Journal of Nursing Education

Report of an Innovative Research Program for Baccalaureate Nursing Students

Eileen P Sheil, PhD, RN; Helen Crain, PhD, RN

Abstract

The National League for Nursing (NLN) Board of Directors ( 1972) challenged nurse educators to provide undergraduate students with learning opportunities related to research. The Commission on Nursing Research of the American Nurses Association (ANA) (1976) recommended introduction of research early in the undergraduate nursing curriculum. Only one year later, the NLN Council of Baccalaureate and Higher Degrees (1977), included research in curricula as an accreditation criteria. The NLN Council (1979) clearly reiterated that this meant understanding of, evaluation of, and application of research to practice.

In a 10-year review of the research process in baccalaureate nursing education, Duffy (1987) found that while most schools identified preparation of students as consumers of nursing research as a program outcome, almost one third expected beginning research productivity. She found that early placement of research content in the curriculum was common, and indicated that there had been great strides in development of strategies for teaching research since the 1972 NLN challenge was issued.

In an early example, Martoccio, Lee, and Walker (1971) reported their experiences with the introduction of a series of elective courses about research, as well as integration of research content into a baccalaureate curriculum in Massachusetts. Bzdek and Ganong (1986) described a participatory, experiential beginninglevel research course. Similar approaches with rewarding results have been subsequently reported (Laschinger, Johnson, & Kohr, 1990; Neidrich, 1990; Theil, 1987X Harrison, Hubbard, and Lane (1987) described a clinical practicum during which two senior students in neonatal intensive care units tested and confirmed findings from an anthropological study. Each student subsequently presented her findings at an annual faculty-student research day, gaining experience in dissemination of research. These examples reflect diversity in attempts of faculty in baccalaureate programs to incorporate research content into individual courses of the curriculum. No reports could be found of activities that provided opportunity for socialization concerning research for the total undergraduate student body at one time.

In 1985, the University of WisconsinMilwaukee (UWM) School of Nursing held its eighth annual Research Day. The event was attracting nationally known scholars and a large diverse audience of nurses in academia and practice. Many undergraduates also attended this conference. As time passed, student evaluations of the experience were varied, and often indicated lack of understanding and/or readiness for sophisticated research presentations. As conference attendance rose to over 400 nurses, evaluation by attendees other than students began to reflect dissatisfaction with the large numbers of students "taking up available space in smaller sessions" and "asking very basic questions."

In light of these evaluations, the Research Development Committee (RDC) developed a new approach to meet the needs of undergraduate nursing students regarding research. The decision was made to present a program specifically designed to address nursing research at the level of understanding of undergraduate students. Some of the considerations related to offering such a program for undergraduates included: when the program should be offered, the duration of the session, cost to the student, value to the student, and the comfort and ease of access for students.

First year

Because some undergraduates were expected to continue to attend Research Day during the fall semester, the decision was made to offer the Undergraduate Research Day early in the spring semester. Scheduling a schoolwide program around lecture and clinical schedules is difficult. The solution was to offer a half-day morning session. Faculty with class hours scheduled on that day were requested to build the program into their course requirements. Most did so. To ensure that finances would not be an obstacle te students, a no-frills approach was employed so that there would be no need for an attendance fee. The…

The National League for Nursing (NLN) Board of Directors ( 1972) challenged nurse educators to provide undergraduate students with learning opportunities related to research. The Commission on Nursing Research of the American Nurses Association (ANA) (1976) recommended introduction of research early in the undergraduate nursing curriculum. Only one year later, the NLN Council of Baccalaureate and Higher Degrees (1977), included research in curricula as an accreditation criteria. The NLN Council (1979) clearly reiterated that this meant understanding of, evaluation of, and application of research to practice.

In a 10-year review of the research process in baccalaureate nursing education, Duffy (1987) found that while most schools identified preparation of students as consumers of nursing research as a program outcome, almost one third expected beginning research productivity. She found that early placement of research content in the curriculum was common, and indicated that there had been great strides in development of strategies for teaching research since the 1972 NLN challenge was issued.

