The continued growth of online programs in nursing education creates a demand for faculty who are familiar with best practices in online pedagogy. However, the opportunity to become familiar with, and then apply, these best practices is often not available to students enrolled in Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Nursing Education programs. An innovative partnership with the Center for Instructional Design's Teaching Online Academy (“Academy”) over the past few years has provided that opportunity for students in the MSN Nursing Education program at The University of Texas at El Paso. After providing a description of the program partners, this report discusses the benefits, challenges, key points for successful collaboration, and outcomes of the partnership.
Description of the Partnership
The MSN Nursing Education program is a 33-credit hour program offered over two calendar years and is delivered in an online format. The last course of the program is designed as an educator roles course, and students develop individualized learning objectives for an educational experience based on their identified learning needs.
The Academy is provided by the The University of Texas at El Paso's Center for Instructional Design (CID) and, in accordance with accreditation requirements, provides a required certificate course for University instructors who will teach online. As the University has a long history of supporting faculty in online course development and facilitation (Brunk-Chavez & Miller, 2009; Brunk-Chavez & Palsole, 2011), the Academy benefits from accumulated experiences and is able to respond adeptly to challenges and change. In 2015, the program director of the Nursing Education program and the director of the CID recognized the need to better prepare nursing students for teaching in a completely online format. This resulted in a partnership in order to expand the learning opportunities available to the MSN students during the final course of the program. The goal of the partnership is to familiarize future educators with teaching in an online format and to provide them with the best practices for online instruction.
The Academy is a completely online course, running three times per academic year: fall, spring, and summer. The month-long course consists of an introduction to the course and four instructional modules that are guided by the Online Learning Consortium (2016) best instructional practices. The high levels of student engagement and teaching presence create a highly interactive experience and provide an excellent model for students to emulate when they develop their own future courses. Course participation time averages 25 hours per student. It is important to note that the majority of participants in the Academy have little or no experience with teaching online, and there is not a requirement to master all the content at once.
Networking opportunities are plentiful, as the Academy's participants currently include graduate student teaching assistants, junior faculty, senior faculty, and occasionally administrators across all disciplines at the University. Each semester, between 12 to 16 nursing students participate, which can comprise 30% of the Academy participants.
University students and faculty are informed there is no fee to complete the Academy, and that a certificate is awarded but no graduate credit is granted. The certificate entitles them to teach online at the University, and it may be accepted as proof of training at other colleges and universities where they may eventually teach online courses.
To deliver the Academy, CID employs two to four facilitators for each session and distributes the additional workload among a staff of 11 full-time instructional designers whose main responsibility is online course development. Facilitators are rotated among the instructional designers for each Academy offering, and those currently facilitating are assigned a significantly smaller portion of course development. CID justifies this investment of resources as support and services for University faculty and students.
Nursing Education program evaluation data show that the course increased students' confidence in the online educator role, and they often express that their favorite part was creating a syllabus and course calendar for an online course. The students had many “aha” moments related to understanding the best practices for online education. Examples of those practices included reasons behind posting office hours, rules for discussion board posts, and when to check into a course. They also appreciated the chance to interact with faculty and students from other disciplines and to experience teaching philosophies and methods from disciplines outside of nursing. Overall, they were enthused about applying the principles related to teaching and learning they had learned during the Nursing Education program.
Informal verbal feedback from the CID staff also showed positive benefits of the partnership. The Nursing Education students increased the participant diversity of the Academy, expanded the ability of the course facilitators to cope with learners of differing backgrounds, and familiarized them with the challenges of MSN students. The course facilitators were used to working with graduate research assistants and faculty who were primarily dedicated to the academic setting. They came to appreciate the commitment of graduate nursing students, the majority of whom are both working full-time as a nurse and taking courses.
The addition of the MSN students prompted CID to train and add more facilitators to the course. The additional CID full-time staff members who served as facilitators benefitted from this growth in three ways: (a) they were provided with additional training that allowed them to facilitate the course that complimented their expertise as an instructional designer, (b) their experience provided an increased appreciation of the faculty role and supported more effective interaction with faculty in their future design assignments, and (c) provided professional development opportunities in the form of facilitating a course as a staff member (an opportunity normally reserved for faculty).
