April 4, 2011

The iPad at 1 year old: Its Effect on Nursing Education

The Apple iPad was released a year ago today. I waited in a line and bought one sight unseen. In that time it has changed the computing in ways that are well documented. It is, as Steve Jobs described, a Post-PC device. Its ability to bring multimedia to your hand in a small form factor but with a large screen and a touch interface brought new opportunities to nurse educators. So where do we stand a year later?

As of today the App Store lists 1001 paid and 435 free iPad apps in their Medical category. Also keep in mind that nearly all the other thousands of apps written for the iPod Touch and iPhone will also run on the iPad (although in a enlarged display of the iPhone screen). Just as in the early days of the Palm handheld computers the majority of apps are geared to physicians, although many can be of interest to nursing students. For example, there are many apps to help learn anatomy. The iPad is particularly well suited to this with its big bright screen.

A search of "nursing" in the iPad Medical category shows 37 applications. The modal type in this list are NCLEX-RN preparation apps. Also available are some reference texts such as dictionaries. Among the major nursing suite apps none have been released for the iPad yet. It is a big investment for organizations such as Skyscape and Unbound Medicine to expand into the iPad market, and it is a scary prospect for them when there is little evidence of many nursing schools requiring an iPad. This chicken and egg dilemma has been at the heart of every technological advance.

Another area I am waiting for is the availability of nursing textbooks in iBooks form. This will be the "killer app" for the iPad in nursing education. My students tell me if they would love to carry all their books in an iPad. One of the biggest hassles of being a nursing student is the nearly one hundred pounds of textbooks they need to study. Being able to take their books to any place on campus and to the clinical area would be a big advance.

Keep in mind that the iPad is currently great at viewing pdf files in the iBooks app. I have been distributing my handouts in pdf form. They can be viewed on many platforms but the iPad is a great way to carry and read them.

So one year later the iPad has yet to fulfill its promise for nursing education but things are improving. The availability of the second generation, greater awareness of what the iPad can do, and the availability of thousands of apps that didn't even exist a year ago point to a bright future.

April 1, 2011

Educational Technology is expensive, but can we afford NOT to use it?

I have been talking with nurse educators for years about different technologies that enhance learning. In the 1980s just having access to a computer was considered an achievement. Later I spoke about the uses of applications such as PowerPoint and how they helped organize a lecture. In the 1990s we talked about the coming of the Internet and how we could use it in nursing education. At all these phases there was always the complaint that it was 1) too expensive for the nursing school, 2) too expensive for students to buy, and 3) was not necessary because the old way of teaching was just fine. In all those cases the arguments were forgotten and now the technologies are considered a required part of nursing education.

Today I hear the same arguments about the use of handheld technologies; and my answer is the same. If the technologies have advantages over the old methods, and can help us create better nurses, then we can't afford not use the new tools.

Of course the reality is that money can be scarce with a nursing department, students will complain about spending anything on their education, and faculty are reluctant to spend money on new technology for themselves. Here are some points to consider:

1. Education is, and has always, been expensive. I am sure many nursing faculty reading this feel they are paid less than they are worth. Does anyone think that if we hired cheaper but less qualified faculty that the quality of the graduate would improve? There is an expression "you get what you pay for". If faculty sit still and not incorporate technologies that would improve the quality of the graduate then we will get what we pay for.

2. Students will always complain about spending money. Nursing textbooks cost thousands of dollars over the course of a curriculum but we don't tell students "that's OK, these books are optional". All of the healthcare-related reference texts are available in electronic form. If it is to the students' advantage to have the references wherever they are clinically then we should not feel bad about complaints of having to buy an iPod Touch to carry them.

3. Commitment to spending has to come from the top. Nursing schools that have most successfully incorporated technologies such as high-fidelity simulation or handheld computers had administrators who were committed to using the technologies. It takes administration support to help find the financing, commit a portion of the budget to such spending, and bring the more reluctant faculty along into new ways of teaching.

In upcoming blogs I will discuss some ways to pragmatically address these points in nursing education. I welcome your opinions.