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The evolution of educational information systems and nurse faculty roles.

ABSTRACT Institutions of higher education are purchasing and/or designing sophisticated administrative information systems to manage such functions as the application, admissions, and registration process, grants management, student records, and classroom scheduling. Although faculty also manage large amounts of data, few automated systems have been created to help faculty improve teaching and learning through the management of information related to individual students, the curriculum, educational programs, and program evaluation. This article highlights the potential benefits that comprehensive educational information systems offer nurse faculty.

Key Words Educational Informatics--Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)--Educational Information Systems--Technology in Nursing Education --Course Management Software--Administrative and Academic Systems


HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY BE USED TO POSITIVELY AFFECT STUDENT LEARNING? Suppose that with a push of one button, faculty could transfer grades from course management software, such as Blackboard/WebCT or eCollege, to the university database. And then suppose that these same faculty create reports highlighting each student's clinical experiences. With this information, faculty could accomplish several tasks that lead to more effective teaching and valuable educational research, for example:

* They could develop individualized and effective new assignments and link teaching methodologies to student learning styles and program outcomes.

* They could compute total clinical hours in each specialty area for each student and compare the clinical grades of students in different settings.

* They could assess correlations among preadmission testing, student retention, science courses, and NCLEX success.

Today's technology and information systems already have the potential to provide the information needed to do these tasks. But, for information systems to be effective, faculty must work within their institutions to influence how technology is used. Busy nurse educators must make time to attend department, school, and university meetings and learn how emerging technology infrastructures can facilitate or hinder the educational process. Administrators in nursing education must support this use of faculty time.

For both faculty and administrators, there are two fundamental questions: Will future automation make education more effective? Or will automation create additional work with limited benefits?

In recognition of the need to increase faculty awareness of the growing impact of automation on all aspects of the nurse educator role, the National League for Nursing Educational Technology and Information Management Advisory Council (ETIMAC) established the Task Group on Information Management and the Education Process. This task group is charged with helping faculty and administrators in nursing education appreciate the value of automated systems to support their work. Specific tasks include:

* Conducting an extensive review of published and fugitive literature to identify vendors and institutions that are creating and using automated systems to manage data related to the teaching-learning process.

* Surveying higher education information system vendors to determine if any are developing, or planning to develop, applications that support the management of data related to the teaching-learning process.

* Sharing with nurse educators information about the current state of automation in education and future directions that automation will take.

This article, the result of the work of this ETIMAC task group, describes current educational applications and their relationships and considers the potential for future systems. Building on this background, the article concludes with a discussion of the leadership role that nurse faculty can play in designing educational information systems for tomorrow.

Comprehensive Educational Information Systems A complex administrative infrastructure supports the primary mission for all institutions of higher learning: the education of students. Both the education of students and the surrounding administrative infrastructure have benefited from parallel developments in computing. Academic computing focuses on the assessment of students and the delivery of learning. Administrative computing focuses on the development of enterprise-wide systems to support the day-to-day operation of the institution, including the admissions and registration process, grants management, maintaining student records, and classroom scheduling.

As these parallel information systems expand in scope and function, they are beginning to overlap. However, for higher education to experience the full potential of automation, academic and administrative systems must merge and form a comprehensive educational information system. The following simple example demonstrates how the merger of academic and administrative computing has the potential to benefit students and faculty.

At the beginning of each term, nurse faculty receive a roster, or a small database, of facts related to each student in each course. By the end of the term, faculty know a great deal more about their students. If their observations are shared with the next faculty members who will teach these students, it is usually via brief notes or oral comments. However, if the information obtained by all faculty for each student were captured in a comprehensive student record, teaching strategies and academic advisement could be individualized. For example, faculty could quickly see an analysis of all assessment procedures used with that student since admission to the institution and then choose assessment approaches that are most effective for that individual student.

Educational systems encompassing administrative and academic computing demand a significant investment of money as well as faculty, administrative, and information technology (IT) leadership. Only when faculty members understand the data management potential of educational information systems can they maximize their use in education.

