During the years 2015–2018, Lapland University of Applied Sciences executed a project called Off-Campus Nurse Education. The aim of the project was to experiment an education model that responds to the shortage of nurses and the need to develop nursing in sparsely populated areas of the Finnish Lapland. This article describes the regional impact of the project. The data was collected from students, working life representatives, teachers and the project coordinator, and the project manager. The project promoted reform of working life and the development of an education model integrated to working life. The project improved the career development opportunities of nursing staff and the availability of nurses in the region.
Key Terms: regional impact, nursing education, blended learning, distance education
Becoming a Nurse Outside the Campus Area – Impact of the Project
This article examines the impact of the Becoming a Nurse Outside the Campus Area project funded by the European Social Fund (ESF). The goal of the project was to experiment and investigate an education model created during a preliminary study (Mikkola, Saranki-Rantakokko & Paldanius, 2013). The model was created to respond to the shortage of nurses, and to conduct research and development pertaining to the needs of nursing. The education model differs from previously implemented nursing education in that the education was coordinated regionally by a teacher and implemented in local learning environments, where on-the-job learning was guided by trained mentors. Furthermore, the education was completed in constant dialogue with working life (Hyry-Honka, Jumisko & Saranki-Rantakokko, 2016; Mikkola et al., 2013). At the beginning of the chapter, we present the background for close cooperation with working life and methods for evaluating the impact of an education model. The results consist of a description of the experiences from students, working life representatives, teachers, the project coordinator, and the project manager concerning the students’ bachelor theses and the education model as a whole.
Close Cooperation with Working Life
The mission of Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) is to provide higher education for professionals, based on the requirements of working life and its development on the premises of academic research and education. The faculty members of UAS shall also carry out applied research, development, and innovation activities that serve education in UAS, promote industry, business, and regional development (Ministry of Education and Culture, 2014).
According to the government programme of Finland, the country’s competitiveness is built on high expertise, sustainable development, and open-minded reform. Learning environments have been modernized and the opportunities offered by digitalization and new pedagogical approaches are grasped. A further goal is to promote the dialogue between educational institutions and working life, and to improve the quality and impacts of research and development activities (Government Programme, 2015).
The main regional impact of the education provided by the Lapland UAS is the production of workforce required by the area’s business and public sectors, and safeguarding and developing professional competence. This includes the development of education models that enable studying outside the campus area.
Impact of the Education Model
In the literature, the impact of education means the development of individuals or communities in a desired direction. It is learning outcomes and long-lasting effects of knowledge gained from training. Similarly, it is responding to the needs of communities and society. In addition, impact is about demonstrating how society utilizes the skills available (Aistrich, 2014; Raivola, 2000). The impact is measurable, for example, from employment or career prospects of the students or from the development of working life through the learning task.
According to Saari, Hyytinen, and Lähteenmäki-Smith (2008), new thinking models and (expansive) learning are at the core of evaluating impact. Completed projects are the targets of evaluation, and project researchers or operators act as the evaluators. Attention is focused on impacts from the perspective of the project’s target group and societal interest groups (Norontaus, 2016; Rajahonka, 2013; Saari et al. 2008).
Discussions in the bachelor theses’ presentation seminar and the students’ written reports of their learning process were used in order to collect data for evaluation of the impacts of the bachelor theses to working life. Seven nursing students, who completed their studies in the autumn of 2017, participated in the seminar and reflected on their learning experiences in written reports. In addition, working life representatives (n=11), teachers (n=2), the project manager (n=1), and the project coordinator (n=1) participated in the seminar. The second author wrote notes about the discussions during the seminar. The first author interviewed the project manager and the project coordinator in order to collect data for evaluation of the project’s impact as a whole. The project manager and the coordinator were interviewed together. The authors analyzed the seminar notes, students’ written reflections, and the interview by inductive qualitative content analysis (cf. Tuomi & Sarajärvi, 2009).
Theses Focusing on Working Life
The students came up with the topics of their theses together with working life representatives, fellow students, teachers, the project coordinator, and the project manager. Some of the theses developed staff introduction processes and materials. A care plan process for a psychiatric client was also developed. One thesis investigated nurses’ experiences on the reform of emergency nursing. The theses also included a study where the student created a plastering guide for bone fracture patients.
The students experienced that the thesis process improved their time management skills and their ability to withstand stress. In particular, students’ skills in retrieving evidence-based information and its critical evaluation were improved. Working on their theses opened up new perspectives and expanded their understanding of continuous self-development. Similar student experiences on thesis projects have been described in various studies (Lundgren & Halvarsson, 2009; Lundgren & Robertsson, 2013).
The results of the theses were adopted at workplaces. More extensive utilization of the theses’ results and new topics for development work were discussed. Coordinating development work groups promoted the students’ professional growth. The theses had a positive effect on the students’ employment.
Project Operators’ Evaluation of the Project’s Impact
The project manager and the coordinator operating in the area evaluated the impact of the project in December 2017. Processes and environments that support learning were created during the project. Students were guided based on their individual needs. Mentoring and learning tasks united the students and mentors into communities. The nurse training curriculum was supplemented with regional competence requirements, which were investigated in the health centres in Lapland in the preliminary study before the project (Mikkola & al., 2013). In practice, students together with the working life representatives and teachers defined their personal learning goals in the practical nursing context based on the general objectives of the nursing curriculum in the Lapland University of Applied Sciences (SoleOPS, 2018).
According to the project coordinator and manager, a new kind of connection was created between education and working life. The partnership and expertise between teachers, nursing staff, and students deepened when they reflected on connections between theory and nursing practice. Members of the Lapland Hospital District, local municipal actors and education representatives planned and built the new learning environments together. These actions contributed to mutual learning. All of the students who graduated were offered nursing jobs. Education led to the development of new thinking models and unified the practices of various units.
The Becoming a Nurse Outside the Campus Area education education model is an effective way of shifting the focus of education away from the institute and into working life. It produces new kinds of guidance models and learning environments and supports the reform of working life and education. The education model helps create an atmosphere that supports learning and activates professional discussion among staff, which promotes the development of practices. The education model ensures the availability of a workforce in the entire area and creates career opportunities for nursing staff. The education model support lifelong learning principals and can be transferred to various work communities and organizations.
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