The integration of research training into the baccalaureate curriculum is critical to promoting evidence-based nursing care, positive attitudes toward research, and participation in the generation of new nursing knowledge among future nurses (Ayoola et al., 2017). Previous studies have shown that exposure to a research course has positive effects on nursing students' perceptions of research and evidence-based practice (Keib, Cailor, Kiersma, & Chen, 2017).
Our undergraduate introductory nursing research course includes a practicum, providing an opportunity for experiential learning about conducting research and the role of a research collaborator. Traditionally, students are placed with faculty or practicing nurses who are conducting research studies or quality improvement projects. With a fourth-year class size of over 350 students per year, our ability to secure an adequate number of placements became difficult. The experiences available for the students in mentored placements varied from searching the literature, collecting data, or developing dissemination tools. Often mentors created work in order to provide placements. For this reason, we developed a simulated practicum to increase the number of quality placements available for our students (see Carter, Tolan, and Bird  for a more extensive description of the simulated practicum).
Our introductory nursing research course comprises 6 weeks of in-class content followed by a 6-week practicum experience. The didactic in-class content covers research question development, research ethics, quantitative and qualitative research, data collection, data analysis, and knowledge dissemination. The practicum experience consists of 32 hours over 6 weeks. All students participated in the in-class content and were then given a choice to complete either a traditional mentored practicum (MRP) or a simulated research practicum (SRP) with a nurse researcher.
Organized in a learning laboratory environment, the SRP was led by a nurse faculty member with extensive research experience and knowledge. Twenty-four students were organized into four research teams of six. These teams were responsible for conducting small research projects from start to finish. The faculty member acted as supervisor and advisor to the student groups as they planned and conducted a small research project focused on topics relevant to their experiences as nursing students (e.g., readiness to practice, professionalism, and leadership). Each group was then assigned a different method for data collection (e.g., focus groups, individual interviews, or descriptive surveys). The purposeful organization of topics and methodologies allowed the novice researchers to design, collect, and simply analyze data within 4 to 6 weeks. In addition to conducting their own small study, students acted as participants for other SRP teams' studies. By the end of the 6-week practicum, all students had both conducted a small study with their team and acted as participants in three other team studies.
The aims of this study were to compare the availability of research experiences, range of data collection types, and satisfaction ratings of nursing students who participated in a traditional MRP and those who participated in the SRP. This was done to test if the SRP could function as a feasible alternative to traditional mentored placements by delivering a satisfactory placement experience as well as fulsome research education.
A two-group posttest survey design was used to assess the exposure to research activities students experienced and their satisfaction with their placements. Because this was an evaluation of a quality improvement project, ethics review was not required.
Anonymous course evaluation surveys were distributed at the end of the research course over one year. Data collection focused on four main variables: didactic course content, research activities, data collection experiences, and overall rating of the research course. Dichotomous rating scales were used to assess the novelty (unfamiliarity with) and perceived usefulness (value) of the didactic course content presented to students prior to the start of their practicum. Likert scales (low, medium, high, or not applicable) were used to rate the availability of research activities in their placements (literature reviews, data collection approaches, data analysis strategies, and the dissemination of findings). Due to the low response rate for some questions, the rating categories were later collapsed into dichotomous answers (research activities were available versus not available in this placement). Comment boxes were used to determine the types of data collection methods available to students in their placements. An evaluation of the overall course was conducted via a visual analog scale from zero (unsatisfactory) to five (outstanding).
Data were entered into Microsoft Excel® for cleaning and exported to SPSS® version 25 for analysis using descriptive and inferential statistics. Statistical significance was set at α = .05. Thus, p < .05 was considered to be statistically significant for all calculations.
Over one year, 304 students completed the survey. 165 students chose the MRP and 135 students chose to take part in the SRP. Four students did not state which practicum group they participated in and were therefore excluded from analysis.
