Evolve course management system, Issues and trends in nursing, Online instruction, Online nursing courses, Seven principles of effective teaching





This case study describes how the Evolve electronic course management system was used to deliver an online Trends and Issues in Nursing course for 53 nurses-in-training at Our Lady of Lourdes School of Nursing. Evolve provided an open-ended, electronic course shell that supported the instructor's efforts to create an online learning environment using the seven principles of effective teaching. The course was evaluated with items from the Student Evaluation of Online Teaching Effectiveness and questions written to assess unique features of the Trends and Issues course. Results indicated that most learners perceived that the course was generally a positive learning experience and that constructivist-based principles were used to design and deliver instruction that effectively promoted student learning.


Article Content


Schools of nursing have embraced the use of online instruction to increase opportunities for nursing students to access basic and advanced degrees.1 The flexibility and convenience offered by Internet-based nursing programs has been an important strategy for addressing the critical shortage of baccalaureate and advanced registered nurse practitioners.2 The availability of online nursing courses and programs provides increased access to certification programs and professional development for current nursing professionals who desire to advance their skills. However, the design and delivery of quality Internet-based courses is heavily dependent upon the use of well-researched instructional practices that are aligned with current theories of learning.3,4 Constructivist models of learning are exclusively recommended as "best-practice" for the design and delivery of Web-based courses.5,6 The constructivist model of learning is based on the notion that online instructors are facilitators of learning who create authentic, interactive educational experiences that support learners' efforts to actively construct personal meaning and knowledge based on new information and prior knowledge.7


One of the best known summaries of constructivist-based instructional practices is the widely disseminated list of seven principles of effective teaching, written by Chickering and Gamson.8 The seven principles were distilled from research studies conducted during the past 75 years that have identified instructional practices that positively affect the learning of college students.9 The seven principles encourage college faculty to use instructional practices that encourage student-faculty contact, cooperation among students, active learning, prompt feedback, time on task, high expectations, and respect for diverse talents and ways of learning. The learner-centered teaching practices recommended by Chickering and Gamson's seven principles provide a researched-based pedagogical framework that is well-suited for guiding the design, delivery, and evaluation of Internet-based instruction.3,10 World Wide Web Course Tools (WebCT) and Blackboard (recently merged; Blackboard, Washington, DC), and eCollege, (Elsevier, Alton, IL), are popular Internet-based course management systems that most college instructors use for delivering online courses. The literature related to Web-based course development suggests that these online course platforms offer the electronic tools necessary for designing and teaching online courses that support Chickering and Gamson's seven principles of effective teaching.11-13


There is no question that electronic course platforms such as Evolve, WebCT, and Blackboard provide flexible learning opportunities for a variety of learners across time and space. However, there has been concern among educators that quality assurance procedures for the design and delivery of Internet-based courses have been ignored as colleges and universities rush to offer an array of distance-delivered programs that will allow them to maintain and increase enrollments.14,15 Despite the increase in the number of institutions offering Internet-based nursing degree programs, there has been little research conducted to guide faculty and institutions toward the development of methods for assessing the quality of online instruction.10


A cursory review of more than 200 articles related to online nursing courses found that few reported on the development of instruments for assessing the quality of online teaching. The majority of studies only offered guidance related to the pedagogical attributes that nursing faculty should consider when designing and teaching online courses. Of the studies reviewed, only two were found that researched the evaluation of online nursing courses. Odom et al16 reported on their development of a course evaluation tool based on Chickering and Gamson's seven principles of effective teaching. However, their study does not report evidence of instrument reliability or validity. Research by Billings et al17 used Chickering and Gamson's framework to develop the Evaluating Educational Uses of the Web in Nursing (EEUWIN) instrument in collaboration with the Flashlight Program. This instrument was used to assess the quality of online learning for 558 students taking Web-based courses from six schools of nursing. The EEUWIN was found to be a highly reliable assessment and to provide useful information related to the effectiveness of online instructional practices. However, the authors do not show the EEUWIN items or provide information about how this course evaluation instrument can be obtained, making it difficult for faculty to evaluate its appropriateness for use with their own online courses.


