Shifting the Faculty-Tech Paradigm

Life as an early adopter of any innovation can be challenging and often quite lonely. Early adopters (Rogers, 1995) are able to imagine how innovative ideas could revolutionize the way things are done. Although new innovations are being introduced with increasing frequency within nursing education, few spread with the speed that would satisfy an early adopter because there are many issues that prevent and hinder the diffusion of innovation within nursing education. All successful innovative teaching methodologies have challenges – and in many cases continue to.

Allow me to share some insight gained when introducing a new technology to nursing faculty. The technology referenced herein is a virtual community (VC), an online program that allows students to easily connect the concepts they learn to the clinical setting, through virtual patient experiences in a safe environment. A common finding among faculty was their approach to teaching; which consisted of traditional lectures using multiple PowerPointTM slides, and the ubiquitous “sage on the stage” approach. Much to my dismay, Faculty pointed out that this is a much safer and a more predictable way to deliver content. It was made very clear early on that faculty are looking for ready made, turnkey solutions to use in the classroom. This may speak to a bigger issue, that of faculty being overwhelmed and pressured to ensure content is covered. The use of any innovation requires instructors to either change or adapt their teaching style to incorporate the technology into their planned content.

Adoption of any new technology is directly related to its complexity (Rogers, 1995). The more complex the innovation is perceived to be, the less likely it will be adopted. Despite early enthusiasm it was clear faculty could not quite figure out how to maneuver and navigate within the VC or how to incorporate it into their current teaching methods. Many nursing faculty struggled with basic computer functions such as navigation, copy paste and drag drop. These findings may be contributing to the resistance to adopt new technology. These findings are not uncommon and are supported in the literature (Fetter, 2009; Mahon, Nikitas & Nokes, 2011).

Students are very perceptive, they immediately recognize when faculty are less than enthusiastic about a new strategy or technology intended for the classroom. With minimal objection from students’ faculty are likely to abandon the technology in favor of some thing more traditional. Faculty need to commit and recognize that no new change or paradigm shift can occur over night or even after one semester. It is important to recommend a slow deliberate approach and not an all out “shot gun” approach, which inevitably leads to frustration on the part of the student and faculty.

Administrators of nursing programs have a responsibility to their faculty and students. Institutions that emphasized innovative teaching appeared to have more faculty buy-in than those in which innovation was not as important. However, faculty did cite large lecture halls as a barrier to student engagement and collaborative group work. If we want faculty to be successful we need to look at paring down the classroom size. Faculty can barely learn student names let alone engage them in meaningful activities.

Faculty are not comfortable with “flipping the classroom”, in fact very few are able to “tip” the classroom. When faculty attempts to use a more “flipped classroom” approach students may be unwilling to participate. Reluctance on the part of the students will likely result in the faculty discontinuing this innovative approach. Adoption of any new innovation requires a period of adjustment, reflection and evaluation. This should be an expectation of any new adoption. Inevitably there will be some “bumps” along the way.

There were many lessons learned during this experience. There are lessons for the end user (the educator), administration and the developers of these types of innovative technology. Baseline assessment of the users technology readiness is crucial for success. Likewise, faculty buy-in ensures engagement, which in turn motivates students. A measured deliberate approach, rather than an all out wide scale adoption is prudent. And of course having an on-site cheerleader who could provide frequent support, help, and encouragement always helps.

While the VC discussed herein is not complex it is a non-traditional approach to teaching which many educators find unsettling. However educators in colleges of nursing are slowly continuing to adopt this innovation and other technologies in hopes of becoming more creative educators and ultimately preparing critically thinking nurses for the future.

About the Author
Laura Gonzalez is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida, College of Nursing. She has held positions as director for a large simulation center in South Florida. She is currently interested in the use of simulation to enhance clinical decision-making and use of simulation to enhance psychomotor skill performance. Laura is a board member of INACSL, and the Florida Healthcare Simulation Alliance.