In an early example, Martoccio, Lee, and Walker (1971) reported their experiences with the introduction of a series of elective courses about research, as well as integration of research content into a baccalaureate curriculum in Massachusetts. Bzdek and Ganong (1986) described a participatory, experiential beginninglevel research course. Similar approaches with rewarding results have been subsequently reported (Laschinger, Johnson, & Kohr, 1990; Neidrich, 1990; Theil, 1987X Harrison, Hubbard, and Lane (1987) described a clinical practicum during which two senior students in neonatal intensive care units tested and confirmed findings from an anthropological study. Each student subsequently presented her findings at an annual faculty-student research day, gaining experience in dissemination of research. These examples reflect diversity in attempts of faculty in baccalaureate programs to incorporate research content into individual courses of the curriculum. No reports could be found of activities that provided opportunity for socialization concerning research for the total undergraduate student body at one time.

In 1985, the University of WisconsinMilwaukee (UWM) School of Nursing held its eighth annual Research Day. The event was attracting nationally known scholars and a large diverse audience of nurses in academia and practice. Many undergraduates also attended this conference. As time passed, student evaluations of the experience were varied, and often indicated lack of understanding and/or readiness for sophisticated research presentations. As conference attendance rose to over 400 nurses, evaluation by attendees other than students began to reflect dissatisfaction with the large numbers of students "taking up available space in smaller sessions" and "asking very basic questions."

In light of these evaluations, the Research Development Committee (RDC) developed a new approach to meet the needs of undergraduate nursing students regarding research. The decision was made to present a program specifically designed to address nursing research at the level of understanding of undergraduate students. Some of the considerations related to offering such a program for undergraduates included: when the program should be offered, the duration of the session, cost to the student, value to the student, and the comfort and ease of access for students.

First year

Because some undergraduates were expected to continue to attend Research Day during the fall semester, the decision was made to offer the Undergraduate Research Day early in the spring semester. Scheduling a schoolwide program around lecture and clinical schedules is difficult. The solution was to offer a half-day morning session. Faculty with class hours scheduled on that day were requested to build the program into their course requirements. Most did so. To ensure that finances would not be an obstacle te students, a no-frills approach was employed so that there would be no need for an attendance fee. The minimal costs incurred were absorbed by the school. One disadvantage of this decision was that there could be no amenities such as refreshments, expensive printed programs, or preregistration.

All undergraduate students in the school were invited to attend the program. In an attempt to provide an opportunity for nursing students from the various baccalaureate programs in the geographic area to share the opportunity to learn about and discuss research, undergraduates of five local baccalaureate nursing programs were invited to attend the first Undergraduate Research Day, at no cost, through a letter to their dean or program director. A call for posters was sent to the larger nursing community. Response was good.

The overall theme of the first program was an overview of nursing research. The goals of this first venture were to review the development of nursing research in the United States, to demystify nursing research, to review the components of the research process, to compare and contrast different research methods, and to familiarize students with some of the research being conducted by their faculty.

These goals were achieved by having the keynote speaker address the topic, "Taking the Mystery Out of Nursing Research." Hie next speaker addressed the "anatomy" of a study by discussing the purpose, questions, methods, and outcomes of one of her own studies. A break and a poster session followed. No refreshments were offered; but, because the program was held in the student union, food and beverages were available for purchase at several sites. Following the break, three faculty members highlighted different research methods, again using their own studies as vehicles. The research methods described were historical, qualitative, and quantitative-descriptive. The final speaker pulled together the threads of the morning's presentations by discussing the growth and development of nursing research in the United States from a personal perspective.

A researcher-designed evaluation tool was used to evaluate the first Undergraduate Research Day. Respondents were requested to evaluate whether the program was interesting, useful, repetitive, worthwhile, boring, exciting, challenging, and/or practical. In addition, open-ended items were used to identify what students liked best and least about the program, whether a similar program should be offered annually, and what changes should be considered.

