MAILED: Oct. 20, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- Time, distance and work schedules should no longer keep practicing and non-practicing registered nurses in Wisconsin from obtaining a bachelor of science degree in nursing thanks to a new technology-based degree program.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is among five UW System schools and UW-Extension that will work together to offer a Collaborative Nursing Program via asynchronous (flexible) learning methods. The flexible, technology-based approach uses the Internet to make interactive continuing education accessible to students whenever and wherever they chose.
"Registered nurses in northwestern Wisconsin will have another option to complete their baccalaureate degrees," said Sandra Dirks, associate professor of nursing systems at UW-Eau Claire and RN education coordinator for the Collaborative Nursing Program.
Currently, distance education programs require students to go to specific sites to participate in classes, Dirks said. With the asynchronous method, anyone with Internet access can complete courses from their homes, she said.
"It will allow them to complete assignments at a time that is convenient to them and works within their complex work, family and community lives," Dirks said.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has awarded a $150,000 grant to UW-Extension to help fund development and delivery of the UW System's innovative Collaborative Nursing Program. The program is a partnership among UW-Extension and UW schools of nursing at Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh and Green Bay.
"This Collaborative Nursing Program is a dramatic example of how cooperation and appropriate technology can combine to increase access to education," said UW-Eau Claire Provost/Vice Chancellor Marjorie Smelstor.
"Specifically, the cooperation among the universities, combined with a technology that allows 'just in time' learning, allows students to benefit from committed faculty, while using effective technology. The people plus the technology, then, become the winning combination."
The first class of the program produced with the support of the Sloan grant will be offered during the spring semester of the 1997-98 academic year and several more core classes will be developed in the next two years, Dirks said. The Collaborative Nursing Program has been offering courses since the spring of 1996 using various distance education technologies, she said.
In the collaborative program, students select a home institution and enroll in courses through that school, Dirks said. With the new teaching format, students will log on to get assignments, which may include on-line readings, readings from textbooks, referrals to other Internet sites, on-line discussion groups or visits to their local library, she said.
There will be opportunities for students to interact with faculty as needed, she said. With the exception of a nursing capstone course that requires students to be on campus every other week for a semester, nursing majors could earn their nursing credits without ever stepping foot on campus, Dirks said, adding that students still must complete their general education courses.
"This is just what busy working nurses and others isolated from a campus need to complete their college degrees and continue to learn throughout their lives," said Mike Offerman, UW-Extension's dean of continuing education.
It's difficult to estimate the number of registered nurses who will participate in this program because there is no good way to identify people who want bachelor's or master's degrees but are unable to pursue them because of jobs, family responsibilities or location, Dirks said. Registered nurses from as far away as Texas and North Carolina have contacted her about the possibility of participating in on-line programs, she said, noting that that could not happen unless the program becomes completely asynchronous.
"We're talking about a population of people who can't drop everything and move to Eau Claire to take classes," she said. "They already have jobs and already have roots in a community."
Health care systems in northwestern Wisconsin will benefit from the program because they will be served by better educated nurses, Dirks said. "There are some areas that are now medically underserved," she said. "This is a way to increase the skills of the nurses working in these areas. They will be able to increase their contributions to health care agencies."
"It will greatly enhance access to what is already proving to be a great example of synergy among our five UW Schools of Nursing and UW-Extension," said UW System President Katharine Lyall. "It will be a bellwether for similar collaborations in other disciplines and offer a UW System-wide model for continuing higher education."
The downside of the program, Dirks said, is that not everyone interested in the program has a home computer or will have access to the Internet. Data has shown that about 42 percent of the people interested in the program statewide have Internet access, she said, noting that some schools, libraries and other places with computers are working to provide access.
An added benefit is that those who participate will increase their level of comfort with technology, Dirks said, adding that technology is playing a bigger role in the medical field, and in the nursing field in particular.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Oct. 20, 1997