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Nurse Educator:
doi: 10.1097/NNE.0000000000000032
Feature Articles

Establishing a Learning Repository to Facilitate Collaboration and Communication of Academic Work Among Nursing Faculty

Kotcherlakota, Suhasini PhD; Keeler, Heidi PhD

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Author Information

Author Affiliation: Assistant Professors, College of Nursing, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Correspondence: Dr Kotcherlakota, College of Nursing - Omaha Division, 985330 Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198-5330 (skotcherlakota@unmc.edu).

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal’s Web site (www.nurseeducatoronline.com).

Accepted for publication: February 10, 2014

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Abstract

There is an increasing need for collaboration and communication among nurse educators to advance the quality of nursing education and show excellence in curriculum development, content delivery, leadership, and scholarship roles. In this article, the establishment of a learning repository, its unique functionalities, procurement of faculty, and future advancements are described in detail. Our approach is based on evidence-based research, instructional design, and emerging technologies to address the gaps and problems faced by nurse educators.

Nursing educators across the nation have an urgent need to reform educational design tools and processes to accommodate for factors such as rapidly evolving technologies, faculty shortage, rising student expectations, and decreased funding for educational programs.1 Robust collaborative partnerships between nursing faculty and stakeholders of nursing care are needed for advancing the future of nursing education. The Institute of Medicine’s landmark report entitled, The Future of Nursing,1 highlights the role of nursing in the changing healthcare landscape. It outlines 8 recommendations that would enable nurses to function successfully in expanding roles. Specifically, recommendation 6 calls for a focus on education throughout a nurse’s professional career, starting at the undergraduate level. It states that nursing administrators and faculty should “perform with cutting-edge competence in practice, teaching, and research.”1(p5) To accomplish this, it is essential that faculty members leverage resources and establish connections with each other in a fashion that avoids delivery duplication while improving content quality.

The trend in nursing education is moving to less traditional, more adaptable format. Communication technology is continually evolving to allow for more flexibility for, and distance between, faculty and students. There is an ever increasing need for the ability to collaborate and coordinate curricula and corresponding educational materials. Educational design and delivery in the field of nursing must be adapted to fit with the emerging trends, as materials presented via online or mobile technologies are not received and interpreted by the learners in the same fashion as those presented live. In addition, it is necessary to link outcomes with each specific educational format and strategy to ensure educational effectiveness (measured by learner success). Currently, there is a gap in research addressing the effectiveness of emerging formats and educational strategies and particularly in methods to collect such data for analyses. Therefore, the purpose of this project was to establish a tool that can allow for collaboration of faculty members across distances that incorporates educational and instructional design principles as guidance and uses the latest technology that allows for aggregation of user data such that linkage to its use is positively correlated with improved educational outcomes. The data procured can then be used to research evidence-based quality improvements.

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Background

Nursing faculty members at a large Midwestern university take pride in providing premier learner-centered nursing education. Our college ranges across a 500-mile-wide area with 5 campus locations, offering bachelor degrees (BSN) to postdoctoral nursing programs and continuing nursing education offerings to healthcare professionals. Because of physical separation between faculty on each campus in addition to rising focus on standardization of educational delivery and subsequent student outcomes, there is an emerging need for collaboration and information sharing of teaching strategies integrated in nursing courses for ongoing faculty development in an academic context. Nurse educators across the nation must recognize the need to radically transform the way educational material is created and delivered.2 To accomplish this, it is essential that faculty be able to (a) share materials and ideas in a common location, (b) “continually” share despite conflicting schedules and demands, and (c) share beyond the limited boundaries within an institution. In short, nurse educators must take a step back from traditional methods of education (and its development), recognize the expectations of today’s nurses, and prepare students to function in a wide variety of roles within the complicated and chaotic US healthcare system.2 In order to facilitate this, there is a need to establish a learning repository that allows faculty residing in geographically dispersed locations across the state and beyond to conduct peer-to-peer collaboration, networking, and communication and to share exemplary teaching strategies for faculty’s teaching role development, scholarship, and leadership.