More than 300 students attended the program; 204 evaluations (66%) were returned. The majority of attendees were from UWM; however, students from four other baccalaureate programs in the area comprised 13% of the audience. Sophomores represented 13% of the respondents; juniors and seniors were evenly divided, 46% and 42%, respectively.

Of these, 95% of the respondents indicated that they wanted the program repeated in the next year. Evaluation of the program was largely positive. Ninety-five percent of the students found the program interesting, 90% useful, 92% worthwhile, 67% exciting, 77% challenging, and 92% practical. Conversely, only 25% found the program repetitive, while 22% found it boring.

Responses by class level or by school showed few differences in the evaluations, with two exceptions. Sophomore students were more likely to find the program boring than either junior or senior students. In contrast, 88% of seniors, 74% of the juniors, and 65% of the sophomores found the program challenging. In response to an open-ended question, 125 respondents wrote that the best aspect of the program was that it was informative; 32 commented on the variety of the offerings.

Much of what respondents liked least about the program were problems common to research programs: posters were too close to each other, speakers talked too long, overhead projections were difficult to see, and the program was rushed. In addition, 20 students found the program irrelevant. Suggestions for change included having students present their own views on research, allowing more time and/or room for posters, offering refreshments, and providing printed abstracts.

Second year

Since there was such student interest in repeating the Undergraduate Research Day, the RDC planned a second event, taking the evaluation comments into consideration. The Nursing Student Association and the Eta Nu chapter of Sigma Theta Tau joined by invitation in sponsoring the activity. The Eta Nu Chapter made a financial contribution that was used to print a brochure that included the program and abstracts of papers and poster presentations. The president of the Nursing Student Association, along with the dean, contributed welcoming remarks at the program.

The theme of the second Undergraduate Research Day was "Nursing Diagnosis: Implications for Research." The keynote speaker discussed the beginnings of research in nursing diagnosis, the current state of the art, and suggested some future directions for nursing and diagnosis research. A panel composed of a doctoral student, two baccalaureate-prepared practicing nurses, and a faculty member from another school discussed the research each had completed relative to nursing diagnosis.

Again, a researcher-designed evaluation tool was used based on the program objectives using a five-point Likert-type scale ranging from ( 1) objective not achieved, to (5) objective achieved completely. The program evaluation was in a packet of program materials available at the door. Again, neither pre-registration nor refreshments were provided.

Of the 350 students who attended, 193 (55%) evaluations were returned: 9% from sophomores, 45% from juniors, and 46% from seniors. This was similar to the first year. Most of the respondents were from UWM School of Nursing; only 6% came from other schools.

The objectives of the program were largely achieved. Total mean scores were in excess of 3.9. Again, there were no significant differences in responses between students from the various schools. But, when grade level was considered, senior students were, in general, more likely to indicate that objectives were achieved than were junior students, and junior students were more likely to do so than were sophomore students. Comments were elicited and suggestions for improvement again included a request to provide refreshments. In addition, problems with reading overhead transparencies were cited.

Subsequently, deans of six other baccalaureate programs in the geographic area were surveyed to determine their suggestions and interest in continuing the program. Most were interested in future involvement of their faculty and students in programs; all wanted to be invited to future programs. When polled for suggested themes for future programs, deans requested programs that would address how a student or new graduate can become involved in research, translating research into practice, criteria for evaluation of research, and the generation of research questions in practice settings.

