iPads lighten the load for nursing faculty members

September 29, 2014

Research looks at how embracing tablets could help faculty become even better teachers

IMAGE_STORY_iPad_researchUsing iPads as a learning tool may sound like old news, but loading the tablets with apps that help faculty members communicate, streamline the evaluation process and take the place of dozens of textbooks is a novel idea, according to Dr. Brian Parker, faculty member with the Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing program.

Brian teamed up with his fellow faculty members Kirk Wright and Dustin Chan, and Computer Science faculty member Jon Coulson, two years ago to work on a pilot project that looks at the potential impact iPads could have on teaching.

“There is limited of research and activity around using iPads as learning tools,” says Brian, “but using the iPad as a comprehensive teaching tool, adopting it on a departmental scale and conducting qualitative research around that is noteworthy.”

There’s an app for that

Actually, there are usually dozens, so one of the first parts of the project involved finding apps that work best for their teaching environment.

“Much of our work to date has involved creating a database of the most current apps useful for health-care education,” says Dustin. “Now we’re at the point where we’ve set up each faculty member in the Psychiatric Nursing program with an iPad that comes loaded with key apps that we’ve tested.”

So when he heads out to the Royal Alexandra Hospital with eight psychiatric nursing students for their clinical practice experiences, Dustin travels light. Everything he needs is inside his 9.5 by 7.5-inch tablet.

“It’s been a huge change in the way I work. I’m not carrying around books and binders, but I have more resources than I ever did before – probably the equivalent of about 30 or 40 textbooks right on my iPad,” he says.

Teaching resources at your fingertips

While having access to quick videos on procedures, anatomy apps, e-books and even an app that is a 3-D image of a beating heart are great tools for faculty, students are the ones who ultimately benefit.

“Doing a procedure – giving an injection or performing a Foley catheterization – for the first time on a real patient can be scary,” says Dustin. So if one of his students hesitates or seems unsure, he pulls up a two-minute video of the procedure or his 3-D anatomy app for a quick review.

“It eases their stress and they are better able to perform the skill with confidence,” he says. “I can almost see a light bulb go off in the students’ heads, and then I know they’ve got it. It’s one of the most rewarding things about this project.”

Connecting with other faculty members

Apps, including FaceTime and Google Hangout, are also bridging the 100-kilometre distance between the program’s Edmonton and Ponoka sites. “We’ve always worked very closely together at the two sites,” says Brian. “We plan, work and even teach together, in some cases, but the iPads have brought us even closer.”

Using their iPads, the faculty members often have impromptu meetings when they’re in different hospitals, or even different parts of the province.

“We communicate almost daily when we’re with clinical groups and it’s a great way to maintain continuity among instructors,” says Kirk. “If I have a question while I’m on a unit at the Grey Nuns Hospital, I can quickly ask my colleague at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and we can address the issue right away,” adds Dustin.

Formalizing the research

Now, the team of researchers is taking their three years of work and designing a full qualitative study to look at the impact using the iPads has had on faculty members.

“We have developed a set of data, analyzed it and found some themes, including the mobility, having a central point to access knowledge, and the ease of access and intuitive nature of the iPad,” says Brian.

Through interviews and focus groups with faculty members who have been using the iPads for the past year, the researchers will collect in-depth data about what works and what doesn’t.

“We want to see if it has changed our faculty members’ teaching style at all, and if so, in what way,” says Brian who will be enlisting the help of a student research assistant for this project.

And the four MacEwan researchers aren’t the only educators interested in the results of this research. “We’re starting to get a bit of a following,” says Dustin. “We’ve presented our work a few times at conferences – even using FaceTime to answer questions remotely – and there’s a lot of interest in what we’re doing.”

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