The purposes of this study were to investigate nursing students’ engagement and emotional connection with virtual communities, as well as benefits they had perceived through participating virtual communities.
Based on the theory of planned behavior and innovation diffusion theory, a survey was developed to collect data. 300 students enrolled in a baccalaureate nursing program in Taiwan were invited to participate in this study. 290 students had completed the survey. Data were analyzed by both descriptive and comparative statistics.
All students responded the survey had participated at least one virtual community (VC). 142 (49%) had joined 2 VCs, and 97 (33%) had joined 3 VCs. Facebook was the most popular VC, it attracted 289 (99.7%) students. Line was ranked the second popularity, 269 (92.8%) students joined this VC. Most students (270; 93.1%) joined VCs that provided social support; only 47 (16.2%) students utilized VCs that were designed for exchanging learning information. Participating VC was an important social connection with others. 258 (89%) students participated VC before sleeping. The average participation time before sleeping was 1.23 hours; the daily average participating time was 5.95 hours. Most students (254; 87.6%) used mobile phones to participate VCs. Major benefits of participating VCs that students perceived were entertainment and emotional comfort. 62.1% students expressed that they would feel boring if they did not participate VC. Without VC, 21.4% students would feel empty, 11% students would be anxious, 9% students did not know what to do, 7.9% students would feel lonely, and 5.5% students would be panic. Students from lower school year valued more positively than senior students in VC’s functions of self-actualization, entertainment, emotional health, and interpersonal communication (p<.05). They also spend more time in participating VCs (p<.05).
The computer and information technology not only brings an impact on knowledge development but also plays an indispensable role in human communication and emotional connections. Using virtual communities to enhance learning is an emerging paradigm in nursing education. However, knowledge related to how nursing students are engaged in and value virtual communities is limited. In this study, time that nursing students spent on VC and the acceptance of VCs by the younger generation suggest that integrating VC into nursing education is an inevitable trend. Students’ long-hour engagement and emotional connection with VCs as well as their insufficient use of VCs in learning activity challenge nursing education. Future studies are encouraged to investigate VCs’ impact on students’ academic and professional performances and link the findings to curriculum reform.
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