1. Perry, William MA, RN

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The Internet has brought the spirit of global communication and collaboration to nurses and other healthcare professionals in ways never before thought possible. These resources are offered to expand your opportunities for discussion, reference, education, and research.


I love computer-mediated learning. The convenience of asynchronous communication, the potential for synchronous communication, the ability to review when I want and as frequently as I want all suit my learning style very well. The earliest computer-based course I was involved in was completely text-based. Assignments and direction were given by e-mail and discussions were carried on by a listserv. Occasionally the instructor would be available online and we could converse using a Unix chat program. Text-based though it was, it was great.


In 1995 Pat Crispin at the University of Alabama conducted the Internet Roadmap Course entirely via listserv. Thousands joined and discovered opportunities for communication, collaboration, education, and research. You can view an archive of the original series of articles at About the same time Susan Sparks, RN, PhD, from the National Library of Medicine developed a series of "Cybertutorials" for individual study and exploration by nurses. I've looked for archives and cannot find them.


While most colleges and universities have developed online courses using commercial applications such as WebCT or Blackboard, many nursing staff development departments suffer budgetary constraints that preclude their involvement with these tools. If we take some of the functional characteristics of commercial applications and look to the open source community or various free Web applications, viable learning communities can be developed on a shoestring budget.


Presentation of information and discussion were the hallmarks of these early courses. They were and still could be conducted entirely by e-mail or one of the free discussion lists such as or Peter Murray, PhD, RN, CompBsC, the Associate Editor for Microcomputer Systems for Computers, Informatics, Nursing runs the Open Source Nursing List at nurse. Both Yahoo and MSN provide virtual community space at and Advertising supports them but they offer functionality and a moderate amount of Web space for free.


Nicenet ( provides a free Web-based virtual learning environment with a shared calendar, conferencing, shared documents, and instant messaging. The Nicenet organization describes itself as "an organization of Internet professionals who donate their time to provide services for the Internet community. One of Nicenet's primary goals is bringing communication tools and resources previously available only to those with large sums of money or substantial technical expertise to the education community."


In the November/December 2002 issue of CIN, I described Open Office (, an open source collection of applications compatible with Microsoft Office 2000. The documents produced by this package can be uploaded to a Web server and form the core of the presentation materials for a course. Web space is available at a wide price range, from free to whatever you wish to spend per month. I've conducted Web-enhanced courses on Web space that cost $36 per year.


Online assessment is a challenge but multiple-choice review tests can be produced using Webquestions 2.0 at or Hot Potatoes Both applications produce Javascript quizzes which are self-grading and can be uploaded to a Web site.


If you have the technical expertise (or access to technical expertise), there are a number of full-featured virtual learning systems available on the Internet. The Manhattan Virtual Classroom, developed at Western New England College, at, Moodle at, and Kewl from the University of the Western Cape at are examples of full-featured learning environments available without charge. They all provide a way to create and display content, communicate between instructor and students, assess learning by online testing, and share documents among members of the class.


There are lots of resources and directions available. The City University of Hong Kong has a wonderful newsletter at Distance Education at a Glance from the University of Idaho ( is a stellar resource composed of 12 guides to developing distance education materials. The Webquests Page at San Diego State University ( offers guidance on conducting "an inquiry-oriented activity in which most or all of the information used by learners is drawn from the Web."


I've not even scratched the surface of online resources. You can participate in the online learning experience and create those experiences for others. The tools and guidance are readily available. Add your own brand of creative direction and educate!