Putting Innovations in Nursing Education to the Test

RWJF program funds evaluations of creative new approaches to address the nurse faculty shortage.

    • February 25, 2010

A number of promising innovations in nursing education will be rigorously evaluated as a result of four new grants announced recently by the Evaluating Innovations in Nursing Education (EIN) initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The innovations are all aimed at expanding teaching capacity or promoting faculty recruitment and retention in schools of nursing, with the ultimate goal to increase the number of nursing school graduates.

“We selected grantees who are implementing innovations that have significant promise in addressing the nurse faculty shortage, and we funded evaluations to determine what works, how and why it works, and what it will take to replicate it effectively in other settings,” said Michael Yedidia, Ph.D., director of the EIN national program office at Rutgers University.

Each of the grants funds two-year evaluations of existing interventions, to be conducted by independent evaluators. The interventions themselves have demonstrated sufficient promise to merit a formal evaluation, in the hope that positive results will lead to replication of the interventions elsewhere.

The four grants make up the first of two waves of grants of $300,000 each, with the second wave of grants to be awarded this fall.

The first wave includes evaluations of an interactive web-based teaching application, two types of “Dedicated Education Unit” (DEU) models and an accelerated B.S.N. (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) program that utilizes advanced technology and innovative course scheduling.

Evaluating Online Teaching in ‘The Neighborhood’

The University of New Mexico (U.N.M.) College of Nursing will use its grant to conduct a multi-site evaluation of an online teaching platform called, The Neighborhood. The EIN-funded evaluation will collect data on students and faculty using surveys, program records, interviews and focus groups, evaluating the impact of the program on faculty recruitment and retention as well as student graduation rates.

Created by Jean Giddens, Ph.D., R.N., a professor at the U.N.M. College of Nursing, The Neighborhood is a web-based virtual community featuring the stories of fictional characters that live in households in the neighborhood and are served by various community agencies. Their stories unfold for students over three semesters on web pages that contain text, video vignettes and medical records. In addition to patient and family characters, The Neighborhood features a number of nurse characters that give students an understanding of a day in the life of a nurse.

The Neighborhood gives students an opportunity to understand the lived experience of the characters—patients and their family members—by getting immersed in their stories. It’s a tool that lets faculty bring patients and families into the classroom,” says Giddens. “It’s more about the patient than about the illness, allowing us to reframe how we’re teaching our students, so that we’re truly patient-centered, instead of disease-centered.”

Evaluating Clinical Education Programs—Dedicated Education Units (DEU)

Two grantees will use their EIN grants to conduct research on clinical education programs using DEUs, an approach built on a new level of collaboration between nursing schools and hospitals. In the DEU model, staff nurses in a hospital unit become primary instructors for nursing students during clinical rotations, and nursing school faculty serve as mentors and teaching resources for the nurses. The approach differs from traditional clinical education methods where nursing students are supervised by nursing school faculty members who leave the classroom to instruct students in the clinical setting, where they are sometimes regarded as visitors.

The University of Massachusetts, Boston, College of Nursing and Health Sciences will conduct a two-year evaluation of the school’s “Partnership for Dedicated Education Unit Development and Quality” (PDQ). Launched in 2007 by the college in collaboration with Partners Healthcare in Boston, the PDQ relies on dedicated hospital units in which staff nurses and nursing faculty take on new educational roles to deliver more efficient and effective clinical instruction to nursing students. In the DEU, a staff nurse assumes responsibility for clinical instruction of one or two students, working with them as a team to provide care to assigned patients. The approach promises to increase the nursing school’s class size as staff nurses become new clinical instructors while college faculty remain in the classroom or take on new responsibilities.

“We’re very proud of the work we’re doing with PDQ,” says JoAnn Mulready-Shick, Ed.D., R.N., C.N.E., undergraduate nursing program director and clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. “Through this grant we will benefit from a rigorous, independent evaluation of an educational innovation. We expect to learn a lot, and intend to put what we learn to good use with our agency partners. And if the evaluation warrants, we hope to use it as a tool to introduce other nursing schools to the model.”

The University of Portland (Oregon), School of Nursing will evaluate its own DEU model, widely regarded as a significant innovation in clinical education. The EIN grant will support a formal evaluation to determine how well it works and why. The evaluation will also provide information about key considerations for implementing it at other nursing schools.

The DEU approach is intended to give students a more effective and richer clinical experience, make better use of existing resources, allow for the clinical education of increased numbers of students with existing faculty, and bridge the academic and practice communities in ways that benefit both the teaching and patient-care missions. “The DEU is designed as a collaboration among administrators, nurse-clinicians and faculty to create an optimal and efficient learning environment for students,” says Joanne Warner, D.N.S., R.N., dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Portland.

Evaluating an Accelerated BSN Program Using Advanced Technology and Innovative Course Scheduling

The University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh College of Nursing will evaluate an accelerated B.S.N. program relying on advanced technology, innovative course scheduling, and a combination of on-campus and remote sites for classroom and clinical education. The ACCEL program’s 12-month accelerated degree program includes online theory courses, as well as clinical rotations in the student’s home community supervised by specially trained preceptors. The program uses an innovative mix of technologies and software, including “Second Life,” a virtual environment in which students interact with professors, one another, and with patient avatars, providing a unique learning experience. Over the course of the program, students build clinical knowledge in physical and virtual classroom, laboratory and clinical settings.

“This grant will allow us to get the benefits of a rigorous, independent evaluation of what we’re doing,” says Dawn Pope, B.S.N., M.S.N., a clinical assistant professor at the College of Nursing, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. “We expect to learn a lot, and intend to put what we learn to good use. And if the evaluation warrants, we hope to use it as a tool to introduce other nursing schools to the model.”

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