This case study describes how the Evolve course management system was used to design and deliver an online Trends and Issues in Nursing course for nursing students based on the seven principles of effective teaching framework. In addition, a course evaluation instrument based on the Student Evaluation of Online Teaching Effectiveness (SEOTE)3 was used to assess students' perceptions of how the seven principles of effective teaching were used to deliver the online version of the Trends and Issues in Nursing course.



The participants for this study were 53 nursing students who were enrolled full time in the cooperative nursing education program at Our Lady of Lourdes School of Nursing in Camden, NJ, and Camden County College in Blackwood, NJ. The majority of online students were nontraditional students who had family commitments and were pursuing second careers. Most students were unfamiliar with online instruction and were supplied with instruction on how to use the Evolve course tools. Students were taught to send e-mail, post discussions, submit assignments, open and save Word documents, convert files to html, and use other miscellaneous Evolve course room tools necessary for participating in the online learning process. Most of the students held at least a part time job while completing their last semester of coursework prior to graduation. Seven of the 53 students who completed the course were males. Students ranged in age from 30 to 35 years. This study took place with both the fall (n = 21) and spring (n = 32) online Trends and Issues in Nursing courses.



The online version of the Trends and Issues in Nursing course was designed to provide an alternative to attending the campus-based course that is required for students seeking a diploma in nursing and an associate degree in science. The text used for this online course was Contemporary Nursing: Issues, Trends and Management by Cherry.18 The topics covered included nursing theory and practice, nursing research and evidenced-based nursing, preparing for professional licensure, preparing for a career in nursing, challenges for the new RN, health policy and political issues, legal issues, and nursing as a profession. Course activities included threaded discussions, debates, group projects, and individual assignments.



The SEOTE was developed by Bangert3 to assess each of the constructivist-compatible learning practices recommended by the seven principles of effective teaching. The intent of the SEOTE is to provide online instructors with feedback about the effectiveness of their teaching practices. The 23 SEOTE items were specifically worded to elicit responses about the quality of teaching within the context of online learning environments. Student responses are elicited using a 6-point Likert scale, which ranges from strongly agree (6) to strongly disagree (1). In addition, an open-ended question was administered to capture more individualized and detailed student perceptions of teaching effectiveness. Content validity of the instrument was established by a panel of college and university online instructors who reviewed the items for clarity, accuracy, and appropriateness for assessing the research-based practices that have been identified as critical for effective online teaching. Items were reviewed and revised based on recommendations made from the review panel.


Previous research conducted with the SEOTE found that the instrument yielded high levels of internal consistency reliability ([alpha] =.94).19 Although the individual items were found to assess the seven principles of effective teaching reliably, results from an exploratory factor analysis found that the 23-item scale was best represented by four underlying dimensions: student-faculty interaction, cooperation among students, active learning, and time on task.20 One reason offered to explain why four, rather than seven, factors emerged from this analysis is that the dimensions of effective teaching originally described for face-to-face classroom settings by Chickering and Gamson's framework may have different causal relationships when applied to online learning environments. Contextual influences such as student characteristics, course content, and instructor skills manifest themselves differently in online courses, implying that they will have different relationships to the processes and activities required for quality Internet-based instruction.


Sixteen of the original SEOTE items were used with 25 new items that were written to assess the unique characteristics of the Trends and Issues course. Five of the course-specific items were open-ended, allowing students to express extended comments about their online learning experience. The coefficient alpha for all 36 Likert scale items from both the SEOTE and the course-specific items was .97. The final items used for evaluating the Trends and Issues course are presented in Table 1.