Didactic Course Content
We analyzed students' ratings of the novelty and usefulness of didactic course content (research question development, research ethics, quantitative and qualitative research, data collection, data analysis, and knowledge dissemination) to determine whether there was a difference between groups prior to their placement. Proportional analyses revealed no statistically significant differences between MRP and SRP groups' preplacement (all p > .05), meaning that students in both groups had roughly equal familiarity and value perception of the didactic course content.
Availability of Research Activities in Placement
Data about the availability of various research activities show several statistically significant differences between groups (Table 1). Students in the SRP group had significantly higher exposure to formulating a research question, conducting a literature review, designing the research project, and participating in data collection (all p < .05). There were no research-related activities measured where students in the MRP group had significantly higher exposure than the SRP group.
Research Activities Within the Traditional Mentored Practicum (MRP) and Simulated Research Practicum (SRP)
Types of Data Collection Experiences
Individual students in the SRP group were exposed to numerous research methodologies, given their participation in the practicum as both researcher and simulated research participant. Students in both groups identified experiences with survey research, conducting interviews and focus groups, and exposure to general quantitative and qualitative methods. However, individual students in the MRP identified being involved in several other research activities, such as conducting scoping and systematic reviews, mixed-methods research, chart audits, and descriptive research. Therefore, although individual students in the SRP were exposed to a greater variety of data collection methods due to their participation as both researcher and subject, as a group, a broader range of experiences was available to the MRP students.
Assessment of Overall Course Rating
Students provided an overall rating of the course using a visual analog scale from 0 (unsatisfactory) to 5 (outstanding). An independent samples t test was used to test whether there was a statistically significant difference in course ratings between the SRP and MRP groups. Score analysis revealed that students in the MRP group rated their experience with the course significantly better than students in the SRP group (p < .05). The mean course rating for SRP students was 3.56 of 5 (SD ± 0.860) and for MRP students, the mean rating was 3.85 of 5 (SD ± 0.926). This resulted in a statistically significant difference of 0.29 points (p = .005; CI [0.087, 0.496]).
The use of simulation in nursing education is common, but to the best of our knowledge it has not been used to create research experiences. Plach and Paulson-Conger (2007) performed a simulated research activity with staff nurses, noting that many nurses enter the workforce with little exposure to research. Practical research experience, either simulated or real, is essential for nurses graduating and entering the workforce.
We used course evaluation data to understand more about the utility of a simulated research activity as a means of providing research experience to undergraduate nursing students. Some differences in the experiences of students in the SRP and MRP groups were noted. Students in the MRP group rated the overall course statistically significantly better than students in the SRP group (p < .05), and we suggest this may be partly due to the opportunity to work one-to-one with a nurse researcher in these placements. As discussed by Oakley and Mitchell (2013), active mentoring is an important component of learning the research process. These mentoring relationships may be more feasible in placements where students are immersed in a single research project alongside a nurse researcher, such is the case in the MRP. Slattery et al. (2016) explored mentored research placements from the point of view of nurse researchers and institutions, suggesting the benefits of increased research productivity and the opportunity to assess skilled students who may be seeking employment after graduation. We did not explore this implication as the limited number of nurse researchers taking on students was the impetus for creating the SRP. However, the influence of SRP on nursing faculty and community partners is an important factor to consider, particularly in resource-limited areas, while still shaping nursing student's perceptions of research and developing new nurse scientists to generate knowledge.
We will continue to work to develop and improve the SRP and explore new opportunities to provide more mentorship in this simulated activity. For instance, utilizing graduate nursing students in the SRP to act as mentors could benefit both the undergraduate and graduate students seeking teaching experience. Another potential strategy to improve the SRP would be to work with other health sciences programs and make the practicum interdisciplinary. Today, most research is performed in teams and nursing students should learn to collaborate with other disciplines in research practicums. Interdisciplinary collaboration could be fostered within the SRP by creating interprofessional research teams to organize the students.
