Jan Jones-Schenk, DHSc, RN, NE-BC, hasn’t always been in nursing education. But since arriving at Western Governors University in Salt Lake City eight years ago as WGU’s chief nursing officer and national director of the College of the Health Professions after almost three decades in nursing care, leadership, policy development and consulting, she said one of the areas holding great promise for the future is the continued evolution of online advanced nursing instruction.
But in such an environment, with a burgeoning array of choices, how can nursing students find the right online nursing degree program?
BEWARE OF DINOSAURS
In recent years, quality programs have consistently pushed to implement an array of new and promising technologies into their instruction, evolving online learning into a species all its own.
Today, quality online BSN and MSN programs are incorporating such tools as virtual reality and simulations, as well as e-books, while employing predictive analytics to help students get the help and resources they need, when they need it.
“This is a long way from the old vision that online learning is just like face-to-face, just provided over the Internet,” Jones-Schenk said. “Now with e-texts, courseware, adaptive learning software and myriad simulations, videos and animations, the learning resources are rapidly evolving to create exciting new kinds of learning experiences.”
CHECK THE PAPERS
Students should take the time to check the accreditations of any program catching their eye, Jones-Schenk said.
She said students should look for programs holding “nursing programmatic accreditation” from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, the National League for Nursing’s Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation or the Accreditiation Commission for Education in Nursing, from schools which, in turn, hold regional or national accreditation.
“I cannot stress how important this is,” Jones-Schenk said.
While success in online nursing education requires a large measure of self-discipline and personal motivation, students should be sure to find a program offering high levels of student support.
Jones-Schenk recommended students begin with examining the level of IT support and availability of online resources.
“A good online learning institution should offer excellent IT support and other online services, such as a comprehensive online library and excellent student services,” she said.
But looking further, she said, students should make sure faculty and other student support workers are readily available, with “good evening and weekend availability,” plus “easily accessible personal appointments.”
Students also should seek “good student learning communities,” for peer support and collaboration opportunities.
YOU BETTER SHOP AROUND
When exploring online programs, explore financing options available at a number of different institutions, Jones-Schenk said.
While landing a BSN from a high-quality institution may be desirable, tens of thousands of dollars in debt is not, she said.
“I have interviewed many students whose college debt load from their ADN or BSN is so great, they simply do not have the option to continue their academic advancement,” Jones-Schenk said. “Students should shop and compare to make sure their next academic decision doesn’t inadvertently become their last.”