Karen Clark: A leader in nursing education
Dean of Nursing and Associate Professor at IU East Karen Clark is an innovator in nursing education at IU. As part of the collaborative group that developed the RN to BSN consortium, she helped the regional campuses collaborate to jointly offer online classes on all IU campuses with nursing programs. The consortium's steering and curriculum-evaluation committees comprise deans and faculty from all campuses. Thanks to their work, IU Online's RN to BSN program is known as among the nation's best, an honor confirmed in the 2016 and 2017 U.S. News and World Report Best Online Education Program rankings.
Clark explains that RN to BSN faculty have access to multiple resources to help them succeed as online instructors. These include course orientation modules that acclimate faculty to online teaching, templates that faculty can populate with content, peer mentors, and instructional designers who help create banners, upload videos, and achieve the accessibility levels recommended by Quality Matters (QM). Many courses in the RN to BSN curriculum have achieved first-level QM certification thanks to the IU East Center for Faculty Development's QM workshops; and by 2020, all RN to BSN courses will be QM certified.
Making learning personal
Clark works hard to keep learning personal. In her course, Nursing K301, Complementary and Alternative Therapies, students introduce themselves by creating a picture in any medium using color, texture, and shape. Students learn to recognize each other through their designs, and they make discoveries that help them pair up with learning partners: "Oh, you worked at St. Vincent's!" or "My kid plays soccer, too!"
The course requires students to research a branch of alternative medicine—ayurvedic, aromatherapy, relaxation, energy therapy, and so on—and then make a presentation to their peers explaining how the therapy can address a problem and how it's applied. Each peer responds to at least one presenter, following guidelines on how to shape a professional, meaningful response. Because all projects are posted online, students can investigate as many therapies as they want while also practicing professional discourse.
The course's "coffee shop" discussion forum gives students a place to drop in, ask questions, and find responses. "It's a free-flowing opportunity for discussion about anything," says Clark, who makes herself easily available via phone and email. She encourages students, "Call me anytime. If you haven't heard back in 48 hours, contact me again."
Encouraging new students and faculty
Clark is explicit about the advantages and the rigors of e-learning. She tells students, "Online learning may not be for everyone, especially those who prefer hands-on learning and direct personal contact. The rigor of online courses means you get a lot from your courses. Make sure you find something that meets your needs. You need to be self-directed, interactive, and able to set benchmarks and goals."
For Clark, the online format provides great opportunities for students to learn, and for faculty to interact with students in different ways. She says, "You meet students online you'd never otherwise meet, who otherwise might not be able to attend classes and earn degrees. Teaching online enriches your experience as a teacher as much as it does students as learners."