Facilitating nursing education poses both similar challenges as well as obvious differences to those of you who educate in primary, middle and high school. Besides the understandable differences such as maturity level, age, curriculum, and legislation, there are more serious and consequential elements that must be considered. The content which often considers health teaching and concerns, frequently revolves around personal and confidential data, as well as praxis which incorporate best- practice and an ever changing and evolving skill and knowledge base.
Being mindful of the above mentioned points, I believe opening nursing and health related online course spaces to the world pose both benefits and risks/drawbacks.
Nursing students exposed to open course forums could benefit from the exposure and access to expert, diverse and advancing health knowledge, treatments and research. The polarizing discussions formulated in open forums could easily be facilitated through the exposure to varied and diverse perceptions, experiences and the sharing of unique knowledge. Furthermore and just as importantly, this sharing could potentially have significant effects not only on nursing knowledge, but ultimately positive patient outcomes. Open forums in health education could also result in unforeseen and unique teachable moments that may not occur in typical closed discussion rooms. The experiences shared from various diverse populations and demographics can only enhance and widen the lens in which healthcare workers assess, diagnose and treat medical conditions and illnesses.
Professionalism and its associated behaviors, content that is discussed at length within nursing education programs, could also be incorporated within open online forum discussions and assist students in communicating in professional and competent manners. Often in closed forums, where students often become comfortable with their peers, professional language, effective conflict resolution and medical information and jargon is often communicated at a level that is consistent with the cohort of students. Engaging in an open forum would encourage nursing students to post and respond to comments in respectful, professional and at a level appropriate to those they are conversing, be it a layperson or expert.
Drawbacks to open online forums in relation to nursing education also exist. Consciously or not, students may inadvertently discuss private and confidential patient information. Not only would this pose issues with their educational institution but with their future regulatory body. Educational institutions, such as the Saskatchewan Polytechnic, and Regulatory bodies, such as the Saskatchewan Association of Licensed Practical Nurses(SALPN) and the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA), have strict standards and guidelines when it comes to patient confidentiality and professional boundaries in the use and sharing via electronic and social media. Discipline investigations and processes would incur if confidentiality standards and guidelines were breached.
The rules and regulations regarding open sources and media are strictly monitored and enforced by healthcare institutions and regulatory bodies. A recent incident regarding a Prince Albert nurse who posted about her grandfather’s health care experience on Facebook was found guilty of professional misconduct. Regardless of the fact that the accused nurse argued that her post was made on a her personal Facebook page and was made from the perspective of a family member, not a nurse, the SRNA felt that as a nurse, professional behaviors must be maintained both at work and in the private lives of nurses.
Another drawback to nursing students participating in open online forums would be to the potential exposure to information and knowledge that does not meet or exercise best practice standards and knowledge. Students could potentially be exposed to practitioners who don’t practice to best- practice standards,unregistered healthcare workers, laypeople or those who misrepresent themselves. The potential for misrepresentation, false or inaccurate knowledge and anonymity pose risks in relation to nursing student knowledge and raise issues regarding patient safety and care.
If open online forums were an option for nursing students, I believe that safeguards would have to be in place. Moderators would have to be secured to ensure content was vetted for accuracy and patient confidentially was maintained. Although these securities would pose enormous consumption of time and exhausting responsibility and obligation, the benefits in relation to student learning and exposure to vast amounts of knowledge and research would be tremendous.