Life, Matriculated New ‘Web-blended’ Degree Helps Nursing Students Juggle Life and Learning

The summer course offerings at American International College have traditionally attracted large numbers of students. A college that has specialized in the ‘non-traditional’ student since its inception – international students, transfer students, and those older in age are just a few examples – AIC has typically catered to those in need of year-round study for a variety of reasons.

This summer will be no exception, although the halls of the Lissa Building, where the college’s nursing students spend most of their time, will be much quieter than in the past.

Instead of crowding into classrooms, several nursing students, including most notably those enrolled in its master’s in Nursing program, will be taking advantage of an expanded set of courses being offered almost entirely online.

And beginning next month, students pursuing a Master of Science degree in Nursing Education (MSNE) will become the first students in the college’s history to earn their degrees online.

The MSNE, which prepares registered nurses for career advancements in the academic sector, represents one of two tracks in which graduate nursing students can study at AIC – the other is nursing administration. The master’s program in nursing itself is still under two years old, however it has become the champion of online-based programming at AIC, in response to a growing need for flexibility among the graduate-level student population, particularly in the field of nursing, which often demands untraditional hours.

Net Results

Anne Glanovsky, director of Nursing at AIC, said the new Web components will fully replace courses that take place in the classroom for all students enrolled in the accelerated master’s of science in Nursing Education track. However, she stressed that the MSNE is considered a ‘Web-blended’ program, pairing on-site class work at the college with Web-based classes, assignments, and communication between students and their professors.

“The master’s program was initially put into place because we felt there was a need to not only address the nursing shortage, but the need for prepared nursing faculty,” she said. “But most people in nursing master’s programs are also full-time employees within facilities, in addition to a number of other responsibilities many graduate students face in terms of family and other commitments.

“The online course structure is one we feel is an educationally appropriate and sound way to address those needs,” she continued.

Donna Polverini, assistant nursing professor at AIC, added that the online master’s is the latest of several initiatives within the nursing department to tailor courses to the unique needs of its students, in an effort to curb attrition rates and keep a steady stream of prepared nurses into the health care community.

“The college is trying to work with people in real time, in the real world,” she said. “I think we recognize that everyone has to do their part in order to meet the changing needs of students, and the online courses are one way of doing that.”

The Working Web

The program was made possible in part by grant funding, secured by AIC earlier this year, that was contributed by several hospitals and health care agencies in Massachusetts and by Johnson & Johnson and other national companies with an interest in supporting nursing education.

“In applying for a grant, we knew we wanted to use any funds awarded for something unique and forward-thinking,” said Glanovsky. “This is something that is being done all over the country, and the grant gave us the leg-up we needed to respond to that trend.”

Using Blackboard, an online provider of ‘e-Education’ software and services and the most widely-adopted course- management system among U.S. postsecondary institutions, students enrolled in the MSNE can complete a suite of five core courses, four educator-track courses, and a selection of electives in as little as 18 months. Glanovsky said students will be required to attend three on-campus classes per course – once at the beginning of the semester, at the mid-point, and at its close.

“Even with such a strong online component, we still felt it was important for the students to become acquainted with one another and their professors,” she said, adding that two practica are also required as part of the program, largely observational and related directly to nursing education.

Glanovsky said the flexibility afforded to the graduate students lends itself well to the field of nursing education, because at the master’s level, the students have completed much of the hands-on training that is essential to the nursing profession.

“At this level, it’s a little different,” she said. “The clinical experiences are not as intense — these students are already nurses. And this program aims to broaden their perspective of the entire health care system, not just their interactions with patients.”

Some of the courses offered as part of the MSNE program include, for example, Strategic Planning, Grant Writing, Medical Ethics, and Analysis of Health Care Systems, which Glanovsky said takes a unique look at the many health care systems currently operating across the globe.

“That course is a good example of opening these students’ minds to different things,” she said. “It’s also spurring a lot of cross-over between the education and administration tracks – often, students are opting to take electives outside of their concentration, and that only adds to that expansion of their overall understanding of the industry.”

Graduated Steps

Glanovsky told The Healthcare News that the nursing shortage is being addressed in several ways at AIC.

In addition to the online flexibility, new MSNE students will receive a 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} tuition discount upon enrollment in 2006, in order to give the program a jumpstart in its first year. There is also a push among the undergraduates to educate them on the opportunities available in post-graduate education, in order to create a larger pipeline of AIC nursing students into the graduate programs.

“We have more students than ever in the undergraduate nursing program,” she said, putting the current tally at more than 300. “In the last couple of years it has really exploded.”

And students at all levels will also have the opportunity to join Sigma Theta Tau, the international nursing honor society, in which AIC will induct its first class in the college’s history this year.

“We’ve had an independent honor society for some time, but this has been a goal for many years,” she said. “I think it’s important for the students to be able to aim for the gold standard in their chosen field.”

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