Third year

The program in third year had the theme, "Nursing Research in Clinical Practice." Objectives focused on the significance of research in clinical practice, and factors and strategies that promote staff nurse involvement. Of the 402 persons who attended the morning program, 24 were sophomores, 122 were juniors, and 181 were seniors. Nine different schools were represented, including students from associate degree and diploma programs. A keynote speaker discussed "Getting Involved in Nursing Research." There were two individual clinical nursing research presentations, and two panel discussions. One panel was composed of nurses from area hospitals who discussed their experiences in "Becoming Involved in Clinical Nursing Research." The other panel was composed of former students who had had the unique opportunity to be involved in a clinical research project as part of a senior clinical course (Rogers & Cowles, 1990). A printed program included abstracts for some of the studies presented. Participants registered at the door at no cost. Refreshments were provided by the U.S. Navy and there was a poster session.

Of the total number of attendees, 233 returned completed evaluation forms. Fivepoint Likert-formatted questions were used to elicit ratings of the usefulness of presentations and of objectives attainment. The panel of hospital nurse researchers was the most highly rated, followed by one of the individual researcher presentations and the student nurse panel. The poster session was well received, with a mean rating of 3.6. Objectives were generally attained; mean ratings were in excess of 3.8.

The commentary confirmed the participants' enjoyment of the panel discussions. They were noted to be "understandable, but not so simple that they were boring." Another participant enjoyed listening to ". . . people who admit they don't know it all." The staff nurses in particular were characterized as "candid" and "enthused." One student reported being "excited about doing research" after the panel discussion.

The refreshments and the fact that no one ran overtime were also noted as being positive features of the day. Negative comments centered around two speakers who read from their notes, and difficulty with audiovisual equipment.

Fourth year

The fourth annual Undergraduate Research Day repeated the same general program as had been offered in the first year. The theme was "Development and Diversity: Back to Basics." The keynote presentation was an historical perspective of the ways in which problems for nursing research have evolved from nursing prac. tice. "The Anatomy of a Study" focused on research components. Three individual research presentations illustrated historical, qualitative, and quantitative research purposes and methods. Graduate nursing students were among those present. Again, there was a poster session. Refreshments were provided by the U.S. Army. The program, scheduled around other events, was held on a Friday afternoon. Of the 1 14 attendees, 71% were juniors or seniors from four different schools.

The format for evaluation was identical to that used in the third year. Forty-eight of the attendees returned evaluation formsRatings for the speakers were comparatively lower than previous years, ranging from 3.2 to 4.2 on a 5-point scale. A presentation of quantitative research measuring pain in infants was the most highly rated. The poster session mean rating was 4.3. Ratings for objectives attainment ranged from 3.7 to 4.2. When asked what they liked best, students were very complimentary about the poster session with investigators in attendance, and the variety of studies presented. Most negative comments focused on the time of day and the day of the week. Many students work on Friday. There were also comments about the fact that research components and the historical perspective were repetitious of course content and were thus less than fascinating.

Summary

In summary, an innovative low-cost way to teach undergraduate students about research and to socialize students into attending research conferences has been developed. It is not perfect yet, but with time, critical students, and responsive research-productive faculty, each program should improve. It is not surprising that sophomore students do not achieve the objectives at the same level as older students. As students move closer to the "real" world of nursing practice and develop increasing sophistication about nursing in general and research in particular, they are, hopefully, more knowledgeable consumers of nursing research. What is particularly satisfying to the planners of those Research Days is that through the experience of attending Undergraduate Research Day at various points in their educational progress, students are socialized into discussing research. Additionally, they seemed to develop some degree of comfort with this aspect of their future nursing role.

The RN and former student panel participants normalized research involvement for the student attendees. Panel member stories about their mistakes and successes made students realize that nursing investigations need not be the sole property of those with doctoral degrees. A serendipitous outcome of these programs was an increased awareness by students of the specific research project in which their teachers were engaged. Studente informally reported a feeling of pride and reflected accomplishment.

The importance of timing in offering such programa should not have been a surprise at this urban commuter university. Unwittingly, in scheduling the Friday afternoon program the planners ignored the initial consideration that the program not impose financial hardship on students. If such an event is to be a faculty priority, difficult decisions regarding lecture and clinical sessions must be made in order to facilitate students' attendance.

References

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