Posted by: Mark Lewis | November 23, 2010

Program Integrity and a Learning Management System

Even though many faculty turn to wikis in today’s open and collaborative teaching and learning environment, learning management systems such as Blackboard are in their own right experiencing a higher degree of specialization. One of the specific functions of the LMS people don’t often think about is the ability to selectively release course content and ensure a consistent learning experience across multiple sections. Variations in course objectives, syllabi, and assignments, assessment criteria, and the nature and extent of online discussion can occur when not all instructors of a course are on the same page. Yet an LMS can function as a key administrative tool to arrange learning resources in a way that meets specific program goals.

Nursing programs at many institutions have fine-tuned their use of Blackboard, Moodle, and other LMS tools around such administrative efficiency. Their goal is to ensure consistency throughout specific areas of the curriculum. The need for program integrity is especially great in Nursing, given the strict licensure requirements for new nurses as well as the importance of demonstrating preparedness for reaccreditation. Other professional degree programs may benefit as well.

A common way to achieve program integrity through the use of Blackboard is to create and modify a master course shell, and such shells have been created for the core courses in the RN to BSN program.   This shell is not used to teach from, but rather as a repository for all the content and course policy information that instructors and program directors have agreed upon. The master shell is what the Blackboard administrator uses to copy in its entirety into each course section at the start of each semester. As changes and enhancements are made to the curriculum, master shells are updated in meaningful ways to reflect those changes. The task of updating a course master in Blackboard usually resides with the program director, or an instructor who has taught the course for multiple semesters and is familiar with the changes being made.

In addition to content, folders with instructor resources and teaching policies can be placed strategically within this master shell, and kept hidden from students. These resources can help guide each instructor with clear instructions for setting up discussion forums, by providing full sets of grading rubrics, and more.

As full-time and adjunct faculty assigned to a course change over time, and as section numbers increase, program directors like Sheila Cannon are relying more on the administrative benefits that the LMS affords. Not surprisingly, instructors are also learning the benefits of such tools, looking to each master shell for answers to questions about process and procedure as they begin to teach new or revised content. As Nursing faculty have been finding, the practice of using the LMS to achieve program integrity and consistency can increase instructional efficiency, and also produce a consistent and high quality learning experience for all learners in a large and diverse program.

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