Table 1 - Click to enlarge in new windowTable 1 Trends and Issues in Nursing Online Course Evaluation Instrument


Student Faculty-Contact and Prompt Feedback

The Evolve e-mail was the primary method for maintaining individual contact between the instructor and students. E-mail messages were used to distribute announcements, clarify assignments, supply in-depth explanations about course concepts, and respond to inquiries related to general course information. E-mail was also particularly helpful for conveying specific instructions about how to use various Evolve tools, such as the digital drop box. Results from the student responses to evaluation questions 1 to 8 indicated that overall students thought that this course maintained high levels of student-faculty interaction. Most students "strongly agreed" or "agreed" that the amount of instructor contact was satisfactory (92%) and the instructor was accessible outside of the electronic classroom (94%). In addition, 91% of students thought the instructor was enthusiastic about online teaching, and most (87%) thought she communicated effectively.


The Evolve email and digital drop box supplied detailed evaluative and corrective feedback that students could use to revise and resubmit assignments. For example, during the first round of the debate activity, students posted only their personal opinions and did not provide evidence to support their points of view. In response to students' initial postings, the instructor used e-mail to clarify that the debaters must provide research-based evidence to support their positions. As a result of this communication, the student debates became much more instructive and motivated deeper levels of interactive discourse. The Evolve discussion tool allows instructors to supply students with detailed immediate feedback by providing instructors with an area to make comments as well as a box for posting a summative discussion grade. Evolve also features a My Grades tool that allows students to access their grades to assignments and discussion postings throughout the course. Most students thought they were provided with supportive feedback related to course assignments (72%) and were given timely feedback in response to questions about how to use Evolve tools (68%) and complete course assignments (77%).


Cooperation Among Students

The use of threaded discussions also encouraged student-faculty contact and promoted collaborative learning experiences. Discussions were created to stimulate critical discourse among students through a series of debates related to a range of issues faced by practicing nurses. For example, one debate topic focused on the question "Who should pay for the uninsured, the American government or the people who are insured?" Another collaborative activity required groups of students to produce a six- to eight-page research paper and make oral presentations of the information from the paper to their classmates during the last week of the course. Topics that students researched included "The Aging RN Factor and the Nurse Shortage," "Technology Wonders and Woes," "Alternative Nursing Careers," and "The Impaired Nurse."


Results from questions written to assess "cooperation among students" (items 9-10) suggest that learners "strongly agreed" or "agreed" that the course included learning activities that allowed students to interact with one another (88%) through collaborative thoughtful discussions (73%). More than 80% of students indicated that they were able to engage in discussions and debates about specialized topics such as the influence of nursing theories on the nursing profession and impact of healthcare research on evidenced-based nursing practices. The fact that 90% of the nursing students indicated that they were able to debate health issues related to nursing practice suggests that they not only enjoyed the debate activities but also thought that the course provided them with solid knowledge to skillfully argue their positions related to healthcare. The majority of online nursing students also thought that the course provided opportunities to engage in collaborative discourse about healthcare research (86%), theories of nursing (85%), and the influence of nurses on health policies that affect professional practice (90%).


Active Learning

This online course incorporated authentic assignments that provided learners with experiences designed to provide a more realistic and deeper understanding of issues that are faced by practicing nurses on a daily basis. The Evolve "My Documents" modules were used to house and organize the documents that explained the requirements for these assignments. One of the projects that students were required to complete was an interview with a practicing nurse. The main goal of this assignment was to help student nurses gain a better understanding of the potential challenges they might encounter during their first year of practice. Students were also assigned to review the interactive Web site "The Nursing Models of Neuman, Leininger, and Roy: Described and Applied" ( to help them identify a model that best represented how they engaged in practice during their clinical experiences. Another example of the creative use of Web-based resources was an assignment that required students to take a virtual tour of the Florence Nightingale Museum.


