West Virginia University School of Nursing Makes the Move to Web-Based Learning


West Virginia University School of Nursing (www.hsc.wvu.edu/son), part of the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center at West Virginia University (WVU), offers cutting-edge educational programs for students seeking bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in nursing. Through its main campus in Morgantown and its division in Charleston, the school serves about 380 nursing students each semester.

The challenges facing the WVU School of Nursing are not unlike those experienced by nursing programs at other universities throughout the United States. Primarily, there are two issues at work: First is the well-publicized nursing shortage and the subsequent need to attract people to the profession. But the lesser known crisis is the current shortage of nurse educators. In fact, many nursing schools report long waiting lists of qualified applicants. However, without enough professors to teach these students, the universities must limit the number of students they accept into their programs. WVU School of Nursing's rural setting further intensifies these problems.

Indeed, as a school within the largest university in a mostly rural state, WVU School of Nursing has a long history of providing some form of distance education as an attractive alternative to professionals seeking an advanced nursing degree, but for whom attending a traditional campus-based program is prohibitive. Most recently, the school had a grant to use a videoconferencing service. While professors liked the two-way audio and video communication capabilities of videoconferencing, it wasn't entirely convenient for students. For one thing, it required them to go to one of six locations in the state to participate. Second, because it was live, it didn't offer the convenience of on-demand Web-based education often required by today's busy professionals. In addition, at $15,000 per semester for each course, it was fairly expensive. With that grant about to expire, officials went looking for a more cost-effective solution with broader access.

Hassle-Free Distance Education

Officials at the School of Nursing believed the next logical step for expanding their program was to find a solution that would allow them to make their courses available via the Internet. A team of evaluators determined the new online learning solution must:

  • Eliminate the need for costly and time-consuming postproduction;
  • Provide high-quality video streams and graphics, including detailed medical imagery for the online students;
  • Not require major investments in additional infrastructure or service fees; and
  • Not create any additional work for the professors teaching the courses.

After evaluating the marketplace, the research team found only one system that met all four requirements: Mediasite Live. The real-time, rich media Web presentation system from Sonic Foundry contains all the hardware and software needed to automate the capture and delivery of instructor-led multimedia lectures.

In fact, in a pilot project during the spring and summer semesters, we noticed the students were actually more engaged and more willing to ask questions with Mediasite Live's interactive Q&A feature than they were with the videoconferencing system. The reason, according to students, is because they were more comfortable quickly typing a question than they were talking into a camera.

In addition, unlike competing systems that require professors to submit slides ahead of time for complex authoring and encoding, Mediasite Live captures and streams on the fly. This capability is critical because, not only d'es it save time and countless headaches, but it allows the professors to be spontaneous in their lectures, as well as go back to review a concept when there are questions. The highly automated, rich media presentation system offers greater flexibility in the types of learning materials the professors can use. It also allows professors to provide links where students can find additional information and pre-record lectures if they will be unavailable during the scheduled class time.

For students, the convenience of on-demand lectures is further enhanced by Mediasite Live's navigation function, which makes it easy to review complex concepts or watch portions of a lecture at a time. Students simply view the list of thumbnails of a lecture; click on the desired thumbnail slide; and the audio, video and accompanying graphics are quickly synchronized to that portion of the presentation. These navigable archived lectures are particularly popular when students are reviewing for exams.

The only downside reported by students - other than the fact that they never have an excuse for missing a class - is the lack of face-to-face interaction with peers. However, many addressed this issue by either getting together in small groups to watch a lecture or forming study groups.

Online Delivery Success

A grant from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission allowed the WVU School of Nursing to purchase two complete Mediasite Live systems so that lectures could be captured and streamed from both the Charleston and Morgantown campuses. After the successful trial conducted by us last year, the school put all of the core courses for its graduate nursing program online starting in fall 2003. In addition, any required clinical training is arranged near the students' homes.

The WVU Health Sciences Center's Information Systems Operations Department, in collaboration with the School of Nursing, assisted in establishing the audio/visual needs for the Mediasite Live classrooms and provided technical guidance, support and training for the computing environment supporting this project. This collaborative effort between the School of Nursing faculty, WVU's Charleston Division Computer Services and WVU's Information Systems Operations was instrumental in making this project a success.

"West Virginia poses many challenges to nursing educators who seek to provide high-quality, convenient, cost-effective programs to its 22,000-plus registered nurses, many of whom live in rural areas," says E. Jane Martin, dean of the WVU School of Nursing. "The West Virginia University School of Nursing has a long and unparalleled history of success in distance education in the state. Moving to a Web-based delivery adds significantly to our program's effectiveness by bringing the learning to the student instead of the student to the learning."

The school has begun marketing the program through direct mail and has also developed a promotional Webcast to demonstrate the availability of the online nursing degree program to prospective students. School officials are hoping the online program, and others like it, will help address the critical nursing shortage and, in turn, the nursing faculty shortage.

- Drs. Rose Ann DiMaria and Lynne Ostrow

To view a demonstration of the WVU School of Nursing's Mediasite Live Distance Learning Environment, visit http://webclasses.hsc.wvu.edu.

Contact Information

Sonic Foundry Inc.
(877) 783-7987

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.