Designing Service Learning Projects for an Online Course in Healthcare Delivery

Sunday, 27 July 2014: 1:35 PM

Linda E. Jensen, PhD, RN, MN
Department of Graduate Nursing, Clarkson College, Omaha, NE

Service learning has become an important part of many academic healthcare  programs as it has been shown that  service learning helps students become more aware of the needs of populations frequently involved in healthcare disparities.  Volunteer organizations are an important part of healthcare delivery however, most students and many health care professional are unaware of many of the important resources for their patients which can be found in these community service  organizations. 

        However,  a service-learning strategy is more difficult to design for  an online  course, as the instructor cannot know the organizations involved in each of the student’s communities. This strategy has been implemented for over 3 years in a health care delivery course in a master’s in nursing program that is almost entirely online.  This academic program has been recognized as one of the top five online MSN programs in US News and World Reports for the past two years.  Service to the community is one of the Values of this healthcare professions college, and a Maltese Cross award is given yearly at graduation to a person who has given exemplary service to the community, the state, and/or the nation.  The author received the Maltese Cross Award for Community Service in 2012.    

        The objectives for this service-learning experience included:

 1. Develop a firm foundation of the history and need for service in the community,

 2. Gain knowledge of agencies in the community and various ways in which an individual can become involved with an agency,

 3.  Participate in various activities with a community agency to gain a better understanding of the work and services provided to the community,

 4.  Analyze and evaluate the work and value of the service agency for healthcare clients.

        The service-learning project included the following steps: choose a volunteer organization in their community, complete a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats)  evaluation of a volunteer  organization, participate in a volunteer activity, and evaluate the experience.  Students wrote reflection papers briefly describing their experiences, new learnings, and their feelings during each step.  Students also shared these reflections in asynchronous discussions so that each student was able to learn about a wide variety of volunteer service  organizations within their communities and others parts of the country.   

        Qualitative results of this service learning strategy will be compared and contrasted.  Qualitative results of this strategy will be compared and contrasted.   Categories of service organizations chosen included many national organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Alzheimer’s Association, Cystic Fibrosis Society; local social services including homeless shelters,  domestic abuse shelters, adoption services, child advocacy or mentoring services, food pantries; and free medical clinics and immunization services. Themes of service were extracted including distribution of food, clothing, bikes, household, and personal items; education of groups about health promotion and/or safety; assistance in free medical clinics; helping with fundraisers; and attending meetings of support groups or board of directors.  

         Several students involved their families in volunteering with them and saw the volunteer activity as an important value they wished to pass forward to their children.  Many students remarked how their experiences gave them more awareness of the difficulties that some people who were homeless or disabled suffer, along with a sense of thankfulness for their own well being and advantages in life. Numerous students expressed their commitment to continue to volunteer with the organization after the class assignment was completed.  Several students stated they had wanted to volunteer with the organization before the class, and were grateful  that the course  required this experience. 

        Barriers and facilitators of the methodologies used will be discussed.  Recommendations for further development of service learning with volunteer organizations in online courses will be described.