Student responses to "active learning" items 12 to 14 indicated that the majority of students thought that this online course included realistic and interactive problem-solving activities and links to examples from the Web that motivated them to do their best work (72%). In addition, they thought that the course included interactive assignments that directly involved them in the learning process (91%). Moreover, most students indicated that assigned readings were relevant and contributed to their learning (85%). The fact that 85% of students indicated that the course modules enabled them to apply their new learning suggests that the degree of student involvement in course assignments promoted the generalization of concepts and skills to contexts beyond the classroom.


High Expectations

The Trends and Issues course was designed to promote active student learning and enhance task completion by furnishing students with access to Web sites that contained examples that represented expected levels of professional practice found in real-life situations. The syllabus tool was also used to encourage active task engagement by clearly communicating assignment information and the grading criteria expected for proficient and advanced performances. Results from questions 25 and 35 indicate that 83% of students "strongly agreed" or "agreed" that the course objectives outlined in the syllabus and content modules were helpful in directing their study during this course. One course activity that represents a good example of how the instructor encouraged and supported high expectations was a lesson that used the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Model Nursing Act and Rules Web site ( to teach the legal and ethical principles that guide the professional conduct of nurses. After reviewing this Web site, students were required to apply their knowledge of nursing ethics and legal issues to several authentic, case study problem-solving activities. This activity promoted high levels of expected ethical behaviors and application of legal knowledge based on criteria developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to guide the practice of nurses across the United States


Rubrics that were used by the instructor to evaluate course assignments, discussion postings, and projects were also posted in content modules to provide students with a clear set of criteria to guide their work toward proficiency levels expected in real-life contexts. Although the scoring rubrics were designed to provide students with guidance toward proficient task completion, only 62% of students thought the grading criteria were fair and reflected important aspects of the course. A review of students' open-ended comments suggested the scoring rubrics did not clearly communicate the criteria required to produce the assignment quality expected by the instructor.


Time on Task

The Trends and Issues online course was designed to be accessible and structured to efficiently guide students toward the completion of course assignments. The initial course log-on page directed students to a Welcome Page that contained links to announcements, the course syllabus, calendar, instructional units, and student-faculty profiles. The content modules contributed to the efficiency and productivity of student task engagement because they organized student resources and reduced the number of course pages they were required to navigate. The "Calendar" tool also increased time on task by linking students directly to course assignments housed in the content modules. Another feature of the "Evolve" home page that contributed to efficient task engagement was the link that allowed students to return immediately to the course room area (ie, discussion, content module, e-mail, etc) that was last accessed when they were logged into the course. The "Return to Where I Left Off" home page link, like the "course documents" feature, reduced the number of "electronic pages" that students needed to access when engaging in ongoing discussions and collaborative group projects. The Evolve digital drop box tool supported high levels of task engagement by allowing instructors to specify assignment due dates that were automatically communicated to students when logging into Trends and Issues course.


Results from the course evaluation questions 15, 28, and 21 suggest that this course did support productive task engagement. Most (85%) of the students indicated that the course was user-friendly and was structured so that they could efficiently complete learning tasks (81%). Overall, students indicated that the self-study questions were motivating because they were helpful for reinforcing their learning. Almost all of the students (99%) enrolled in the Trends and Issues online course indicated that this course afforded them the opportunity to complete assignments on their own time and in the location of their choice.


Diverse Talents and Multiple Ways of Learning

The instructional practice of "encouraging diverse and multiple ways of learning" is related to the notion that knowledge acquisition is a unique experience for each learner.7 Students bring a diverse range of academic talents, preferences, and experiences to instructional environments. Creating online instructional activities that tap the range of student talents is critical for creating quality learning experiences for all students. The reading assignments, mini-lectures, threaded discussions, and examples with detailed explanations were best suited for students with verbal processing strengths. The instructional activities that used Web sites that incorporated rich graphics and colorful imagery were a better match for learners with visual learning strengths. One example that illustrates the integration of learning modalities was an assignment for students participated in a virtual tour of the Florence Nightingale Museum ( located in London, England. This interactive Web site provided students with images associated with the life history of one the most well-known pioneers in the field of nursing. Web sites such as this one were thought to be effective learning tools because they used text and graphics to integrate verbal and visual thinking, providing instructional benefits for most students.



