Journal of Nursing Education

Educational Innovations 

An Innovative Simulated Research Practicum for Undergraduate Nursing Students

Nancy Carter, PhD, RN; Jesseca Tolan, MSc, RN; Marissa Bird, BScN, RN

Abstract

Background:

An understanding of the research process and familiarity with research methods is essential to nursing curricula to prepare graduates to participate in the generation of new nursing knowledge. A research practicum with nurse researchers is one way of providing intensive hands-on training. At our institution, research placements for students has become difficult for a number of reasons.

Method:

To solve the problem related to the low number of quality research placements available, simulation was used to create an innovative research practicum.

Results:

The simulated research practicum increased the number of quality research projects available to students and allowed students to participate in a small study from start to finish. It also used fewer faculty resources.

Conclusion:

The simulated research practicum is an innovative strategy to provide practical research experience to undergraduate students and requires fewer faculty resources than traditional placements. [J Nurs Educ. 2019;58(2):114–116.]

Abstract

Background:

An understanding of the research process and familiarity with research methods is essential to nursing curricula to prepare graduates to participate in the generation of new nursing knowledge. A research practicum with nurse researchers is one way of providing intensive hands-on training. At our institution, research placements for students has become difficult for a number of reasons.

Method:

To solve the problem related to the low number of quality research placements available, simulation was used to create an innovative research practicum.

Results:

The simulated research practicum increased the number of quality research projects available to students and allowed students to participate in a small study from start to finish. It also used fewer faculty resources.

Conclusion:

The simulated research practicum is an innovative strategy to provide practical research experience to undergraduate students and requires fewer faculty resources than traditional placements. [J Nurs Educ. 2019;58(2):114–116.]

Educating students in research design, methods, and knowledge dissemination is essential to undergraduate nursing curricula for the purposes of preparing future nurses to provide evidence-based nursing care and to participate in the generation of new nursing knowledge (Ayoola et al., 2017; Burkhart & Hall, 2015; Jansen et al., 2015; Keib, Cailor, Kiersma, & Chen, 2017). Traditional undergraduate nursing research courses include an opportunity for students to take part in a practicum with nursing researchers for the purpose of hands-on experience conducting research, often with patients and families. However, schools of nursing may struggle to find and organize these placements and provide them to students on an ongoing, consistent basis.

In our undergraduate program, organizing the required number of nurse researcher-led placements became difficult due to increased enrollment, changes in the proportion of tenured to teaching or contract faculty, and a mismatch in the timing of course time lines and the research activity of nurse researchers. The lack of faculty-led nursing research projects resulted in reliance on quality improvement projects from our community partners or “make work” projects such as literature searches. This presented concerns about the learning experience as it related to research design and implementation. As a solution, an innovative simulated research practicum (SRP) was developed and offered as an option to the traditional nurse researcher-led practicum. This article describes the SRP as a creative education strategy to engage nursing students in the research process.

Background

Research Skills and Nursing

Research practicum experiences have been shown to increase students' general knowledge of research, change their attitudes toward research, and increase appreciation and understanding of the importance of research (Ayoola et al., 2017). Students who participate in research practicums report becoming more intelligent consumers of research (Foronda, Liu, & Bauman, 2013) and having increased feelings of self-efficacy and excitement in the research process (Ayoola et al., 2017; Burkhart & Hall, 2015; Jansen et al., 2015). These students also are more likely to be involved in future research, continue on to graduate school, and take on formal roles as nurse scientists (Ayoola et al., 2017; Burkhart & Hall, 2015; Jansen et al., 2015). Research experience in the undergraduate curriculum is important to nursing, not only to continually improve patient and community outcomes (Slattery et al., 2016), but also to develop the nursing faculty of the future.

The Problem

Organizing the needed number of nurse researcher-led placements for students is challenging for several complex reasons. At our institution, an increase in student enrollment without a similar increase in resources added pressure on faculty to provide placements. In addition, the number of faculty with active research projects was reduced due to changes in the proportion of tenured to teaching or contract faculty and the scarcity of nursing research funding. The active research projects available also were not always at a stage that aligned well with course timing or objectives. Consequently, students were being assigned more frequently to quality improvement projects with community partners or to conduct common literature searches for faculty, as opposed to being embedded in active research studies. The range and quality of research placements available to students was not equitable. There also were concerns about the quality of the learning experiences and what students were learning about conducting a research project within a team.

Method

Simulated Research Practicum

As a strategy to combat the lack of quality research placements within our institution, an innovative SRP was developed and offered as an alternative option to the traditional nurse researcher-led practicum. Simulation education has been researched extensively and applied within nursing curricula to consolidate learning and develop competency (Cant & Cooper, 2010). In nursing education, simulation has been used to effectively teach clinical skills to undergraduate students (Robinson & Dearmon, 2013). As an evidence-based active learning strategy, simulation has advantages compared with other teaching methods as it can allow for students to develop and use knowledge in a supportive, collaborative, and interactive environment. This further narrows the gap between cognitive knowledge and its applications (Cant & Cooper, 2010).

