SITE Stories: Increasing Student Outcomes in Nursing Research

This is our first entry in SITE Stories, where members of the Penn State community share information about projects in collaboration with the Schreyer Institute. If you have an idea for a story, please email Bart Pursel at

This story comes from Michael Evans, Instructor of Nursing and Tierney Lyons, reference Librarian, both from Penn State Worthington Scranton. If you have any questions, or would like to learn more about their research, please do not hesitate to contact them directly.
Traditionally, nursing students view Nursing 200w: Understanding and Applying Nursing Research as one of the more boring and labor intensive courses, often wondering why they need to understand nursing research as a bedside nurse. However, it is a necessary challenge for it promotes both better patient outcomes and graduate education predisposition.  To spark students’ interest in nursing research, Penn State Worthington Scranton’s Michael Evans, Instructor of Nursing, and Tierney Lyons, reference librarian, piloted a blended learning approach during Fall 2011 using ANGEL’s asynchronous discussion boards to promote reflective thinking and increase student satisfaction.  This research was supported by a SITE grant with the guidance of Dr. Kathy Jackson, Senior Research Associate and Instructional Consultant.
For this study, Mr. Evans and Ms. Lyons applied the supplemental model for blended learning to the research class. Instead of decreasing traditional classroom time, they supplemented the students’ in-person interactions with their instructor, Dr. Milton Evans, Penn State Worthington Scranton Instructor of Nursing, by incorporating online, asynchronous forums.  After obtaining IRB approval and participant consent (n =20), the researchers monitored the ANGEL forums, asking students to respond to researcher-driven discussion questions. Students posted their own original response by midweek and responded to their classmates’ online comments by the week’s end using a “thought extending” statement, such as a question, a reference, or an additional idea for their peers to consider.  All posts were expected to be substantial and scholarly in nature.
Reflective thinking was evaluated using a modified version Dr. Stephen Brookfield’s tool, the Critical Incident Questionnaire. This tool provided qualitative feedback and recorded an increase in reflective thinking. Students commented that they felt engaged, motivated, knowledgeable, and appreciative of the collaborative learning environment.  To measure student satisfaction, a course evaluation survey was conducted at the course’s completion using a modified version of a Site tool and yielded positive results.  The majority of students found that using asynchronous discussion boards was valuable, would recommend taking other classes that used this teaching modality, will apply something that they learned in their professional or academic careers, gained knowledge in nursing research from the discussion forums, and agreed that the postings led them to think more critically about the course material.
Limitations to the study included the researchers, instead of the course instructor, leading the online discussions and the uninspiring, text-based interface of the discussion boards. However, Mr. Evans and Ms. Lyons plan to improve participation rates in future research by serving as the course instructors and incorporating user-centric technology. Introducing digital storytelling via VoiceThread and mobile computing through iPad tablet distribution, the researchers aim to increase student engagement.  While the study lacked statistically significant results, it demonstrates the value of interdisciplinary blended learning in increasing student outcomes. The researchers believe that this strategy is valuable in nursing education as well as in other disciplines.

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