Despite the small statistical differences in satisfaction ratings between the groups in our study, the overall scores indicate that the research practicum was viewed as a beneficial experience by both groups of students. Given the importance of providing high-quality experiential placements for students and the acceptability of the simulated practicum, as evidenced by students' experience scores, we are motivated to continue to offer and improve the SRP in our institution.
This convenience sample reflects only those who participated in the research practicum within one baccalaureate nursing program during one year. In addition, students were not randomized to a practicum group, increasing the likelihood of imbalanced confounding variables. Also, as with all self-reported questionnaire data, bias, such as social desirability bias, acquiescence bias, or central tendency bias, may be at play. An attempt to decrease biases was made by utilizing anonymous surveys. An additional limitation to utilizing a survey strategy includes missing data due to incomplete questionnaires, as seen in this quality improvement project.
As evidence-based practice is the norm in nursing, it is essential that nursing students graduate with an appreciation of the research process. As described by Carter, Tolan, and Bird (2019), our organization was experiencing a shortage of high-quality research placements for undergraduate nursing students. The SRP was conceived as a possible solution to this issue and was found to be a feasible alternative to the traditional mentored placement. We suggest that other institutions with no research practicum in their curriculum, or with limited access to research placements for students, consider the use of a simulated practicum as a means of providing experiential learning in research methods.
- Ayoola, A.B., Adams, Y.J., Kamp, K.J., Zandee, G.L., Feenstra, C. & Doornbos, M.M. (2017). Promoting the future of nursing by increasing zest for research in undergraduate nursing students. Journal of Professional Nursing, 33, 126–132. doi:10.1016/j.profnurs.2016.08.011 [CrossRef]
- Carter, N., Tolan, J. & Bird, M. (2019). An innovative simulated research practicum for undergraduate nursing students. Journal of Nursing Education, 58, 114–116. doi:10.3928/01484834-20190122-10 [CrossRef]
- Keib, C.N., Cailor, S.M., Kiersma, M.E. & Chen, A.M.H. (2017). Changes in nursing students' perceptions of research and evidence-based practice after completing a research course. Nurse Education Today, 54, 37–43. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2017.04.007 [CrossRef]
- Oakley, S. & Mitchell, D. (2013). Partnering students in practical research. Ergo, 3, 23–30.
- Plach, S.K. & Paulson-Conger, M. (2007). Demystifying the research process with participatory learning: A taste of research. Journal for Nurses in Staff Development, 23, 45–48. doi:10.1097/00124645-200701000-00009 [CrossRef]
- Slattery, M.J., Logan, B.L., Mudge, B., Secore, K., von Reyn, L.J. & Maue, R.A. (2016). An undergraduate research fellowship program to prepare nursing students for future workforce roles. Journal of Professional Nursing, 32, 412–420. doi:10.1016/j.profnurs.2016.03.008 [CrossRef]
Research Activities Within the Traditional Mentored Practicum (MRP) and Simulated Research Practicum (SRP)
|Research Activity, by Group||Activities Unavailable n (%)||Activities Available n (%)||Chi-Square Test|
|Development of research question|
| MRP||36 (21.8)||129 (78.2)||X2(1) = 13.37|
| SRP||9 (6.7)||126 (93.3)||p < .05|
| MRP||53 (32.1)||112 (67.9)||X2(1) = 17.23|
| SRP||16 (11.9)||119 (88.1)||p < .05|
| MRP||77 (46.7)||88 (53.3)||X2(1) = 13.65|
| SRP||35 (25.9)||100 (74.1)||p < .05|
| MRP||46 (27.9)||119 (72.1)||X2(1) = 0.94|
| SRP||31 (23)||104 (77)||p > .05|
| MRP||29 (17.7)||135 (82.3)||X2(1) = 4.73|
| SRP||12 (9)||122 (91)||p < .05|
| MRP||17 (10.3)||148 (89.7)||X2(1) = 0.04|
| SRP||13 (9.6)||122 (90.4)||p > .05|
| MRP||19 (11.5)||146 (88.5)||X2(1) = 1.44|
| SRP||10 (7.4)||125 (92.6)||p > .05|