Common methods of sharing teaching and learning practices among faculty are to attend lecture presentations by colleagues and attend conferences and meetings with each other and more frequently limited and informal conversations in hallways or break rooms. Many times, these conversations are bounded to their respective campus location or retain within a department. The chances of losing the shared literature, documents, and materials that one collects are high. Often it becomes an unmanageable task to keep track and retrieve shared information or resource when needed (just in time) for class preparation.

Formal organization, management, and accessibility of faculty-generated educational materials require a robust computing system present within an institution. While there are file storage drives and a course management system in our institution, there is no internal system in our college that allows us to search, create, modify, and share the educational assets of our faculty members. Furthermore, we recognize and ;emphasize the need for a secure system that facilitates the collection, access, and preservation in a central location.

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Communities of Practice

One emerging framework in particular to advance teaching and learning in nursing academia is the communities of practice (CoP) model. According to Wenger et al,3 CoPs are groups of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis. A CoP provides basis to share ideas and strategies and best practices and create new knowledge. This method of community building also allows faculty members to build connections and develop relational ties among them. Risling and Ferguson4 highlight the positive values of utilizing CoPs to face the challenges in nursing academia. CoPs promote opportunity for strengthening connections and communications, improving member socialization, lifelong learning, and opportunity for personal growth and development. All of these values are considered to be motivating factors for faculty involvement and highly essential for a health academic institution.

Establishing a CoP approach within our 5 campus college that allows for collaboration and quality elevation must be accomplished using nontraditional means. As mentioned, given the distance barrier, this approach can be accomplished only by incorporating new and emerging communication technologies, as well as establishing a place to store collaborative work. However, the next step in achieving cutting-edge teaching strategies is to establish a method that allows us to meet our college’s need.

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Information Repositories

A literature search on repositories designed to collect and share educational (teaching and learning) resources among faculty within the domain of nursing yielded insignificant results to none. Therefore, the development of a new and unique learning repository ensued. The Nursing Exemplar Strategies for Teaching (NEST) is a learning repository Web site developed to fill our college’s need. The NEST can be used to collect and share exemplar teaching strategies utilized by faculty to convey various concepts congruent with the curriculum at our college. The development and use of the NEST align well with our institutional strategic planning goals and priorities as well as goals of nursing academia, which certainly align closely with the similar needs of other professions. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing5 strategic goal 1 calls for “providing strategic leadership that advances professional nursing education, research, and practice” with the following key objectives:

* objective 1: lead innovation in baccalaureate and graduate nursing education that promotes high-quality healthcare and new knowledge generation

* objective 2: establish collaborative relationships and form strategic alliances to advance baccalaureate and graduate nursing education

* objective 3: increase the visibility and participation of nursing’s academic leaders as advocates for innovation in nursing5(p1)

This NEST repository Web site is also intended to serve as an avenue for nursing faculty to enhance the scholarship within the discipline of nursing. This cannot occur without systematic documentation and evaluation of strategies produced and utilized by faculty. Boyer6 proposed a model of scholarship based on 4 functions critical to academic work. The first function is discovery where new and unique knowledge is generated; the second function is teaching, where the teacher creatively builds bridges between his/her own understanding and the students’ learning; the third function is application, where the emphasis is on the use of new knowledge in solving society’s problems; and the fourth function is integration, where new relationships among disciplines are discovered. American Association of Colleges of Nursing7 advocates these functions as salient to the nursing discipline and professional performance.

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An Exemplar in NEST

For the purposes of this project, we define exemplar as a model educational material or activity. Examples include but not limited to an innovative lesson activity, creative class material, unique simulation, typical example, and so on. The instructional designer within our college collaborated with a team of faculty members to formulate a template for documenting an exemplar. An exemplar, accessed through the home page (see Document, Supplemental Digital Content 1, where the home page is profiled, http://links.lww.com/NE/A123), consists of 2 sections, a key attributes section and a descriptive content section. The terminology for an exemplar’s attributes and descriptive content are chosen considering not only the college’s specific program structure and course offering formats but also the needs of the College of Nursing faculty. The following is a template for an exemplar:

1. Section 1: Attributes of the model educational material or activity

a. Teaching pedagogy (teaching activity)

b. Student (learning) activity

c. Technology/tool

d. Faculty/clinical instructor

e. Concept

f. Mode of teaching

g. Class type

h. Assessment

i. Student type

2. Section 2: Descriptive content of the model educational material or activity

a. Introduction/overview

b. Objectives

c. Teaching method/process

d. Planning

e. Implementation

f. Evaluation/assessment

g. Summary

h. Recommendations

i. Media

See the Table 1 for detailed description of the exemplar template, which provides a basic guideline to the authors to summarize their exemplar.

