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Special Projects Fund Recipient: Supporting Nursing Students at a Distance

Thursday, April 16, 2015   (0 Comments)
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Christina Forsyth, Student Experience Coordinator (Nipissing University)
Meghan Robidoux, Transition Program Assistant (Nipissing University)

With the rise of technology comes the expansion of the classroom into a virtual realm, bringing students together to learn even at a great distance. Orientation and transition programs must adapt to support this new demographic of learner.

The RPN-BScN program is a blended learning program (online & practical) for currently practicing nurses. This is a unique student demographic: these students are full-time practical nurses, have regular life commitments, and are enrolled in online courses to complete their undergraduate degree.

To better serve these students and address identified knowledge gaps, Transition staff worked with the Nursing program to create a day-long seminar.

It was necessary to gather information and ideas pertaining to transfer students, mature students and distance learners, as the students we were targeting simultaneously fit into all three categories. As mature transfer students, participants would benefit from understanding how their previous college and life experiences would be assets in their degree (Schwitzer, Ancis & Brown, 2001). The language chosen to present the information was specifically tailored to respect their previous experience, scaffolding their existing knowledge while presenting information about university learning (Berger, 2003). As distance students studying online, methods for accessing services and participating socially while completing their degree would be unique (Schwitzer, Ancis & Brown, 2001).

Seminar Goals
The goals of the program were twofold; to increase the understanding of the unique needs of the RPN/BScN blended students and to establish effective programming that would further best practices in supporting their transition.

Overview of the Transition Seminar
The Nursing Transition Seminar was held once in North Bay and a second time in Oakville due to low turnout. Workshops focused on getting students acquainted with their nursing program, services offered at Nipissing University, academic writing and research, and providing strategies to aid in a smooth transition. A dinner was arranged for students to connect with their classmates and facilitate later group work in their online classes.

Assessment Results
Prior to seminar sessions, all participants completed a survey assessing their knowledge in four general domains: familiarity with Nipissing University (Nipissing Familiarity), familiarity with the Nursing program (Nursing Familiarity), awareness of their own strengths or areas of need (self-awareness), and confidence in their abilities (confidence). Students were given the same survey at completion to ascertain if the sessions had resulted in gains in knowledge around these four domains. Results showed that students increased their overall knowledge by at least 20% by attending the seminar. Most learning happened in the "familiarity with Nipissing” and "Nursing familiarity” domains, and a noted increase in confidence levels at post assessment is an understandable impact. Students rated the sessions presenting available services and resources as the most useful.

Future recommendations
Learning occurred as a result of all sessions included in the seminar, but some notes were made for recommendations to improve for the future. The session on APA and academic research and writing was necessary to fill a knowledge gap, it is recommended to host such a workshop in the third semester – correlating with the first research project. The session on navigating Blackboard (the student information portal) would be strengthened by a "live” presentation, rather than screenshots, that students could follow along in their own account if they wished.

Overall, the seminar was beneficial and all students demonstrated learning and satisfaction with the offerings of the day. Students in transition benefit from the timely delivery of information, with presenters scaffolding information to build on previous knowledge and meet their demonstrated needs. As students begin in their first semester of the program, the focus was on building awareness of the structure of Nipissing University and the RPN-BScN Blended learning program, the resources available for support, and the importance of networking with their fellow students. These outcomes were successfully met and important areas for improvement were noted. The long-term impact of these sessions remains to be seen, but the impact of two departments working collaboratively to support a group of students has prepared the way for continued student support.

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