Student Evaluations of Online Teaching and Course Improvements

Student responses from the SEOTE items and course-specific items support the conclusion that the constructivist-based teaching practices recommended by the seven principles of effective teaching were used to effectively deliver an online Trends and Issues course for aspiring nurses. Results from this course evaluation were also used formatively to make revisions to subsequent versions of the Trends and Issues online course. For example, results indicated that although students favored the debate discussion activities, they also expressed confusion and frustration about the instructor's expectations for this learning activity. This issue was addressed in subsequent Trends and Issues courses by explaining the debate requirements in detail during the course orientation and engaging the students in a hands-on demonstration using practice debates in the computer lab. Some students also expressed the opinion that group activities were a negative experience. Reasons students gave for these negative perceptions focused mainly on the time commitment required and that their individual grades were dependent on the work of others. One reason for students' negative experiences with group activities may have been that many of the students were not engaged with each other in previous courses and did not know each other. This issue was resolved by engaging students in relationship-building activities during face-to-face orientation meetings where they had opportunities to share common interests and to determine common study times.


Several technological problems occurred during the course that, when corrected, greatly improved student-faculty interactions. For example, during initial stages of the course, the Evolve e-mail page had to be modified to allow students to see other students' e-mail addresses so that they could interact with each other outside of the discussion area when completing individual or group assignments. The Evolve assignment drop box was also modified so that there was a dedicated submission area for each unique assignment. This modification supported instructor efforts to efficiently grade and provide timely feedback to students about their performance. Although the instructor was able to resolve these issues, these experiences demonstrate that online courses must be constantly monitored to ensure that technology is being used to maximize students' learning efforts.


Challenges of Evaluating Online Instructional Practices

Research in the area of student evaluations of teaching suggests that teaching is a complex, multidimensional task that comprises distinct instructional acts.20,21 One of the complexities associated with assessing teaching effectiveness is the unique contexts in which instruction is delivered. To adequately evaluate the specific attributes of the Trends and Issues course, we found that it was necessary to write and administer course-specific items in addition to core items from the SEOTE. Our experiences related to evaluating this course suggest that perhaps more than one instrument may be required to assess the full range of traits related to a quality online learning experience. A good example of this practice is the study by Billings et al17 that combined items from the Flashlight Program's Current Student Inventory Toolkit and the Technology Use Scale when evaluating undergraduate and graduate students' perceptions of online teaching and learning.


The procedures used for evaluating the Trends and Issues online course provide guidance to faculty who are engaged in efforts to improve their Web-based teaching practices. However, future research should be focused on using analyses such as exploratory factor analysis to determine if the underlying dimensions of the SEOTE and course-specific items are similar to the seven categories of effective teaching proposed by Chickering and Gamson. Our small sample size of 53 students was not adequate for conducting this type of analysis.22 More importantly, the items composing the SEOTE were written to reflect research-based teaching practices that have been identified as essential for delivering quality online instruction. These items as they exist individually are suitable for providing nursing faculty with diagnostic feedback about their Web-based teacher practices. Results from this study suggest that the SEOTE may be suitable for providing a core group of items that faculty can use along with course-specific items to assess the effectiveness of their online teaching.


In conclusion, nursing programs will need to continue to provide accessible educational opportunities as the demand for nurses continues to increase. Online programs provide one solution for training more nurses because they allow students to take courses and complete degree programs while still maintaining family and work responsibilities. Results from the course evaluation of the Trends and Issues in Nursing course suggest that most students thought their online learning experiences where positive and that they learned the key course concepts and skills. We suggest that these positive outcomes are directly related to the features of the Evolve electronic classroom, which supported instructor efforts to create a quality online learning environment.




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