May 29th, 2011
By Jennifer Olin, BSN, RN
Nursing degrees are leading the pack in the ever enlarging world of online education. Nursing schools at every level are competing to admit students. While the curricula for these nursing programs may be very similar, what may make one stand out over another is how they embrace the technology available to round out the educational experience.
To allow students to keep track of their coursework, most universities today have some kind of Blackboard offering. It is usually an intranet option of the school that allows students to track their classes, syllabi, assignments and tests. There are often chat rooms for group work and for meetings online with teachers. Now, student on the go can access all that information too. The makers of Blackboard are offering a mobile application. Students can access all that same info on their smart phones and never need to be out of touch with their studies, teachers or classmates.
We've all heard the phrase, "no more teachers, no more books" and certainly in the online classroom the instructor is not a physical preference so why lug around real books? E-book readers are taking the world by storm and English majors aren’t the only ones benefitting. Owners of both Amazon's Kindle and Barnes and Noble's Nook have access to hundreds of nursing textbooks and resource books. And, since the programs for the Kindle and the Nook can be downloaded on just about any kind of computer, including a smart phone, nursing students can have their complete textbook collection at hand just about anywhere to use as reference.
Anatomy and physiology is an absolute pre-requisite for entrance to any nursing program and one of the first nursing courses students take is pathophysiology or the changes associated with disease or injury. Besides one dimensional pictures in books and actual dissections in the anatomy lab teachers now have amazing online tools to add to the mix. Innerbody.com has anatomical maps, back and front, of all nine major organ systems and it is free to any user and at visiblebody.com, for a fee, three dimensional models of the human body, from top-to-bottom, inside-to-out are available as teaching and study aids.
Due to the clinical aspect of nursing as a career, not every class can be strictly computer based, students must get out and meet other nurses and learn to work with real patients. However, what is amazing is with the continuing advances in technology and cyber tools introductory clinical work can now be addressed in the online classroom before nursing students hit the hospital halls.
At the University of Kansas, a state-of-the-art simulation lab has student nurses checking vital signs, monitoring blood glucose and treating hypoglycemia in a child. Any disease process, any injury the instructors are willing to write and make happen can be used to train future nurses without risking any real patients.
Instructors can use simulations, whether developed in the school or purchased from education corporations, which allow nursing students to practice placing a catheter or inserting an IV. There are three dimensional modeling systems that let students conduct ulcer assessments on a desk top using virtual anatomical models and many other multi-media training systems.
Community nursing is a very different aspect of most nursing education. Nursing students can find themselves working in a community health center, at a Veteran's Administration service center, an elementary school or even an inner city crisis center. The point is to learn a community, however that is defined, its problems, its resources, and its people. Now, there is even a simulation program which can help teachers introduce their students to a community and its needs.
The Neighborhood is a program which presents unfolding stories in a serial format about a virtual community. The program includes videos, photos, medical records and text to highlight the circumstances surrounding and affecting the health of the people in the community. Students hear from both the patients and the nurses. The program is designed to be used over several semesters and students can immerse themselves in the case studies. The Neighborhood is meant to lessen the gap between theoretical learning and clinical application.
Simulation is also being used to train students in nursing informatics. The University of Kansas lab allows for charting work done after students finish treating their sim patients. Elsevier, a publisher of global programs in every area of science and health information, offers a program that completely presents electronic medical records (EMRs) which students can use for tracking and studying trends in a specific patient's healthcare including electronic ordering, documentation, clinical pathways and medication administration records (MARs).
Coursework that embraces these advances in education technology are not only appropriate but necessary in today’s steadily changing, technology driven healthcare environment. Students and teachers participating in distance learning are much more prepared for the automated world hospitals and clinics have become. Students who navigate health care with laptops and smart phones are better prepared for a world of telesurgery, artificial intelligence based diagnostic systems and voice activated documentation.
Online education is seen as a remedy to the nursing shortage, an asset in the battle against shrinking nursing faculty numbers, a way to keep nurses working while pursuing advanced education and a way of plugging the brain drain in many communities as their skilled workers and students leave for education and never return. Support for distance education by nursing educators, health care institutions, and nursing professionals enhanced by advances in technology are key to keeping the remedy fresh.