Jami Nininger the Assistant Dean of Distance Education at Mount Carmel College of Nursing, demonstrates a passion for achieving excellence in nursing and nursing education. Jami knows that quality in education and practice is cultivated through a desire to try new and innovative approaches while remaining immersed in evidence that yields best practices. Through her experience in critical care nursing, nursing education and nursing education leadership, Jami has developed skill in establishing highly effective teams. Jami is a demonstrated "early adopter" of technology in education working in online education since 2002. She has disseminated her work relating to technology innovations and high-fidelity simulation in nursing education through various publications and presentations. Jami holds Master Review Certification from Quality Matters and is fluent in the use of a variety of learning management systems. Her work has been acknowledged by Sigma Theta Tau International through the receipt of the Pinnacle Award in Computer-Based Professional Education Technology.
Online course certification can seem like a daunting task but once completed can really boost the recognition of an online program. Creating a process based around collaboration and quality improvements to the courses helps to fuel the progress of the program as a whole.
In this interview we will hear from Jami Nininger, Assistant Dean of Distance Education and Associate Professor at the Mount Carmel College of Nursing (MCCN), and how she has worked to get Quality Matters (QM) certification for courses in their Online RN-BSN Completion Program with the goal of having the entire program certified.
SoftChalk: You’ve been in your role of Assistant Dean of Distance Education for a relatively short time—1 year, 2 months. When you came into this role, knowing that Quality Matters certification was a long-standing goal, where did you start? What was the first step in making this goal a reality?
Jami: For me, people always come first. I think that’s extra-important in online education, as it’s often accused of sacrificing the human element. So, I started by getting to know the faculty in our program, and learning about each person’s gifts and where he or she wanted to go; the goal was to play to the strengths of the team and provide opportunities for personal growth.
Honestly, it takes a certain amount of confidence and bravery to be the first faculty member to seek QM certification, but once our first course team accomplished it, it set a precedent for all our faculty to follow. The team could see that there was support throughout the course design and certification process and that collaboration and peer review processes were designed only to build a foundation of continuous quality improvement. That precedent has been very successful for us.
SoftChalk: Prior to coming to MCCN, had you been through this process at other institutions? If yes, what lessons did you learn there that helped propel you forward at MCCN?
Jami: I was certainly familiar with the standards of QM, but this was my first opportunity to lead a team through the process. Because of my experience in nursing education and administration, I have a great deal of experience with and respect for protocols and processes and collaborating with teams. It has been my experience that a team with a shared vision is capable of accomplishing great things. So, as a team, our work began with identifying opportunities for early success. I have learned that transparency, open communication and an authentic desire to nurture the growth of others are key to building a team commitment to continuous quality improvement.
Founded in these elements, the team course design and peer review processes allow us to learn from each other and use our areas for improvement as opportunities to move forward in making our team vision a reality.
SoftChalk: Can you describe your overall process for getting a course ready for Quality Matters review?
Jami: Our internal review processes began in January, 2017. We have several team members who perform distinct auditing duties. For example, one faculty member looks at the Baccalaureate Essentials, and another faculty member looks at alignment in course objectives. Breaking the process into pieces makes things less intimidating for faculty, because only a small part of each course is being assessed at any point in time. Additionally, templates, available through our online faculty resource site, are available for faculty use or adaption as they redesign courses in alignment with the QM Rubric standards.
Beyond that, we regularly acknowledge that everyone, everyone, has room for improvement. No one is perfect, even our auditors. We learn from each other, and focus on improvement and building a foundation of team growth and program quality. As such, our first course was certified by QM in April, 2017 and our sixth and seventh courses are currently being reviewed by QM.
SoftChalk: A colleague of yours said that you have a collaborative approach to course auditing, one that is non-threatening, respects academic freedom, and promotes continuous quality improvement in our program's coursework. Why do you think this kind of approach has been successful?
Jami: Well, Audits can be intimidating. I don’t know anyone who looks forward to being audited and assessed. I have to give credit to my team for building terrific, trusting relationships with each other. It wholly changes the interpersonal dynamics of audits, and makes growth and innovation possible. We are all truly invested in each other’s success.
SoftChalk: With coming into an existing program and working to improve it, what were some of the challenges you’ve run into?
Jami: Joining a team that strives for program quality and has a demonstrated track record of innovation is a blessing; that’s the reputation of the team that I was privileged to join. Sure, challenges exist whenever you are the “new kid on the block.” It takes time to develop trust and time to learn the unique talents of each team member. Rekindling the team’s shared vision for QM and obtaining QM certification for all courses in the RN-BSN program provided a platform for building trust and working collaboratively to overcome the challenges that any change can impose.
SoftChalk: What about the successes?
Jami: It’s been exciting to watch our faculty blossom. They’ve led the college in terms of evidence-based course design and online pedagogical practices. It’s wonderful to celebrate the successes of the team individually and collectively. It is equally fun to witness the rise in interest across the college about how “this evidence-based approach” could benefit other programs of the college; the infectious, viral impacts of positive change are made possible through team collaboration!
SoftChalk: Since revising the courses and getting them certified, have you received any feedback from the students or seen improvements in grades/completion?
Jami: Anecdotally, we have witnessed positive outcomes from course alignment with QM standards. What we’re really looking for are quantitative insights into the benefit of the evidence-based course design. We are conducting some comparative data analysis on this question, so stay tuned.
SoftChalk: With your guidance, in less than 2 years, 5 courses in the Online RN-BSN Completion Program have been Quality Matters certified. How many courses are left and what is the completion goal for the remainder?
Jami: Our goal is to achieve QM certification for all 14 courses within our Online RN-BSN Completion Program. Although our initial timeline for the achievement of this goal was 2019, the team has established a pace that will likely permit us to reach our goal in 2018.
SoftChalk: For institutions interested in gaining national certification for their online programs, what advice would you give to them as to how to get started?
Jami: My best tips for getting started
- Identify courses and faculty who are already aware of and practicing in online pedagogy: These individuals are the ones most likely to embrace the QM standards and can serve as your early successes to ignite the interest and motivation of others.
- Organization: Use your identified QM “champion” to help establish a starting point for course alignment review which is often the most intimidating element to tackle. Once courses are aligned (objectives, learning materials, assessments) then begin strategizing about processes for design approach.
- Follow-through: Create a pattern of consistent communication and focus. If QM alignment is a team initiative then it should become part of everyday conversation, be a standing item on meeting agendas and should be part of course and program decision-making. A shared vision can only be realized when it is lived.
- Empowered Faculty: I love the saying, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” Empowering faculty in the shared vision of the team means that faculty members are engaged in each step of the process. My experience in working with highly effective teams is that the team becomes empowered when processes and communications are transparent, there is a foundation of mutual respect and accountability and trust exists; leading to actions and decisions that are for the benefit of team’s vision.
SoftChalk: What inspires you?
Jami: I am inspired by opportunities to make positive contributions…both in my personal and professional life. It’s not about recognition, it’s about being part of something that may positively impact others. My passion is in service to others. So, I aspire to serve my team and MCCN so that together we can be leaders in providing the best education possible to our students, ensuring that they are well equipped to provide quality and effective nursing care. With that education, our graduates have the power to improve the quality of healthcare in communities across the United States.