Administrative Computing Administrative systems are depicted on the left side of Figure 1. For most colleges and universities, the centerpiece of the administrative systems is the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. ERP is built on suites of software applications that use a common database to integrate institutional activities. These can be developed in house, but most often they are purchased from the vendors listed in Table 1. It is important to note that this is a constantly changing list. It is also important to point out that some institutions purchase single purpose applications from several different vendors, while other systems may fit within the suite of products from a single vendor.


The process of customizing ERP systems to meet the needs of the institution is time consuming and expensive. There is always the need to strike a balance between the amount of customization needed and the cost of these changes. Faculty leadership is required to ensure that systems are customized effectively to support their requirements.

Currently, ERPs are among the highest priorities in educational institution planning and the major reason why IT funding is a primary issue facing institutions. Of the higher education institutions that responded to the 2004 EDUCAUSE Core Data Service survey, 70 percent had implemented an ERP system or were in the process of implementing a system (1). In the 2005 EDUCAUSE survey (2), information systems and the IT infrastructure were ranked as the first and second highest expenditures for educational institutions.

ERP systems make it possible to integrate the operations of the university. When done successfully, ERPs eliminate the need for duplicate records, individual data storage, and separate data systems. The key phrase is done successfully. While the most commonly stated objective for implementing an ERP system is to provide better information for planning and management of higher education institutions (3), universities have varied greatly in how well they have used these systems to provide better information. An analysis by Nelson describes university systems as varying from silos of data to well-integrated organizations (4).

ERP systems can encompass every imaginable task involved in the administrative operation of the university--institutional development, financial management, human resources management, grants management, research management, financial aid, registration, and scheduling. Figure 2 is adapted from an SAP America, Inc. solution map illustrating a conceptualization of these functions for higher education.

yThere are a number of variations in how different ERP vendors develop their systems. However, the basic ERP system has three core modules: financial, human resources, and student records. These systems have four common attributes. Each tracks a range of activities, including the three core functions of financial, human resource, and student systems. Each is integrated so that when data are added to any area, information is changed in all related areas. Each is modular in structure. And each enhances the standard systems, thereby providing data for best practices (3).

Academic Computing Academic computing systems are depicted on the right side of Figure 1. As with ERP systems, which have the potential to offer a myriad of information to all the disciplines within an educational institution, rich data collection opportunities exist in the diverse range of educational software used by nurse faculty to deliver education, assess students, and track learner progress. For purposes of discussion, these academic systems are categorized as five distinct areas: computer-assisted learning, assessment and testing, student tracking, SMART classroom technology, and course management software.

COMPUTER-ASSISTED LEARNING Computer-assisted instruction, sometimes called computer-based teaching, had its origin in nursing education in the 1960s with limited programs that were delivered on mainframe computers (5,6). When the personal computer became available in the early 1980s, the development of software designed to teach nursing students began in earnest. Early efforts were mainly screens of informational text, followed by multiple-choice questions. Creative nurse educators soon discovered that they needed to collaborate with instructional designers and programmers to develop more sophisticated products that challenged students. They added graphics, provided branching, and some included databases of information relevant to the content. Interactive videodisc programs, which were followed by CD-ROMs, added the dimension of video to increase realism and test the learner's ability to observe the patient and the environment.

Today's computer-based programs include virtual clinical experiences, case studies that can be built and/or modified by faculty, task simulators such as intravenous arms, and patient simulators that breathe, talk, and display physiologic parameters on monitors. One of the most useful features of the more sophisticated products is the debriefing information that can be accessed after the student completes learning or testing sessions. These products document a minute-by-minute report of what the student did, providing an objective account of the learner's behavior. How much more useful these products would be if that debriefing information could be integrated into student management systems, where this evidence of learner activity could be tracked over time, documenting progress and enabling faculty to provide more customized support to student learning.

