GARY L. LOVING, PHD, RN, is associate professor and assistant dean for the Center for Educational Excellence at the College of Nursing at the University of Oklahoma, which was recognized this fall as an NLN Center of Excellence in Nursing Education[TM]. His teaching role is primarily in the nurse educator track of the master's degree program, which is offered totally online. He directs the track and most frequently teaches a practicum course in instructional theory and practice titled "Facilitating Learning in Nursing." He also teaches periodically in the undergraduate program and, as assistant dean, is primarily involved in helping faculty develop teaching expertise.
As Gary describes the range and depth of the UOCN program, the reasons for the college's designation as an NLN Center of Excellence for promoting student learning and professional development of faculty become apparent. The college has full-time faculty at three sites in Oklahoma and part-time faculty at seven outreach sites throughout the state. It maintains multiple tracks in its baccalaureate and master's degree programs and has been a leader for many years in the development of distance education models designed to increase access for students in rural communities. Students in Gary's graduate program are a diverse group from all areas of Oklahoma as well as institutions that participate in the Nurse Educator Project of the Southern Region Education Board.
Gary shares that he is not a techie. He has, however, been involved in technology-mediated teaching and learning for a number of years and has assumed a leadership role within the college and university on infrastructure issues. As a result, he has learned quite a lot about technology and for five years has supervised a growing technology staff that includes network specialists, media specialists, instructional design specialists, web programmers, and a database analyst. He also serves as liaison between faculty and the technology staff in planning technology-mediated teaching and works as consultant for a team involving faculty and others on course and curriculum design projects. He is currently working with an education company to plan the use of a new virtual nursing simulation product.
In discussing student learning, Gary emphasizes that his teaching methodologies are not necessarily innovative but that the methods he uses are based on sound educational principles. "The need for clear, conceptual organization of a course is compounded in an asynchronous, online environment," he explains. His two primary educational strategies--dialogue and threaded discussion--do not involve high-technology production. "I refer to online threaded discussion as a strategy that is technologically simple but pedagogically complex."
Success as an educator, he adds, is based on another fundamental instructional approach, that is, developing positive, interpersonal rapport with students. For example, in online threaded discussion, Gary uses several techniques to facilitate rapport and encourage and establish participation--humor, self-disclosure, and copious and early positive reinforcement. "Then, as participation in the discussion is established, I use a lot of questioning, clarification, and examples to deepen and broaden the discussion. And since my courses are nursing education courses, I try to role model strategies and applications around which the courses are built. As I provide examples, raise questions, and uncover assumptions, students begin to do the same. Through contributions made by all the students, a true online learning community begins to take shape."
In the undergraduate program, Gary frequently serves as faculty consultant with groups of senior students on evidence-based practice projects, a role he describes as a prime example of the distinction between facilitating learning and teaching. "Small groups identify a burning question from the clinical area, review, critique, and synthesize the literature, and formulate practice recommendations based on the evidence. …