A vibrant, graduate-level curriculum engages learners in reality-centered experiences that foster scholarship behaviors of discovery, integration, application, and teaching (Boyer, 1990). In light of the master’s education essential competencies related to translating and integrating scholarship into practice and to engaging in health policy and advocacy (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2011), as well as theory about how one makes sense of concrete experiences (Kolb, 1984), two experiential learning activities were designed to explore scholarship in a master’s-level health promotion course. The learning activity objectives sought to expand understanding of scholarship priorities of discovery and integration in health promotion and to relate the values of purposeful and committed work as a scholar. This undertaking introduced students to scholarship within a formative process as scholars-to-be.
Within the master’s core curriculum, the online health promotion course is an early course offered alongside research and health policy courses. Drawing from a course objective that specified examining the theories and research basis of interventions and health policy, the online course design included a module titled “scholar-tobe in health promotion.” The module housed content in hyperlinked folders, required readings, Web resource links, and downloadable experiential learning handouts.
The scholar-to-be module included content about scholarship priorities and formation, evidence-based practice, health promotion health policy, and presentation and publication resources (e.g., links to poster templates and the health science library writing center). Students participated in one of two experiential learning activity options: a health promotion-focused research program or an evidence-based health policy interview.
In this 2-hour activity, students followed the step-wise directions on a handout posted online. First, students visited the research center laboratory for 30 minutes to view a tabletop tri-fold poster display about a research program focused on health promotion. The poster displayed theoretical orientation, study background, study protocol, consent forms, and exemplar scientific posters. Next, students observed a research study meeting with agenda topics of protocol revision, recruitment, data management, and dissemination for 30 minutes. For the remaining time, tasks such as retrieving literature and filing documents were assigned. Students posted an objective, half-page summary in the online discussion area.
In this 2-hour activity, a directions handout required students to review media sources to identify a local to state-level health promotion issue. Next, they interviewed an advanced practice nurse to obtain issue perspectives and a de-identified composite case study to highlight the issue. The 20-minute interview was a learning experience designed to relate health policy to practice. Finally, students searched for evidence-based literature. Students posted a half-page summary with a call to action in the online discussion area.
For the fall 2009 and spring 2010 semesters, 63 students completed the scholar-to-be experiential learning pertaining to research (n = 25) and the evidence-based health policy (n = 38). Learning evaluation was based on required commentary-type postings. Overall, students described the experiential learning activities as valuable. As one student stated:
It is clear to me that becoming an expert in one’s field, through reading the literature and contributing to the existing body of knowledge by conducting research, and writing...can open many doors to policy making and beyond.
Learning benefits included choices of activities (an approach valued by adult learners), active research program engagement (a first-time experience for some students), and use of existing evidence for health policy talking points (creating an advocacy opportunity). Areas for improvement entailed adding letter-writing Web sites and talking points to address students’ uncertainty about preparing a call to action and refining the directions handout to specify priority tri-fold poster content. For future curriculum review, the course evaluation was modified to capture students’ satisfaction and changes in scholarly behaviors.
Some unexpected positives…