ASSESSMENT AND TESTING PACKAGES Many schools of nursing are under pressure to ensure student success on the NCLEX examination. One approach to ensuring success is to contract with testing companies that provide student assessment services. The most common services provided by vendors are entrance examinations, critical thinking assessments, achievement tests, NCLEX preparation, and remediation packages. Most vendors offer their products and services in paper, diskette, and online formats. Some of the better known providers of such services are the NLN, Health Education Systems, Inc., Assessment Technologies Institute, and Educational Resources, Inc. The authors of this article were unable to find any vendors that currently provide utilities to export student data information to an ERP student management system. All of the vendors produce islands of data.

STUDENT TRACKING SYSTEMS There is a dearth of literature discussing, promoting, or even recommending specific software to organize and track the large amount of student data related to learning experiences outside the classroom. The Nightingale Tracker, a mobile device released in 1998, provided voice and data communication between students and faculty during the student-patient encounter and was able to gather, store, retrieve, and aggregate clinical data using electronic communication (7). However, this product was a solution before its time and sales were limited.

In 2001, Fontana, Kelber, and Devine described a computerized system that they developed for tracking practice and prescriptive patterns of family nurse practitioner students. Their application used Epi Info, a public domain software program for "computerizing, analyzing, and evaluating students' clinical experience and practice patterns" (8, p. 68). Data collected over four years from 80 family NP students supported curricular changes, provided faculty research opportunities, and exposed students to research methodology, data collection, and analysis.

Some of the newest technology innovations for nursing education are those that provide applications on handheld or mobile devices, such as tablet PCs or personal digital assistants (PDAs). These devices offer easy access to reference material such as medical dictionaries, drug handbooks, and manuals for laboratory and diagnostic tests. PDA applications can also allow students to enter data about their clinical encounters with clients and submit this information to faculty (9).

One example of a PDA application is Akoan, a point-of-care patient care system developed by Akoan Software Ltd. for tracking student learning experiences ( Another is the Essential Clinical Behavior (ECB) system, created by the Nursing and Computer Science Departments at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. ECB is a self-report, menu-driven, free-entry, web-accessed system that manages data related to students' nonclassroom experiences throughout the curriculum. It assists faculty in making student assignments, evaluating students' progress, enhancing student learning, and supporting curricular decisions (10,11). A stand-alone version on tablet PCs or PDAs allows students to record nursing care experiences at the point of care and upload the data to the ECB database via the Internet. Educators electronically complete weekly evaluations that are linked to each student's clinical experiences and skill development. Educators and students can track and assess performance of essential clinical behaviors and provide timely, sequential, easily accessed evaluative communication. (A description of ECB can be viewed at default.shtml.)

While limited systems exist, as demonstrated by the examples selected for this article, the availability of comprehensive information systems to support the gathering of data unique to nursing education is meager. Data-driven faculty decisions would be enhanced by products that permit storage of student clinical data and allow aggregation and integration with data in the ERP system. Faculty could use these data sources to evaluate the effectiveness of specific clinical experiences and generate research about the best mix of clinical experiences for student learning. These data would make it possible for faculty to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between clinical experiences and students' achievement of end-of-course and end-of-program outcomes.

SMART CLASSROOMS The acronym SMART refers to Shared Multimedia Access to Resources for Teaching. The technology in a SMART classroom varies, but, in general, the term describes an interactive learning environment populated with electronic devices. Equipment may range from older technologies, such as televisions, videotape players, slide projectors, and/or overhead projectors, to newer technologies: CD-ROMs, DVD players, data projectors, and electronic white boards. At least one computer with access to the Internet is a necessity for a SMART classroom.

Some classrooms allow students to plug in their laptop computers to a campus-wide network and access the Internet. Other SMART classrooms are designed with a master work station that provides the teacher with control of every individual student computer. If the classroom is also used for distance learning and connecting multiple sites together, then additional equipment, such as video cameras and other transmission devices, may be used.