For the Nursing Education students, the most significant challenge was managing time, as the Academy is taught in an accelerated format over a 4-week period. Students are concurrently participating in a mentored experience for teaching, and the majority of them are working full time. They are informed that the first 2 weeks are especially busy, and if their schedule is heavily committed, they may need to rearrange their schedules to take the course. The next challenge was that the structure of the course is set up on the premise that participants are (or will be) teaching a course. If the student educators are teaching, they are generally working with a clinical group and not managing an academic course. Therefore, they do not have a syllabus or calendar to revise. These challenges are addressed by (a) requesting participants to evaluate a previously taken online course and notate areas where the course could be improved, or (b) use the course syllabus and calendar template provided to further articulate what they envision their online course would contain, and (c) enable further flexibility for participants with heavy workloads by providing extensions on deadlines upon request. In this case, flexibility outweighs the need for strict deadlines and supports the The University of Texas at El Paso's mission statement of “access and excellence” ( https://www.utep.edu/about/utep-vision-mission-and-goals.html). The course facilitators understand that many graduate students and faculty are taking on the Academy as an additional task to their normal workloads. The goal of the Academy is to encourage and empower participants to discover the power and accessibility of online learning, and this is only possible if the course itself models those attributes.
Key Points for Successful Collaboration
In order for the partnership between the Nursing Education program and the CID to be effective, it was imperative that there was ongoing clear communication between directors, and the Academy leadership was continually responsive to evolving needs of the partnership.
Maintain Clear Communication Channels
Establishing preferred methods and time lines for communication and coordination between the Academy leadership and the MSN program director ensures that information is provided in a timely manner and commitments are honored. Initially, 6 weeks prior to the course, the Nursing Education director provided the number of students who were interested in enrolling in the upcoming Academy and the CID director would hold seats for those students. To expedite the process, students now sign up for the Academy through a campus-wide website as far as a year in advance. Feedback related to issues of concern is done verbally (face-to-face or by telephone) and scheduled as needed. Examples of previous discussions include the need for course extensions and a redesign of the final examination (students now have an online syllabus and course calendar template to refer to if they do not have the material to create a sample syllabus and calendar). Finally, communication from the program director to students about the course expectations and timing is critical. This allows students to adjust their schedules if taking the Academy while fulfilling other coursework requirements and working full time.
Academy Leadership Responsive to Needs
As online learning has gained popularity nationwide, the number of faculty and graduate students requesting to take the Academy has grown significantly. This need for growth is addressed by adding more facilitators to each course, providing customized workshops to departments focused on best practices for online learning, and launching the Advanced Online Teaching Academy (AOTC) in spring 2019. The AOTC is a more advanced training course that invites experienced online instructors to redesign their existing online course by focusing on faculty presence, student engagement, and synchronous web conferencing. Because the CID is viewed as a resource center, and is overseen by an experienced team with a long history of commitment to increasing the number of online educators, the workload of instructional designers can be shifted to respond quickly to larger enrollments.
Over the past 1.5 years, 50 Nursing Education students have participated and provided enthusiastic feedback within the course discussion board posts about the experience. Over-whelmingly, they share that their confidence in the educator role has been enhanced, and that the exposure to interdisciplinary/interprofessional faculty broadened their perspective beyond nursing.
The partnership has proven to be an excellent resource for addressing the increasing demand for online nursing educators. The Academy has enhanced students' confidence in the educator role, provided an interdisciplinary perspective to both participants and facilitators, and facilitated networking relationships with other faculty and University staff. The partnership has proven beneficial to both the MSN Nursing Education program and the Academy and continues to evolve each semester.
- Brunk-Chavez, B.L. & Miller, S. (2009). The hybrid academy: Building and sustaining a technological culture of use. In McKee, H., DeVoss, D. & Selfe, R.. (Eds.), Technological ecologies and sustainability: Methods, modes, and assessment (pp. 1–23). Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press. Retrieved from http://ccdigitalpress.org/tes/index2.html
- Brunk-Chavez, B.L. & Palsole, S.V. (2011). The Digital Academy: Preparing faculty for digital course development. In Cruz, L. & Groccia, J. (Eds.), To improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development (pp. 17–30). Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley.
- Online Learning Consortium. (2016). Quality course teaching and instructional practice. Retrieved from https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/consult/olc-quality-course-teaching-instructional-practice/