Table 1
Table 1
Image Tools
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Unique Capabilities of NEST Repository Web Site

The NEST Web site is designed with unique capabilities to maximize its functional use. Capabilities include the following:

* Accessibility: Web site is accessible from on-campus as well as from distant locations. Login and access to the Web site are designed to be controlled via our university’s Lightweight Directory Access Protocol authentication system and user access.

* Ability to view, create, and edit exemplars: Each exemplar can be developed by an individual user, and the creator of exemplar has unique author rights to edit and modify exemplar at all times (see Document, Supplemental Digital Content 2, http://links.lww.com/NE/A124).

* Searching exemplars: This key functionality allows one to search the repository of exemplars in the NEST Web site based on user selections. The search results are filtered based on user selections to the key attributes (see Document, Supplemental Digital Content 3, http://links.lww.com/NE/A125).

* Discuss and rate exemplars: NEST Web site allows users to discuss comments, make suggestions, and do an objective rating of the exemplar.

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Implementation of the Project

The NEST Web site implementation occurred in 2 phases: operational launching of the Web site and procurement of users (faculty buy-in).

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Operational Launching

Operational launching was completed within the proposed 1 academic year. Phase 1 of the project included constructing the exemplar template, gathering exemplars, formulating the project team, designing the project plan, and determining software specifications for the NEST Web site design. Phase 2 included the creation of the mockup of the NEST Web site by the project team and faculty collaborators. Phase 3 included the deployment of the NEST Web site for faculty use. At the end of the year, the project team collected feedback, revised the NEST Web site to eliminate bugs, and made improvements/enhancements to the site. Document, Supplemental Digital Content 1, displays the homepage of the NEST repository Web site, http://links.lww.com/NE/A123.

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Procuring Users

In order to sustain innovation and successfully utilize the Web site for sharing and collaboration, it is imperative to procure users. To do this, faculty need to use the Web site. But the burning question for anyone trying to engage new users is: “How do you get people to change from their old methods and procedures and adopt the use of a new one?” To do this, concepts from 2 lines of research were explored: leadership8 and change theory.9

In exploring leadership theory and motivation for change,8 one theory in particular, Kouzes and Posner’s9 Leadership Framework, seemed to align best with the adoption of a new and innovative solution. A key principle is inspiring a shared vision (in this case, the mission and vision of the organization). To do this, the leader must convince the group that achieving the mission/vision is worth sacrificing individual interest to achieve it and attain individual buy-in and input into the change itself. Another key principle is to enable others to act. In this case, providing education about the innovation and removing barriers to its use are crucial. In exploring change theories, there are many from which to choose. Because of the size of the college and the scope of the change, principles of organizational culture change were engaged. Steps included the importance of strong leadership and commitment from the top, engaging the organization members in the change process, and systematically moving the group toward the change by encouraging incentives and removing barriers.10

Since the NEST repository Web site was developed in congruence with the mission and vision of both the university and of the college, this leadership requirement was satisfied. It was necessary to demonstrate this congruence to the users in hopes that the user perception of NEST Web site use would be that its use forwards the mission of the college, and thus the benefits of using the Web site were worth the individual sacrifice of learning the skills needed to use it. It was decided that this knowledge alone would not be enough to obtain use. Thus, in order to make the benefits outweigh the costs of learning and using the NEST Web site, additional incentives for faculty were explored.

