All Quality Vital Signs as a Method of Evaluating Quality in Online Nursing Education

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Julie A. Marfell, DNP
Frontier Nursing University, Lexington, KY, USA
AtNena L. Luster, DNP, MBA
College of Nursing, Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, LA, USA
Pegge Bell, PhD
Maternal Child Health Academy, Sigma Theta Tau International, Indianapolis, IN, USA

Some sayings will always echo in the minds of nursing students. “If you didn’t chart it, it wasn’t done” and “Don’t treat the number, treat the patient” are two of the most notorious phrases. Evaluating quality in online education is a complex task, now a mandate from multiple accrediting agencies. Educational administrators must employ a method of assessing online nursing courses, a method that is comprehensive and an accurate reflection of the student experience. Many evaluation tools gauge quality in numbers, but do these numbers provide an accurate assessment of quality in the online learning environment? If we continue to evaluate courses based on a single number, are we treating the course (patient) or the number (score)?

In this university setting, the online course evaluation process was based on an altered version of a widely-used online course evaluation system. The university goal was to have all online courses reviewed by three years post-implementation, continuing with a 3-year cycle of review. Course reviews were dependent upon faculty volunteering to review online courses for other schools/departments on campus. Since there were no repercussions for not volunteering, course reviews fell far behind regularly scheduled review timelines. In addition, the current process did not capture all elements of nursing education as required by nursing accrediting agencies. To fill the evaluation gap, the ALL Quality Vital Signs project was implemented. The cornerstone of the project was the development of a modified version of the Online Learning Consortium Quality Scorecard. Evaluation metrics from the Scorecard were matched to didactic and clinical elements from online courses on the user end and regulatory standards from multiple accrediting agencies on the backend, resulting in the "Quality Vital Signs Rubric." The " Quality Vital Signs Rubric" was implemented during a semester-long pilot program. During the trial semester, online DNP courses were evaluated by a group of eight nursing faculty members who were trained on the use of the rubric. All eight members were current nursing faculty including one faculty member who did not have online teaching experience to assure that the concepts were well understand by all reviewers. The reviewers were divided into dyads with each dyad reviewing the same course during the first round of course reviews. A debriefing session was held to review areas of agreement and disagreement. Based on the feedback received, the verbiage of some evaluation measures was altered to ensure clarity for reviewers. Two additional review sessions were subsequently completed using the edited rubric. The primary outcome of the pilot was 100% of all (post-MSN) DNP courses (total of 14 courses) were reviewed. Based on the successful experience of the pilot program, the scholar received the full support of the nursing administrators and the ALL Quality Vital Signs program was fully implemented as the standard method of online course evaluation for the school of nursing. In addition, the faculty selected to serve as initial reviewers expressed increased competence with the online evaluation process and could see its application to traditional courses taught face to face. Major challenges encountered included the placement of the Instructional Technology department in the organization structure. The department is a non-academic line and is not directly responsible for the IT needs of faculty. This structure has made it difficult to have support services available for faculty projects in certain circumstances. Other departments on campus report the same challenges. The goal of the career path developed during the EEAI was to prepare for an administrative position in my current university. Leadership skills were required to influence nursing faculty of the importance of course evaluation and to develop their skills in reviewing online courses. Gaining faculty buy-in, negotiating with other university support entities, and managing time and resources led to the project being completed on time and with all project goals met. Though budgetary constraints at the university prevent an immediate leadership position being available, professional development shown through this project and EEAI journey have led to nursing administration support for a leadership position in the near future.