SMART classrooms can now be equipped with remote control devices, commonly called clickers, that allow each student to answer quiz questions or respond to instant polls. Student responses help the teacher determine if key concepts are being learned and keep students engaged in the learning experience. All tools within a SMART classroom create an interactive environment where student input and contributions allow the teacher to be responsive to student needs while enabling learners to discover and integrate new content. However, once class has ended, these data are usually lost.

COURSE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE Products such as course management software offered by Blackboard/WebCT or eCollege have become synonymous with distance education offered via the Internet. These products offer applications that make it possible to automate aspects of the teaching-learning process. They also have the potential to bridge the gap between academic software focused on the learning process and ERP systems focused on the manage merit of the institution. Note that in Figure 1, course management software overlaps both academic and administrative systems.

Recently, Blackboard and WebCT, two top vendors offering course management software, merged. In a discussion of the significance of this merger, one online author noted the relationship between course management software and ERP systems: "Blackboard must set its sights on owning the higher education software enterprise. With each move, but especially this one, it is moving into the mix with SunGard SCT, Datatel, and Peoplesoft (now Oracle) in terms of size and competitive advantage. This is a good thing for higher education. A company coming from the unique starting point of a focus on technology that has something to do with what institutions are supposed to be good at--teaching and learning--has made it to the big time!" (12).

The Faculty Role Higher education is not, and should not be, exempt from the information technology revolution, but, as Pennock and Bunt note (13), the "faculty factor" must be considered with projects of such magnitude. While technology infiltrates almost every aspect of our lives, it is argued that the core of academia--teaching and scholarship--remains relatively unchanged. The cultures of information technology and academia are characterized by competing traits (14). Words like ubiquitous, youthful, volatile, instantaneous, and profitable are used to define information technology. Conversely, words such as steadfast, autonomous, venerable, persistent, resistant, patient, and nonlucrative are words we associate with academia.

To take advantage of the full potential offered by the integration of academic and administrative systems, faculty must assume a proactive role and become involved with the selection of these systems. They must also understand the implications of their use. Four key areas where faculty can provide leadership are: 1) the identification of data elements needed to improve the effectiveness of the university; 2) the development of appropriate policies and procedures for collecting, accessing, and using faculty, staff, administrative, and student data; 3) the selection, implementation, and integration of academic and administrative systems; and 4) the creation of learning opportunities to ensure that faculty clearly understand the potential of automated academic systems.

DATA ELEMENTS AND INFORMATION NEEDED TO IMPROVE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE CURRICULUM With their extensive knowledge of the teaching-learning process, faculty members can identify the data elements and information that they require from the integration of academic and administrative systems. They can also elucidate how such information will be used for research.

With a comprehensive student management system that tracks each student's educational experience from the application stage through graduation and beyond, faculty might look for such data elements as preadmission scores, course test scores, clinical experiences, clinical hours, course content, and student demographics. Analysis of such data might include correlations of student outcomes and clinical placement, the relationship between teaching methods and student success, and how course grades predicate NCLEX success. Data could be aggregated and analyzed to assist with curriculum evaluation and program outcomes.

The ideal human management system would also track faculty workload and the number of students per credit load. The number of letter grades, A through F, issued by individual faculty and/or within a discipline could also be identified. But we might ask how and when that data would be used. It is important to note that while information systems in higher education offer exciting possibilities for educators, they also create ethical challenges. The appropriate collection and analysis of data is an ethical issue that requires thoughtful discussion.

DEVELOP APPROPRIATE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES The significance of academic data demands vigilance by all users to protect the information stored in university systems. Caruse (15), at the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research, investigated the current state of IT security and found a number of deficits. For example, only one third of the 435 institutions in the study had a formal security awareness program. Based on this analysis, Caruse listed security questions that must be asked on every campus. These include: What are the internal and external threats to the institution? Have any security risk assessments been completed? What are the findings of security audits?

