Innovative learning opportunities for nursing students at Nipissing University
Nipissing University in North Bay has responded to the need for more nurses in Ontario by creating two innovative learning programs. In one program, Registered Practical Nurses (RPN) can study for their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) online and in clinical settings on a part-time basis. The Scholar Practitioner Program provides a two-year compressed BScN program for those who have a baccalaureate degree.
The two programs use different approaches to pedagogy and technologies for learning – one program is offered online while the other is face-to-face learning, enhanced by technology.
RPN to BScN Blended Learning Program: The program is a five-year part-time program for those with a Registered Practical Nurse (RPN) diploma registered through the College of Nurses of Ontario who want to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN). The program consists of theory courses delivered online, as well as face-to-face clinical experiences. Partnerships are set up with health care institutions across Ontario so that the students can complete their practicum in settings close to home. The students must have the support of their employers who work with the university to facilitate their clinical experiences.
The theory courses are offered through a learning management system (LMS), Blackboard, with syllabi, content, and online assignments supplemented by - at the discretion of the professor - chats, discussion board activities, visuals, audio, and other online teaching and learning tools.
Scholar Practitioner Program: This program, which began in September 2011, is based on the evolving need in health care for nurses who are clinically competent and theoretically capable scholar practitioners who can participate in knowledge networking within complex health care delivery environments. All students must have a baccalaureate degree in a discipline outside of nursing before enrolling in the two-year, full-time program, in which the majority of time is spent immersed in practice-based settings. The four academic health sciences teaching centres affiliated with the program are based in Toronto and include The University Health Network, The Hospital for Sick Children, Mount Sinai Hospital, and Toronto Public Health. Each health care organization appoints an on-site faculty advisor to support the learning experience through learning technologies and experiential systems.
The pedagogy of the Scholar Practitioner Program incorporates narrative inquiry and a learning relationship between faculty and students in interpreting, critically thinking about, and analyzing concepts, ideas, and situations. The overall paradigm is collaborative and discovery based. Students spend the first 3 weeks of each semester focused on inquiry, with course concepts and learning tools provided online. The students explore the questions posed in each inquiry course through research, learning objects, links to library resources, and collaboration with their fellow students, health care delivery staff, and program faculty. The subsequent 9 weeks are dedicated to practice and reflection, as students work in unique clinical settings and integrate the reflective practice process and apply it to their personal learning. During the final week, all students in the cohort come together for collective reflection, dialogue, and sharing of experiences prior to proceeding into the next semester.
The program uses the learning management system (Blackboard) to facilitate a common repository of program document resources, web links, and information posts. It is used as a communication forum and exchange for students, faculty and administration.
A learning portfolio plays an essential role in the process of narrative inquiry and building evidence-based scholarly practice. Each semester, the student also develops an individualized learning plan in collaboration with faculty. The student’s plan outlines additional program content and learning processes needed to ensure an understanding of core program learning outcomes. Many elements comprise the learning portfolio, such as individual philosophies of nursing, learning resources, reflection pieces, case studies, multimedia exemplars, and other content related to personal, academic, and experiential journeys.
Outcomes and Benefits
RPN to BScN Blended Learning Program: The combination of online learning in the theory courses with clinical experiences in settings close to home enables students to study for the BScN degree while continuing to work as a RPN. This also benefits employers, as their staff is able to upgrade their credentials while remaining in the work place. The BScN is essential for becoming a Registered Nurse; it is also the means by which the students advance in the scope of their practice. As the program develops, a cadre of experienced teachers is being established across Ontario, many with experience as online learners.
In 2010, when the program was introduced, the first intake was 60 students and there were 12 health care agency partners in Ontario; in 2013, these numbers have grown to over 400 students and more than 100 partners in Ontario.
Scholar Practitioner Program: The goal for the program is to graduate nurses who are the next generation of leaders, self-directed learners who are practice-ready after their intensive experience in the partnering institutions, and open to thinking differently and changing nursing practice. As graduates are focused on knowledge creation and sharing as well as evidence-based decision-making, they are better equipped to function within the increasingly complex health care environment. Their continued exposure to, and experience with, technologies for learning, communication, research, and collaboration equips these nurses with essential skills for modern health care provision.
The first cohort has graduated from the program, achieving the provincial average for the licensure exams and exceeding the provincial average for employment, with more than 90% of the graduates employed in their organization and specialty of choice.
An increasing interest and growth in program size attests to the continued interest of innovative education models. However, maintaining a comparatively smaller student cohort than other programs fosters a learning environment attuned to the independent needs of the students in building strong academic and professional relationships, as well as allows for the wide array of choice of clinical practice opportunities in the partner organizations.
Challenges and Enhancements
RPN to BScN Blended Learning Program: Some students have found that online learning is not an appropriate learning approach for them or that working while doing part-time studies is a difficult balance. The majority of students, however, have been successful by using a combination of skills and attitudes including motivation, self-direction, and organization.
An ongoing challenge to providing nursing education in Ontario is the need for clinical placement space. While the program partners are eager to cooperate, possible placements sometimes conflict with other priorities. In these cases, the clinical practicum may be delayed until the spaces are available. The flexibility of the program allows the course sequencing to be adjusted, so that the students are still able to progress through their degree courses while awaiting their practicum placement.\
Scholar Practitioner Program: The program is built on an innovative approach to nursing education and has taken a number of years and considerable expertise from across Canada to develop. It demands that the students become efficient, motivated, self-directed, and inquisitive learners over the 6 semesters. They must have the ability to recognize and meet their own learning needs within the context of the learning objectives for the program, the online environment, and the narrative inquiry context of learning. The compressed program requires dedication and focus.
RPN to BScN Blended Learning Program: Program educators are developing new ways to provide students with clinical skills through the use of simulation labs and a mobile simulation lab that can travel to the locations in which the students are working and learning.
Scholar Practitioner Program: Faculty members receive iPads to enhance networking between Nipissing University, program administration, faculty colleagues, and the students themselves. iPads issued to students are used to provide instant access to extensive resources, communication and a multitude of application linkages both internal and external to the program. As technological resources have been increasingly integrated within academic and health care systems alike, future students will continue to have access to the tools best suited to their learning and practice needs.
For Further Information
Letitia Nadalin Penno
BScN Collaborative Program
School of Nursing
Scholar Practitioner Program
Learning Systems Technologist (E-portfolio)
Centre for Flexible Teaching and Learning
RPN to BScN Programs
School of Nursing
Centre for Flexible Teaching and Learning