S ince 1988, the Connecticut League for Nursing (CLN) has sponsored the development, implemenI tation, and evaluation of a statewide articulation plan to facilitate educational mobility for graduates of practical, diploma, and associate degree programs in nursing. The plan was developed in cooperation with the deans and directors of Connecticut Schools of Nursing and the Connecticut Department of Higher Education. Initiated in 1992, the plan provides for a uniform award of credit to persons who have graduated within the previous six years from participating practical, diploma or associate degree programs as they transfer to the next level of nursing education. The process for awarding advanced placement credit is based on a review of the nursing curricula of the articulating programs rather than on individual student assessments. As part of the articulation plan, eligible licensed practical nurses (LPNs) may earn 12-16 nursing credits upon completion of a 3-credit transition course and a 1 -credit transition clinical practicum. The transition course is designed to bridge the gap between the curriculum of the LPN program and the curriculum of the second year of the registered nursing (RN) program. When the transition course and practicum are completed successfully, the student moves directly into the courses of the second year of the two-year nursing program.
This article describes the rationale for and the process of developing an asynchronous Web-based LPN to RN transition course. The course will be offered initially in spring 2000 and will be used for all LPNs seeking advanced standing through articulation in diploma and associate degree programs in Connecticut.
THE LPN-RN TRANSITION COURSE
Rationale for Development
From its inception, the 3-credit transition course has been offered collaboratively by articulating schools. Each year, one school would assume responsibility for the delivery of the course, and eligible LPNs from all articulating programs in Connecticut would attend. Upon successful completion of the course, the advanced placement credits would be awarded by the school in which the LPN student was enrolled.
Several problems existed with this method. Foremost was the issue of access. Students might have to drive long distances to enroll in the transition course, depending upon the location for that year. In addition, communication problems emerged because there was difficulty with accurate and timely dissemination of information to eligible students. Further, the course has been difficult to sustain financially. Student tuition paid to the sponsoring school has not been available to support the course directly. Since the program's inception, only seven or eight LPNRN students have graduated annually as a result of participation in the statewide articulation plan.
Development of the Transition Course
To address these problems and increase the number of LPNs participating in the articulation plan, the CLN has collaborated with directors of the state's LPN, diploma, and associate degree nursing programs to redesign the transition course as an asynchronous, Web-based offering. This collaboration was achieved under the aegis of the Connecticut Distance Learning Consortium (the Consortium), which consists of 24 Connecticut institutions of higher learning that have jointly built an asynchronous, Web-based delivery system for undergraduate education. The course itself will be housed at Charter Oak State College (the College), an external degree-granting institution specializing in adult learners and nontraditional learning. When the course is implemented, the College will provide administrative and financial support for its implementation each spring semester and issue the credits. This four-way collaboration between the CLN, the state's nursing programs, the College, and the Consortium provides a unique opportunity to deliver the LPN to RN transition course in a way that assures maximum flexibility and support for students.
Development of the course was the responsibility of a four-member team, including two CLN representatives and two nurse educators. The CLN team members worked closely with the CLN Articulation Oversight Committee to develop the overall plan for the course. These individuals also negotiated the collaborative arrangements with the College and the Consortium. In addition, they wrote proposals to obtain funding to support the development of the course.
The two nurse educators constructed the course using combined expertise in associate degree curriculum and Web-based course design. These individuals developed the course syllabus, the site architecture plan, as well as the content, learning assignments, and methods of evaluation. Throughout the development process, team members maintained contact with the College and the Consortium for academic, administrative, and technical advice. To facilitate their own communication, the four-member team established an email list through which they could share ideas, report progress, and identify problems and their solutions. This resulted in an efficient way to get the work done. After an initial team-planning meeting, very few face-to-face meetings were required.
The transition course consists of six units. For each unit, the faculty consultants have developed contentfocused PowerPoint presentations, reading assignments and a set of learning activities, including videos, to support achievement of the unit objectives. All assignments will be submitted via email for critique and comment. Examples of assignments that will require individualized feedback include patient interviews, process recordings, and teaching interventions. In other units, such as legal and ethical issues and theoretical foundations, learning activities will include participation in email and Webbased discussion forums.
Challenges in Course Development
Development of the Web-based transition course has been challenging for at least three reasons. First is the issue of computer literacy among eligible LPN students. All students must possess minimal computer competencies, including the use of the internet, the ability to send and receive messages and attachments via email, and the ability to participate in a list service and in discussion boards. For the first cohort that will be enrolled in spring 2000, the faculty plan an individualized orientation that connects students to resources in their home schools or local communities. The College also makes available a practice course to help students assess their readiness for participation in Web-based courses. In addition, all prospective students have been given specifications for the equipment they will need to access the course. In subsequent years, other types of student preparation may need to be developed based on findings from the first year.
Second, changes in the curricula of all of the participating schools necessitated review and revision of the content of the original transition course. Under the sponsorship of CLN, faculty representatives from participating LPN and RN schools conducted the review and developed new objectives for the revised transition course. Subsequently, the course syllabus was revised by the Webcourse faculty consultants on the basis of the new objectives and presented to the CLN Articulation Oversight Committee for their review and comment.
The third challenge revolved around creating learning experiences that would assist students in developing interactive skills, such as therapeutic communication, without direct face-to-face contact with course faculty. As a first step in designing the Web-based course, the two faculty consultants began by building a prototype of an interactive site that could be uploaded to the consortium server at a later time. This gave them the opportunity to design the site architecture and to test out the pattern of internal and external links and the efficiency of site navigation. It also made it possible for all team members as well as the faculty of the participating schools to view the course as it was being developed and to provide continual critique and comment.
Opportunities Created by the Process
As the development process evolved, it became increasingly clear to the faculty that the collaborative relationships with the College and the Consortium had additional advantages. For example, at first they struggled with how they would get textbooks and provide access to videos, assure the security of exams, or deal with students who could not complete the course in the prescribed amount of time. However, they soon learned that policies and procedures for all of these issues were already in place and published by the College in a manual available to all faculty and students.
Using the collaborative approach, team members created an evaluation blueprint to assess outcomes of this project. Student performance in subsequent courses as well as success on the licensing exam will be tracked by the CLN Articulation Oversight Committee. Student satisfaction will be assessed annually through surveys. Learning methods and instructional design will be measured continually by the course faculty member, who is one of the Web-based course designers.
The original intent of the development of this course was to increase the numbers of eligible LPNs matriculating in articulated RN programs in Connecticut. Therefore, success will be measured by an increase in the numbers of LPN students enrolled in articulated programs. Unintended/unexpected results may include an increase in the numbers of students enrolled in other Web-based general education courses and/or the development of additional Web-based courses in nursing programs.
Using Charter Oak State College as the originating institution for this endeavor has other advantages. Because the tuition paid to the College will be applied directly to course implementation, delivery of the course will be more cost effective than in the past. Additionally, students will have a more organized and systematic way to get information about, register for, and enroll in the course than had been the case previously.
In summary, nurse educators in Connecticut have worked collaboratively to increase the numbers of LPNs in RN programs through the development of an asynchronous Web-based transition course. This course will offer increased access and flexibility to eligible students. Housing the course in an institution that focuses on nontraditional students and distance-learning methodologies will provide the structure and support for prospective students and for educators as they revise and update Webbased courses.