April 15, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 15

Assoc. Prof. Rita Olivieri (CSON) is leading an online graduate-level class as part of a program of certification to teach at the baccalaureate level. (Photo by Suzanne Camarata)

CSON Program Closing the Distance

'E-teaching' outreach could help ease national nursing faculty shortage

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

A distance-learning program that prepares nurses with master's degrees to teach is the first certificate program to be offered by Boston College largely online, in an e-teaching outreach to help address a national shortage in nursing faculty.

Eleven nurses in Massachusetts and as far away as New Hampshire currently are taking a graduate-level class taught by Assoc. Prof. Rita Olivieri (CSON) as part of a program of certification to teach at the baccalaureate level.

The class, Foundations in Teaching and Learning in Nursing, is the first in a series of three the Connell School of Nursing is offering toward a post-masters teaching certificate for nurses. Two of the three courses will be offered through distance- or Web-based education.

The new certificate program is seen responding to a pronounced need for educators in academic nursing programs and clinical settings.

"There is a driving need to bring nurses into education," said Instructional Technology Services Associate Director Elizabeth Clark. "In keeping with our mission, this online course addresses the need of the wider community to train and recruit nurse educators."

The nursing course represents a new development in the use of WebCT courseware at BC. Distance-learning software developed by WebCT has been used for several years at BC to enable students enrolled in classes on campus to participate in online discussions and turn in papers via the Web.

"Call it 'e-teaching,'" said Assoc. Prof. Michael Connolly (Slavic and Eastern Languages), coordinator of the Faculty Microcomputer Resource Center, who has been active in the introduction of the courseware. "It's a complement to the classroom, not a replacement."

Olivieri's class is one of the first to be offered by BC on the Web. Others have been given by the Institute for Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry and by the Graduate School of Social Work.

The Foundations in Teaching and Learning in Nursing course addresses ethics and other aspects of teaching theory. The students taking it on the Web work full-time as nurse practitioners or administrators in the health field, and log on to participate in an online discussion forum on assigned topics posted weekly.

"In a traditional classroom, you get to socialize with people, but you don't always get to hear what 11 different people have to say," said Olivieri. "This gives you time to think.

"It has been a wonderful instructional tool," she said. "The students have been thrilled with the learning."

A cyber-café also has been set up in which the nurses taking the Web course can converse and network.

"They actually want to meet," said Olivieri, who as yet has seen most of her Web students only as faces on a class picture-page. "We're trying to come up with a time soon when we can get together."

On sabbatical two years ago, Olivieri earned a certificate in distance learning from Thomas Edison State College of New Jersey, a wholly Web-based institution, and has called on the skills she gained to teach her Web-course.

One thing she says she has learned about distance-learning: It's not going to make teachers obsolete. Her current Web-course has been "an incredible amount of work," she said.

"It's more work for the teachers, much more work. I have much more contact with these 11 women. It's not distant at all in that sense."

CSON Associate Dean Laurel Eisenhauer will teach a second online course in the teaching certificate series this summer. A third course to be led this fall by Asst. Prof. Robin Wood (CSON) is a teaching practicum that must be done on campus at BC or through a preceptor at another institution.

Information on the CSON post-masters teaching certificate program is available at For more on e-learning and WebCT, see

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