Executive Academic Leadership Challenge: Leading Online Programs
Spalla, Tara Lynn
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Session presented on Friday, September 26, 2014: Purpose: The purpose of this presentation is to enable nursing program administrators to understand the use of mindful, servant, and quantum leadership models to effectively address the micro and macro challenges of leading an online educational program in general, and a RN-BSN Completion program in particular. To improve the health of those we serve in the United States, executive academic leaders are tasked with providing seamless academic progression for RN-BSN completion to the 80 percent level by 2020. They must solve the dilemma of filling the educational needs of full-time working nurses who are also balancing parental responsibilities. This would be simpler if nurses had work schedules that supported days off to attend class in brick and mortar classrooms, and if they lived near institutions of higher education. However, many practicing registered nurses cannot schedule days off in their busy work and home lives to go back to college. Further, many are not within easy driving distance to a college or university with a RN-BSN completion program. Thus, numerous former face-to-face RN-BSN Completion Programs have transitioned to online format to reach such students. Countless new online programs have been established to fill this need as well. Methods: Four years of real-world executive academic leadership experience in a private nursing college in the mid-west was used to inform this presentation. A decade old face-to-face RN-BSN Completion Program was transitioned to an online format. The Associate Dean of Distance Education was responsible for building and leading a team of educators to deliver the program online. Collaboration with stakeholders internal and external to organization was employed. Executive academic leaders in nursing may benefit from lessons learned from other countries that are also embarking on delivering higher education online, such mentoring programs for online faculty and evaluation of online programs. Australia is the world leader in percent of students in higher education who take some online coursework, called multi-modal learners, at 78 percent. In the same year, 2010, 31 percent of U.S. college and university students took at least one course online. Institutions of higher education in Canada vary widely in amount of students studying online from institution to institution with a national average of 11 percent in 2008. All of these countries and more informed this work. Results: Online programs offer a unique set of leadership challenges atypical of traditional face-to-face educational nursing programs.From a micro level, knowledge of distance education pedagogy/andragogy; online technology proficiency, including instructional design; online orientation, advisement and support of online students; and orientation and mentoring online faculty are all relatively new considerations for executive academic leaders. Mindful leadership and servant leadership can be used to help the team meet these critical challenges. Added to these challenges is the macro work of maintaining compliance of online programs with accrediting agencies and national quality benchmarks; establishing articulation agreements with Associate Degree programs; collaborating across institutions of higher education, as well as local and national health care systems; and understanding the evolving state regulations authorizing distance education. The application of quantum leadership principles can help to understand relationships, behavior and change to effectively lead online programs through this complex maze. The Online RN-BSN Completion Program grew from 11 students in the home state to 222 students in 16 states by year three. Return on investment was achieved in the first year. National nursing re-accreditation, including the new online format, was granted for ten years. Faculty satisfaction and teamwork is high as evidenced by participation in Online Faculty Meetings and annual anonymous reviews of leadership. Students report satisfaction with the program and are reaching the graduation finish line with improved preliminary completion rates. Conclusion: Understanding the special challenges inherent in online/distance education is paramount to executive academic leaders. Leading faculty to find creative ways, both low and high tech, to shorten the perceived distance between themselves and their students can be a shared adventure. Demonstrating a caring environment in the online educational environment is not always easy, particularly using face-to-face instructional and advising strategies. However, it can be done quite well with high satisfaction for both online faculty and their students using evidence-based practice in distance education across disciplines internationally.