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.

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