Key to the development of security policies and procedures are the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law protecting the privacy rights of students. FERPA incorporates three basic student rights: 1) the right to inspect and review all records maintained on the student, 2) the right to request that the school correct records that the student believes are inaccurate or misleading, and 3) the right to expect that student records will not be released without written permission (16).

FERPA provides for some exceptions to the last provision. For example, information may be released to accrediting agencies. And faculty and administrators with a "legitimate educational interest" may access student records. The responsibility for determining what constitutes a legitimate educational interest lies with the university. Ultimately, the individual professor and the institution maintain responsibility for protecting and respecting the privacy of the student record (17). Given this responsibility, faculty must carefully craft and implement procedures and policies for accessing and using online student records.

SELECTION, IMPLEMENTATION, AND INTEGRATION OF ACADEMIC AND ADMINISTRATIVE SYSTEMS If future educational systems are to truly benefit students and faculty, nurse faculty must take an active role in the selection, design, and implementation of these information systems. Whether it is taking on a leadership role in the process of integrating existing applications, or identifying and defining new applications, nurse faculty must share their knowledge of the education process so that new systems truly meet academic needs. This requires that faculty volunteer to serve on selection and implementation committees, educate themselves about the capabilities and limitations of these systems, and encourage other faculty to be actively involved.

CREATE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES Journals, professional organizations, listservs, and vendors recommend various learning opportunities for discovering the challenges and advantages of automation in higher education. (See Table 2.) One of the most effective approaches to learning more about automation in higher education is to become involved at the local level. Begin by identifying those applications that address your educational needs for communication, access to information, and effective management of nursing student population data. These tools should help you work smarter, not harder. Seek out opportunities to interact with those administrators in your school who are designing the technology infrastructure. Volunteer to serve on committees related to these projects. Work with colleagues from your institution and other schools. Establish a network of interested faculty and administrators. Offer to serve on committees and establish local user groups to create an innovative culture of change where nursing faculty can become active participants in designing comprehensive educational information systems.

Conclusion Higher education is just beginning to experience the full impact of automation. Nurse faculty must now decide if we will take a leadership role and influence this impact, or sit back and watch the transformation of higher education by others. Just as the design of effective health care information systems required input from health care providers with knowledge of technology, effective systems that support the teaching-learning process require the advice of nurse educators with an understanding of automated systems in education. The NLN Task Group on Information Management and the Educational Process challenges you to step forward and take that leadership role.


(1.) Hawkins, B. L., Rudy, J.A., & Nicolich, R. (2005, September). EDUCAUSE Core Data Service: Fiscal year 2004 summary report. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE. [Online]. Available:

(2.) Maltz, L., DeBlois, R B., & EDUCAUSE Current Issues Committee. (2005).Top-ten IT issues, 2005. EDUCAUSE Review, 40(3), 14-29. [Online]. Available:

(3.) King, P. (2002). Respondent summary: The promise and performance of enterprise systems in higher education. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. [Online]. Available: www.

(4.) Nelson, M. R. (2005). Breaking out of the IT silo. The integration maturity model Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. [Online]. Available: LibraryDetailPage/666?ID=ERB0506.

(5.) Bitzer, M. D., & Boudreaux, M. C. (1969). Using a computer to teach nursing. Nursing Forum, 8(3), 234-254.

(6.) Bitzer, M. D., & Bitzer, D. L. (1973). Teaching nursing by computer: An evaluative study. Computers in Biology and Medicine, 3, 187-204.

(7.) Elfrink, V., Davis, S., Fitzwater, E., Castleman, J., Burley, J., Gorney-Moreno, M. J., et al. (1999). Designing an information technology application for use in community-focused nursing education. Computers in Nursing, 17(2), 73-81.

(8.) Fontana, S.A., Kelber, S.T., & Devine, E. C. (2001). A computerized system for tracking practice and prescriptive patterns of family nurse practitioner students. Clinical Excellence in Nurse Practice, 5(2), 68-72.