Context and Background

Our fourth-year nursing research course emphasizes students taking on the role of a research collaborator. The course starts with 5 weeks of didactic in-class content followed by a 6-week practicum. The in-class content covers research question development, research ethics, quantitative and qualitative research, data collection, survey tool development, data analysis, and knowledge dissemination. All students then participate in a practicum for 28 to 32 hours during the final 6 weeks of the term. Students can choose from a list of research projects, which include either traditional research placements with nursing faculty members and nurses from a community partner, or an SRP led by the research course professor. Students in both types of practicum complete a research abstract and a research poster and receive a participation grade as course evaluation measures.

The course professor, who has extensive nursing research experience, acts as a supervisor and mentor to students who choose the SRP for their practicum. All SRP students meet weekly for 3 hours to conduct their research activities with the course professor in a “learning laboratory,” which is a large classroom that can be sectioned off into breakout areas by room dividers.

Student Teams

A total of 24 SRP students were split into four teams of six students. Each team was assigned a general topic area relevant to their fourth year professional practice course—for example, leadership at the bedside, professionalism, readiness to practice, or workplace culture. Students then were assigned a simple research design and data collection method, such as qualitative descriptive using focus groups or quantitative using cross-sectional surveys. The assignment of study design and data collection method was purposeful to ensure exposure to a variety of designs and methods within the practicum.

Students acted as research team members within their own group and as participants in their peers' projects. Students collaborated in their teams to achieve objectives each week, including refinement of the research question, development of a high-level research protocol, development of data collection tools, data collection and analysis, and dissemination of the research findings. Because student teams physically were located in the same learning laboratory environment, the faculty supplemented the activities by highlighting key differences between simulated and real research. For instance, ethical practice in research as it would relate to the recruitment of human subjects was emphasized, and topics such as coercion or participants' rights to withdraw from study participation were discussed.

In addition to completing their own simulated projects, students acted as participants in their peers' projects, exposing them to multiple research methods. Importantly, this gave students the opportunity to experience what it was like to be a research subject, creating an additional valuable learning experience. For instance, when one SRP team designed a survey tool to gather data on readiness to practice, the students from the other three SRP groups were the survey participants. Subsequently, when another SRP team designed a study to explore the role of students as leaders in a clinical setting, the students from the other SRP teams were divided up and became focus group participants. All of the students participated in all of the projects as either a researcher or participant, and therefore were exposed to four different designs and data collection methods in the 6-week practicum.

Feedback and Debriefing

During these weekly sessions, student-faculty interaction occurred through feedback and debriefing. Formative feedback at the individual and team level was provided to ensure participation and comprehension of concepts, and to ensure processes were on track to allow completion of the small studies. Summative feedback was provided for individual knowledge translation assignments (research abstract and research poster assignments), and an overall participation grade was provided. Because the research activities occurred in the large learning laboratory, students from different teams were able to reflect and share challenges, concerns, learning opportunities, and victories experienced during this process. This allowed for further peer-to-peer learning and generation of group insights.

Results

Students in the SRP were provided the opportunity to work on a student-led research team, experience a small research project from inception to completion, and also act as a research participant in three other projects. Our objective was to provide a learning experience that would enhance students' understanding and appreciation for the research process and allow them to participate in research specific to the nursing profession. A comparison of participants' views on the learning and research experience in the traditional research practicum and SRP will be presented in a future article.

The SRP is an innovative solution that provided a larger number of quality research practicums for students using fewer faculty resources. It used less faculty resources because one faculty member facilitated the placements for 24 students. The SRP could be an opportunity for other schools, particularly those with a smaller number of faculty and a less research-intensive focus, or for those without access to community organizations where nursing research is being conducted.

The implementation of the SRP presented several challenges. It was imperative that the course professor who led the SRP groups had expertise in multiple methods of research inquiry, data collection, and analysis. This ensured that students were exposed to high-quality education in a variety of research traditions. The 6-week schedule for the completion of activities was demanding, and students were required to complete work outside of class to attain their required hours and finish the projects on time. Because the research projects were simulated, ethics approval was not required; however, emphasis was placed on core ethical principles, such as respect for persons, privacy, and confidentiality when conducting the simulated projects. Despite the research skills students experienced, such as developing data collection tools and collecting and analyzing data, there were many aspects of real-world research that students did not experience, such as developing ethics applications and overcoming the challenges of participant recruitment.

Conclusion

The SRP is an innovative strategy and provides an option when traditional nurse researcher-led projects are not available for practicum experiences. Nursing students who participated in the SRP gained hands-on research experience as both a researcher and a research participant. With four SRP teams working simultaneously, students are exposed to several quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Students have the opportunity to experience a small research study from the generation of the research question through to dissemination of their results.

References

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Authors

Dr. Carter is Associate Professor, Ms. Bird is a PhD student, School of Nursing, McMaster University, and Ms. Tolan is Quality and Risk Consultant, St. Joseph's Healthcare, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.

Address correspondence to Nancy Carter, PhD, RN, Associate Professor, School of Nursing, McMaster University, Health Sciences Centre, Room 2J27, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON, Canada L8S 4K1; e-mail: carternm@mcmaster.ca.

Received: July 27, 2018
Accepted: October 22, 2018

10.3928/01484834-20190122-10

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