We use the Internet to read news, to gather research, to socialize, and more, but some are still skeptical about the ability to teach an engaging and successful course online. Achieving success in an e-Learning environment is actually quite attainable and each year, more instructors make the move. Today, I’d like to focus on one individual who recently made the move online. Dr. Angela Green is the Director of Nursing Research at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She and her team won a 2012 Catalyst Award for Staff Development. This award honors those who use Blackboard solutions to support and enhance faculty and staff development skills that provide a better learning experience for students and faculty themselves.
Green and her team created a staff development course that focuses on evidence-based practice implementation in the clinical setting. Evidence-based practice is a key clinical decision making tool where one utilizes the best knowledge and research available at that time to make the most informed decision. It is also extremely important because the Institute of Medicine realized through the series of Crossing the Quality Chasm reports (2001-2004) that many health care professionals lack skill and application.
Children’s Hospital’s evidence-based course had been taught face-to-face for several years, but limited availability of clinical staff, time parameters, and space all proved to be big hurdles and prompted the team to think about online instruction through Blackboard Learn. The team’s Phase I pilot consisted of ten individuals, all clinical staff, who were highly motivated in the online course environment with one exception – they wanted face-to-face interaction! For the Phase II pilot, the team kept the online format but created opportunities to meet for lunch. However, there was still minimal interaction in the online course. Why was this?
Green explained her red-inked pen theory to me. In a traditional classroom, students respond to red-ink and understand the reflection this will have on their grades. In a staff development course, participants do not receive grades. When the team moved their development course online, there became no external motivator for students to participate in discussions. Green’s participants were completing their requirements but did not have any consequences for lack of participation in online discussion.
The team responded in two ways: First, they shifted to a blended learning environment with face-to-face sessions and online course requirements. Second, to maintain momentum between in-person sessions, the participants received a small compensation. This format kicked off in the Fall of 2012 and so far, it seems to be a success!
Motivation was not the team’s only hurdle. Differing comfort levels with using online technology popped up during the two pilots. “Even though we are in an environment and a world where electronic health records and electronic information is everywhere, we found a lot more variability in people’s ability to navigate an online course,” explained Green. The team again adjusted and implemented a face-to-face orientation for the blended course.
Green and her team learn more each time they run the six-month course and are adapting to the dynamics of an online environment. Both as a faculty member and student, Green really enjoys the asynchronous environment allowing you to participate anywhere and anytime. In addition, she is a fan of the online environment’s ability to allow you to have a more considered response. “I can post something today or I can think about it, read about it, refer to other postings before I participate in the discussion whereas if I’m having this discussion in class what I have is what I have and it has to happen at that moment.”
The team will finish up their first non-pilot course this winter. The interest in e-Learning opportunities in the hospital has grown in response to the Catalyst Award the team received and I’m sure many will be asking this team of experts for advice!