Incentives for using the NEST Web site versus not using the Web site included increased faculty resources to construct class materials, increased ease of finding high-quality class materials by faculty, and the ability to interact with other faculty members via Web site use and provide structural guidance for constructing class materials to share in the NEST Web site. To achieve both of the above, faculty needed education concerning the alignment of the Web site use with mission and vision and to highlight the benefits of the NEST Web site such that users perceived its adoption and use as being less of a personal sacrifice while serving the greater mission/vision of the organization. In short, the goal was to sway the users to view its adoption as a win-win.

To achieve strong faculty buy-in based on change theory,9 it was necessary to engage leadership to encourage change in the use of NEST Web site and to identify faculty champions that could lead smaller change teams.

Project leaders of the NEST Web site met with top leadership of the college to gain their strong support. Project leaders requested advocacy by the college leadership in encouraging the use of the NEST Web site by faculty members. The importance of supporting NEST Web site use was stressed by project leaders and outlined the corresponding incentives to lessen personal sacrifice of Web site use. The incentives included the following: to ensure the faculty members would own the authorship of their exemplars and to allow faculty to include/list exemplars in their curriculum vitae as to receive promotion and tenure reward/credits for their scholarly contribution to the quality initiative addressed by the NEST. Upon acceptance by college leadership, faculty champions were identified for each of the 5 college campuses. The faculty champions are educated on the NEST Web site use and benefits by NEST project leaders and serve as role models for other faculty more reluctant to engage in its use.

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Summary

Because of evolving technologies in communication, the current trend in nursing education is moving to less traditional, more flexible format, allowing for increasing distance between faculty and students. It is necessary for nursing faculty to collaborate and coordinate educational activities at a distance and to do so without repetition of effort or sacrificing quality outputs that result from face-to-face meetings. The lack of collaborative tools that combined elements of educational and instructional design, searchability, and storage capability resulted in our NEST repository Web site. The Web site has been developed and implemented with increasing success. At the time of submission, more than 25 exemplars have been contributed by faculty. Next steps include the following:

* continuance of procurement of faculty within the organization to share model educational materials or activities in the NEST repository Web site,

* seek and evaluate faculty feedback on the NEST functionality and incorporate this into NEST revisions, and

* market NEST at all faculty gatherings, to include brown bag seminars, college annual meeting, monthly faculty meetings, college newsletter, and eventually throughout the entire university setting.

Future development initiatives of NEST repository Web site are the following:

* utilize NEST Web site’s exemplar template as a basic tool to guide the design and development of educational materials or activities;

* develop guidelines based on educational and instructional design principles with relevance to the teaching curriculum; this promotes for high-quality course material development;

* provide technology support and find resources for faculty to showcase their exemplars;

* provide guidelines for copyright to protect faculty contributions;

* evaluate exemplar use and correlate use to improved learner outcomes; and

* promote interprofessional dissemination and use of the Web site with other colleges in our university.

It is the intent to share this tool with increasing audiences in proportion to the rise in its functionality, with the hopes that overall quality of nursing education (and beyond) is elevated.

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References

1. Committee on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Initiative on the Future of Nursing at the Institute of Medicine, Institute of Medicine (IOM). The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2011.

2. Benner P, Sutphen M, Leonard V, Day L. Educating Nurses: A Call for Radical Transformation. Vol 15. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2009.

3. Wenger E, McDermott R, Snyder WM. Cultivating Communities of Practice. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press; 2002.

4. Risling T, Ferguson L. Communities of practice in nursing academia: a growing need to practice what we teach. Int J Nurs Educ Scholarsh. 2013; 10: 1–8.

5. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Strategic plan. Available at http://www.aacn.nche.edu/about-aacn/strategic-plan. Updated 2012. Accessed December 6, 2013.

6. Boyer E. Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities for the Professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; 1990.

7. American Association of Colleges of Nursing. Defining Scholarship for the Discipline of Nursing. Available at http://www.aacn.nche.edu/publications/position/defining-scholarship. Updated 2012. Accessed December 6, 2013.

8. Ledlow GR, Coppola MN. Leadership for Health Professionals: Theory, Skills, And Applications. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett; 2011.

9. Kouzes J, Posner P. The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. 5th ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass; 2012.

10. Bremer M. Organizational Culture Change: Unleashing Your Organization’s Potential in Circles of 10. The Netherlands: Kikker Groep; 2012.

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