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Louisiana State University: Nursing Faculty to Online Health

Although plenty of anecdotal information is available on students’ perspectives on online education, information on how to manage faculty members’ transition to online instruction is scarce, especially for professional schools and small colleges and universities.

To be able to effectively offer courses online, a faculty must be both inspired and guided. Unfortunately, technology is often installed before an understanding of the system itself occurs.

At Louisiana State University, the School of Nursing tacked this problem, aiming to maintain high standards of teaching while moving toward next generation learning resources, such as online teaching software and World Wide Web applications.

As a first step, course objectives on using the Internet were incorporated into syllabi in all academic levels. Two major projects were started to ease the use of the Web in course instruction: First, an online teaching application was purchased from WebCT. Second, a Distance Education Committee (DEC) was established, composed of the Associate Dean for Community Services, the top computer support person, and volunteer faculty members.

The DEC’s main task was twofold: to develop strategies to support faculty in online teaching, and to recommend policies related to distance education. The DEC meets every month and invites all department heads to share insights into how the transition is progressing. The DEC also remains in close contact with the Curriculum and Education committees of the school.

The school’s computer staff also provided a series of volunteer workshops to introduce the faculty to WebCT and its features. The faculty started sharing their experiences as the first WebCT course was offered. The administration, aware that hiring a full-time Web master would ease the technical difficulty of putting courses online, is now studying the financial requirements of adding the position. In the interim, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs has reallocated teaching responsibilities for two faculty members to become Web facilitators for the faculty.

Information identifying a faculty member’s needs in going online is generally scarce. That’s partly because each school uses different technology, but also because the technology itself is often changing rapidly. In its case, the School of Nursing began by identifying the most pressing needs of its faculty before they could make the transition to online. This was to get them acquainted on how WebCT works, to have hands-on experience on how to upload courses on WebCT, and to have a resource center where faculty could easily seek out information about online teaching.

It was also important that faculty be aware of the need to reformat their course structure if they wished to involve the Internet in their teaching. At the onset, we discouraged faculty from merely uploading their courses on the Web without first determining if their course objectives would be affected.

Reactions from the faculty to online teaching have been mixed. Some approached the use of technology as a waste of time and resources. Others looked at it as a challenge. They were willing to spend time and energy to place their courses online. Still others hoped someone else would take full responsibility. We have observed, however, that a faculty member’s individual reaction is often directly related to their knowledge of computer usage.

There are several steps involved in converting files to HTML and uploading them to WebCT, all of which requires a good deal of time. Because of this, the faculty has constantly asked to have a Web master in the school. While it is prudent to have a technical person on standby, this should not stall efforts to use the Web as a medium for instruction. At LSU, the technical staff has agreed to be Web facilitators temporarily to assist faculty in their transition to online teaching.

The use of the Web in course instruction presents a special challenge to nursing, which is considered a practice discipline. Many of the faculty may be resistant, or even reluctant, to adopt this technology because of a belief that practice disciplines entail teaching skills rather than knowledge. However, creative ways can be devised to allow the practice component of nursing to be assumed by collaborating with nurses in the community where students reside. This is one option that may be elaborated on further should a school decide to incorporate courses that are entirely Web-based.

Introducing new teaching strategies is a major challenge that affects everyone. Since classroom teaching has been long accepted as the “norm” for instruction, there will be resistance as soon as changes are introduced. It will take time to integrate these changes within a pedagogical method. But with time, the benefits of using the Internet in course instruction will speak for itself. Based on the experience of the School of Nursing, a successful transition in online teaching must include constant communication, prompt assistance, and empathy when assisting a faculty member with this new task.

Strategies for Training Online Faculty

1. Workshop

A series of three one-hour WebCT workshops were offered to all faculty. To allow hands-on experience, all workshops were offered in the computer lab. To accommodate as many faculty as possible, each series was offered both in the morning and afternoon.

Each attendee was given access to a WebCT course so that they could orient themselves and manipulate its features. The workshops were designed so that the first one was simple to understand and only talked about the general features of WebCT. The third workshop of the series required them to perform hands-on exercises, such as uploading PowerPoint files to WebCT and participating in threaded discussions. All attendees were provided packets that contained instructions on every exercise that was performed. Articles dealing with pedagogical principles in online instruction were also shared. On the last of the series, two of the faculty members most experienced on WebCT were asked to give advice on how to facilitate online instruction and to avoid pitfalls when using WebCT.

2. Help Page

A personalized WebCT Help desk was developed to offer faculty assistance with commonly performed WebCT tasks. It was titled, “Learning How to Use WebCT”, and is available to all faculty once they access their WebCT. The Help Page contains workshop handouts as well as updated information on WebCT and distance learning. In addition, faculty were told WebCT also offers support in its help center. WebCT’s monthly newsletter is also circulated via e-mail to all faculty who are involved in WebCT.

3. Brown Bag

After the workshops were offered and the WebCT Help page was created, an hour was allotted every month for informal faculty meetings to share experiences using WebCT. The main goal of the brown bag lunches was to provide a forum for faculty to communicate best practices for teaching online.

4. Individual Support

Individual support was provided to faculty who sought assistance. While some faculty chose to meet in their personal office space, others chose to e-mail or telephone questions as they arose. The faculty’s perceptions of individual assistance were varied, as some expected the technical team would upload and design courses they were teaching. Others understood individual assistance was only for troubleshooting. The Associate Dean for Community Services handled requests of individual assistance to ensure each faculty-support person did not have too much scheduled at one time. A tally was created for the hours devoted to individual faculty assistance, which will be evaluated at the end of the school year to decide whether to adjust the number of support people.

5. Distance Education E-mail Communique

A distance education e-mail communiqué was attempted to update faculty on interesting points about distance learning. Resources included nursing, technology and education journals as well as professional organizations, including the U.S. Department of Education, Distance Education at Postsecondary Education Institutions, Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, and the American Nurses Association.

6. Web Library

A distance education library was also created in the School of Nursing. It consists of resources and references on distance education in nursing, and includes a copy of the WebCT series workshop handouts. The Web library has a number professional policy reports on distance education, including the National Association of State Boards of Education’s policy on e- learning, the National Center for Education Statistics Report on Higher Ed and Technology, and the Regional Accreditations Commission report for evaluation of electronically offered degree and certificate programs.

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