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New building drives changes at School of Nursing

August 16, 2012 By Stacy Forster

The School of Nursing is always in the process of evolution, but bigger changes – including a new building – are driving a more comprehensive redesign of its curriculum.

Nadine Nehls, the school’s associate dean for academic programs, talks about how the forthcoming Signe Skott Cooper Hall and the leadership of Dean Katharyn May has allowed the school to blaze a trail to new learning environments.

Inside UW: How would you describe what’s happening within the School of Nursing?

Nehls: We’ll be the only nursing school that will move from lecture halls to what we’re calling “active learning classrooms.”

We won’t have the traditional tiered room with the lecturer front. Instead we’re going to have large, flat spaces with students at round tables – probably nine students at each table — three computers and two professors in large lecture classes of 150 students. Instructors are going to spend a lot less time lecturing and more time assisting students with problem solving.

Students are going to be encouraged to work together to understand course content and apply it to health care practice. There will be a real emphasis on the translation and application of skills, and with that much more emphasis on teamwork and collaboration.

It’s going to be a very different School of Nursing.

IUW: What’s happening until the new building is completed?

Nehls: We have already set up a pilot in the Health Sciences Learning Center.

We took two rooms and converted them into a small active learning classroom. It isn’t exactly state of the art, but it has the same structure – round tables, monitors on the walls, shared computers.

It’s not exactly like what we’ll have in our new building, but it’s provided an opportunity to practice new ways of teaching. We’ve appointed a faculty leader who is helping people transform their courses and the way they deliver their content in a way that is accessible and used well in the new kind of learning environment.

IUW: How have the students responded?

Nehls: The students, I think, are enjoying it. We’re doing some informal surveys of satisfaction. We’re beginning to develop some more sophisticated evaluation tools to really measure things like student engagement and outcomes, not just satisfaction. It is a change for everyone, but I think it’s going to prove to be a very successful change for us.

IUW: What’s driving the change?

Nehls: There’s a fair amount of evidence – we all use ways in which we try to do more active teaching and learning, using more case studies, emphasizing more problem solving and moving away from the constant lecturing with PowerPoints. But we’ve found the environment really hasn’t been set up for that. It’s very difficult to have that kind of student engagement in a movie theater setup. It just isn’t possible.

The dialogue is different, you can’t see each other, you can’t move the chairs around, it is difficult to engage in ongoing dialogue. We want students to be able to be use the Internet and the library system to look for evidence-based practice cues, find literature and use it on the spot, just as they’ll have to do with their personal assistive devices when they’re working in a health care setting.

IUW: What are you doing to incorporate blended learning?

Nehls: That’s a different issue. We’ve had blended learning for decades because we have an RN completion program called BSN@home, which is a collaborative effort with the other nursing schools in Wisconsin. That has been entirely online, but there a few times where students meet. Each school contributes a course or so to the curriculum and students can enroll from any one of the state institutions. We’ve been doing that for over a decade.

More recently we are looking at ways to use blended learning to increase online capacity and generate new revenue. We just established a certificate option for master’s prepared nurses to gain a psychiatric mental heath certificate, so they could be certified nationally as mental health practitioners. That’s an online program that students can access from anywhere in the state. What’s new is the cost-recovery model so that the revenue can come back the school to be used to initiate new innovations.

IUW: What’s the big picture view about why to do this?

Nehls: We do think it will enhance learning outcomes. There is evidence that students are able to grasp and retain knowledge and skills better when they’re actively engaged in the material. It’s been difficult for us, except in the clinical settings, to really foster the notion of collaboration and teamwork. That’s becoming such a critical component of health care, and this will give students a better opportunity to practice that before graduation.