly and Oermann (1985) emphasize the need for prospective teachers to develop their own conceptual framework for teaching in nursing, based on a synthesis of ^ relevant concepts and theories on learning, teaching, curriculum development, and evaluation. It appears that this content is incorporated in most master's programs, although the depth of understanding in these areas, and emphasis on theory and research is unknown. Varied learning experiences, such as classroom and clinical teaching, were reported for students preparing themselves for teaching roles. Such experiences enable learners to apply educational concepts and theories in practice and develop necessary skills for teaching. They also provide opportunity for the development of own role as a teacher, particularly through practicum experiences in which the student works closely with a master teacher.

In general, the majority of programs that prepare students as nurse educators include content and learning experiences essential to developing the knowledge base and skills needed for teaching in nursing and an understanding of the role of nursing faculty in higher education and other settings. Not all programs, however, provide this content and these learning experiences; and more importantly, not all teachers of nursing complete courses in nursing education. Yet, to function effectively in the role of nurse educator, regardless of setting, the teacher needs knowledge of nursing and skills in teaching. "Knowledge of the subject matter and clinical competence are critical, but knowing how to teach is as important. A teacher with knowledge and expertise in clinical practice is not a teacher if unable to communicate that knowledge to students and facilitate their learning" (Reilly & Oermann, 1985, p. 94).

The focus of graduate education in nursing has been a topic of discussion for some time. The shift away from functional role preparation toward advanced nursing practice has been valuable in developing nursings role in the health-care system. There is a continued need, however, for teachers of nursing. Fitzpatrick and Heller (1980) discuss the need to prepare teachers as well as clinical specialists. They suggest there is an inadequate supply of qualified nurse educators. Van Ort identifies the issue of clinical specialization versus functional role preparation as a major issue currently facing graduate nursing education (Van Ort & Putt, 1985, p. 208). As the trend toward limiting functional preparation in teaching at the master's level continues, the need remains to assist prospective nurse educators to develop a theoretical base for teaching; skills in classroom and clinical teaching, course/curriculum development, the evaluation process, test construction, and grading; and an understanding of the role of faculty in institutions of higher education.

References

  • Beare, P.C., Daniel, E.D., Cover, V.F., Gray, C.J., et al. (1980). The real vs ideal content in master's curricula in nursing. Nurs Outlook, 28(11), 691-694.
  • Donley, R, Jepson, V, & PerlofF, E. (1973). Graduate education for practice realities. Nurs Outlook, 2KlQ), 646-649.
  • Fitzpatrick, M.L., & Heller, B.R. (1980). Teaching the teachers to teach. Nurs Outlook, 28(6), 372-373.
  • Forni, P.R. (1987). Nursing's diverse master's programs:. The state of the art. Nursing & Health Care, 8(2), 71-75.
  • McKevitt, R.K. (1986). Trends in master's education in nursing. J Prof Nurs, 2(4), 225-233.
  • McLane, A.M. (1978). Core competencies of masters-prepared nurses. Nursing Research, 27(1), 48-53.
  • National League for Nursing, Council of Baccalaureate and Higher Degree Programs. (1987X Characteristics of masters education in nursing (Pub. No. 15-1759). New York: Author.
  • Reilly, D.E., & Oermann, M. H. (1985). The clinical field: Its use in nursing education. Norwalk, CT: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  • Van Ort, S.R., & Putt, A.M. (1985) Teaching in collegiate schools of nursing. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., p. 208.

10.3928/0148-4834-19890601-05

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