In this issue, two articles from the national Colleagues in Caring: Regional Collaboratives for Nursing Workforce Development, funded partially by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, describe how communications technology is being used to support an infrastructure for educational planning and for the delivery of courses. For the purposes of these articles, communications technology consists specifically of such tools as the internet and email to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas.
To date, 28 regions are participating in Colleagues in Caring (CIC) work. All use communications technology to some extent. Because of the collaborative nature of the CIC work, communicating between and among the sites is critical. Decisions are made by consensus. To reach consensus among multiple and diverse stakeholders requires a communications system that keeps people in the loop while decisions are being made.
Described in these articles are two examples of how communications technology has defined and enhanced the work of the regional collaboratives, specifically related to educational mobility. The Kansas City CIC site featured in this issue has benefited from funding from private donors to support a complex communications infrastructure that was built initially to serve as a communications network among collaborative members. The infrastructure has been significantly expanded to serve as a broker for continuing education, professional self-assessment, data collection and analysis, and recruitment of nurses. The other site featured in this issue, the Connecticut (CT) Colleagues in Caring, is using technology to solve a problem that has emerged from critical analysis of supply data- that of limited enrollment in practical to registered nurse educational programs.
Communications technology eliminates geographical distances. There may be irony in showcasing the use of communications technology from two relatively small geographical urban areas. Some of the larger and more sparsely populated CIC sites, such as Minnesota, Colorado, and South Dakota, use video technology regularly for conferencing. Alaska employs audio conferencing for its consortium meetings. Our choice of these two sites reflects the utility of communications technology to enhance the educational enterprise. Once fully implemented, the KC Web site will assist nurses in enhancing their knowledge and skills through continuing education. The Web-based course in CT will provide an avenue for educational mobility for LPNs.
As noted in these articles, how the technology will be used to enhance educational mobility depends on several factors. First, is the presence of a cadre of visionary leaders who recognize challenges and figure out ways to meet them. Second, is access to technology experts who can convert the ideas into realities. Third, is the availability of sufficient financial resources to accomplish the goals. In each of these cases, the project leaders sought grants to help achieve their aims. Fourth, the technology will serve no one if it is not accessed by end users for whom it is designed. To that end, each site will be working to market the products and evaluating their use. Finally, nurse leaders in both education and practice must continue to explore new uses of technology to promote and expand access to educational mobility options.