Journal of Nursing Education

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Syllabus Selections: Innovative Learning Activities 

The Admissions Committee: Experiential Learning in an Online Graduate Nursing Education Course

Jean Giddens, PhD

Abstract

Most experienced nursing faculty are aware of the challenges associated with developing an admission selection process that is efficient, ethical, and fair. In response to the need for a more ethnically diverse health care workforce (Institute of Medicine [IOM], 2004), many nursing programs have reevaluated their admission policy and selection criteria. Nursing programs should strive to produce graduating classes that reflect the ethnic diversity seen in their communities. For this reason, a process should be in place to admit an ethnically diverse population of students who are not only likely to graduate but who are also likely to be successful on the National Council Licensure Examination.

These issues and challenges provided the basis for a learning activity in a graduate-level online nursing education course. The three objectives for the learning activity were to:

A total of 24 students enrolled in the online course were divided into five learning groups. Each learning group took on the role of an admissions committee charged with the development of an admission policy for the selection of fictional applicants to a nursing program.

Groups were encouraged to develop their admission policy and selection criteria based on current trends from the literature. Reading assignments and references for the unit included literature addressing the need for a diverse workforce (IOM, 2004; Sullivan Commission, 2004).

Based on the instructor’s observations of online group interactions, a great deal of discussion regarding the most appropriate variables for admission criteria occurred within all of the groups. The need for student diversity was recognized, but most groups struggled to identify ways to achieve this short of awarding points for ethnicity.

Following the policy and selection criteria development, the learning groups were given an identical database with information on 53 applicants, from whom the groups were to select 15 for admission. The fictional applicant database included name, gender, age, ethnicity, standardized test scores, cumulative grade point average (GPA), science GPA, course grades in prerequisite courses, years of experience in health care-related jobs (paid or volunteer), community service experience, in-state or out-of-state residence, rural or city origin, family members who have attended college, writing sample scores, and letter of reference scores.

Using the admission and selection criteria they had developed, the learning groups held online admission meetings to select students from the large applicant pool. This process caused students to recognize the limitations in the policies they had developed as well as the challenges of leaving personal bias out of the selection process.

As an example, one of the fictional applicants had a 3.87 cumulative GPA and a 4.0 science GPA, was an ethnic minority, and had previous health care experience. However, the applicant also was older than age 65. Age became an issue among group members, despite the fact that it was not a variable initially considered for selection criteria. Difficult decisions such as this occurred in every group.

The admission policy, selection criteria, and finalists for each group were posted in a public viewing room within the online course. Students were asked to take note of variations seen and discuss the decisions that were made and why certain applicants were or were not selected with members of other learning groups. The final lists of accepted applicants varied among the groups, which fueled a robust online discussion. It was fascinating to note that many of the quiet students were willing to share their perspectives during this process.

As a final step in this learning activity, students individually reflected on the experience, specifically commenting on changes they would consider if they participated in this exercise again, the potential impact admissions policies have on nursing…

The Admissions Committee: Experiential Learning in an Online Graduate Nursing Education Course

Most experienced nursing faculty are aware of the challenges associated with developing an admission selection process that is efficient, ethical, and fair. In response to the need for a more ethnically diverse health care workforce (Institute of Medicine [IOM], 2004), many nursing programs have reevaluated their admission policy and selection criteria. Nursing programs should strive to produce graduating classes that reflect the ethnic diversity seen in their communities. For this reason, a process should be in place to admit an ethnically diverse population of students who are not only likely to graduate but who are also likely to be successful on the National Council Licensure Examination.

Admissions Committee Learning Activity

These issues and challenges provided the basis for a learning activity in a graduate-level online nursing education course. The three objectives for the learning activity were to:

  • Develop an admission policy.
  • Develop selection criteria.
  • Apply the policy and selection criteria to a group of fictional applicants.

A total of 24 students enrolled in the online course were divided into five learning groups. Each learning group took on the role of an admissions committee charged with the development of an admission policy for the selection of fictional applicants to a nursing program.

Groups were encouraged to develop their admission policy and selection criteria based on current trends from the literature. Reading assignments and references for the unit included literature addressing the need for a diverse workforce (IOM, 2004; Sullivan Commission, 2004).

Based on the instructor’s observations of online group interactions, a great deal of discussion regarding the most appropriate variables for admission criteria occurred within all of the groups. The need for student diversity was recognized, but most groups struggled to identify ways to achieve this short of awarding points for ethnicity.

Following the policy and selection criteria development, the learning groups were given an identical database with information on 53 applicants, from whom the groups were to select 15 for admission. The fictional applicant database included name, gender, age, ethnicity, standardized test scores, cumulative grade point average (GPA), science GPA, course grades in prerequisite courses, years of experience in health care-related jobs (paid or volunteer), community service experience, in-state or out-of-state residence, rural or city origin, family members who have attended college, writing sample scores, and letter of reference scores.

Using the admission and selection criteria they had developed, the learning groups held online admission meetings to select students from the large applicant pool. This process caused students to recognize the limitations in the policies they had developed as well as the challenges of leaving personal bias out of the selection process.

As an example, one of the fictional applicants had a 3.87 cumulative GPA and a 4.0 science GPA, was an ethnic minority, and had previous health care experience. However, the applicant also was older than age 65. Age became an issue among group members, despite the fact that it was not a variable initially considered for selection criteria. Difficult decisions such as this occurred in every group.

Student Response

The admission policy, selection criteria, and finalists for each group were posted in a public viewing room within the online course. Students were asked to take note of variations seen and discuss the decisions that were made and why certain applicants were or were not selected with members of other learning groups. The final lists of accepted applicants varied among the groups, which fueled a robust online discussion. It was fascinating to note that many of the quiet students were willing to share their perspectives during this process.

As a final step in this learning activity, students individually reflected on the experience, specifically commenting on changes they would consider if they participated in this exercise again, the potential impact admissions policies have on nursing education and the profession, and what they learned from this process.

Students collectively were surprised that the final lists were so dissimilar, which further emphasized the importance of clarity when educational policies are developed. Many commented on the difficulty of this work, with a newfound understanding of the admission process. Students remarked on the difficulties associated with consensus building within their groups but also recognized how this work translates to actual teaching practice. One student specifically described a new appreciation for group work required in online courses.

This learning activity combines the concepts of education policy and student diversity. Nursing faculty should develop a variety of online learning activities that are student centered, purposeful, and engaging. It is particularly important to role model such teaching strategies and enhance the pedagogical expertise of graduate nursing students who are preparing for careers in nursing education.

References

  • Institute of Medicine. (2004). In the nation’s compelling interest: Ensuring diversity in the health-care workforce. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  • Sullivan Commission. (2004). Missing persons: Minorities in the health professions. Retrieved June 16, 2008, from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing web site: http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Media/pdf/SullivanReport.pdf
Authors

Jean Giddens, PhD
jgiddens@salud.unm.edu
University of New Mexico

10.3928/01484834-20100218-05

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