(9.) Glasgow, M. E., & Cornelius, F. H. (2002). Benefits and costs of integrating technology into undergraduate nursing programs. Nursing Leadership Forum, 9(4), 175-179.

(10.) Meyer, L. H. (2002). An application of the theory of planned behavior: Nursing students' intentions to seek clinical experiences using the essential clinical behavior database. Journal of Nursing Education, 41 (3), 107-116.

(11.) Meyer, L., Sedlmeyer, R., Carlson, C., & Modlin, S. (2003). A web application for recording and analyzing the clinical experiences of nursing students. CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 21(4), 186-197.

(12.) Abel, R. (2005, October 18). The real significance of Blackboard and WebCT. Alliance for Higher Education Competitiveness: Higher Education Insight (Blog). [Online]. Available:

(13.) Pennock, L., & Bunt, R. (2005). Whose system is it, anyway? Partnering with faculty in administrative system projects. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 2, 24-31. [Online]. Available: library/pdf/eqm0522.pdf.

(14.) Ayres, E. (2004). The academic culture and the IT culture. Their effect on teaching and scholarship [Electronic version]. EDUCAUSE Review, 39(6), 4862. [Online]. Available: library/pdf/erm0462.pdf.

(15.) Caruso, J. B. (2003). Information technology security: Governance, strategy, and practice in higher education. Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. [Online]. Available: www.

(16.) US Department of Education. (2006). General: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). [Online]. Available: fpco/ferpa/index.html.

(17.) Williams, H., Pacini, C., & Williams, P. F. (2000). Confidentiality of student records in the electronic frontier: Professors' and administrators' obligations. Journal of Accounting Education, 18, 301-313.

The authors are members of the NLN Task Group on Information Management and the Educational Process. Ramona Nelson, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a professor at the College of Health and Human Services, Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. Linda Meyer, PhD, RN, is an associate professor and director of undergraduate programs in nursing at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Mary Anne Rizzolo, EdD, RN, FAAN, senior director for professional development at the National League for Nursing, serves as staff liaison to the task group. Pamela Rutar, MSN, RN, CNE, is an instructor at Firelands Regional Medical Center School of Nursing, Sandusky, Ohio. Marcia B. Proto, MEd, CAS, is executive director of the Connecticut League for Nursing, Wallingford. Susan Newbold, MS, RNBC, FAAN, FHIMSS, is a lecturer at Vanderbilt University, Memphis, Tennessee, and NLN Educational Technology and Information Management Advisory Council liaison. For more information, contact Dr. Nelson at
Table 1. Enterprise Resource Planning System Vendors


Agresso /
Campus Management Corporation /
CAMS Three River Systems /
Champlain Software /
Computing Options Company /
ComSpec International, Inc. /
Datatel /
Jenzabar /
MCS Management Corp. /
Oracle Corp. /
SAP America, Inc. /
Scan Business Solutions, Inc. /
SunGuard SCT /

Table 2. Resources for Learning


Campus Technology /
CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing /
Edutopia /
League for Innovation in the Community College /
Technology & Learning Magazine /
THE Journal /

Figure 2. SAP Higher Education Research Solution Map

Financial Management/ Institutional
Decision Support Development Studies Management

Stratetic Enterprise Market Research/ Academic Program
Management Analysis Planning

Budget Formulation Marketing Resources/Scheduling

Budget Execution Fund-raising Teaching/Learning

Revenue Management Partner Management Academic Advising/
 Career Placement
Financial Accounting Alumni Management

Managerial Accounting

Student Lifecycle
Management Institutional Service Grants Management

Recruitment, Campus Services Planning,
Prospects, Admissions Application,
 Online Services Pre-Award
Student Registration
 Library/Media Financial Accounting
Academic Progress Management for Sponsored Program

Student Receivables Housing Reimbursement for
 Sponsored Programs
Financial Aid/ IT Services
Sponsoring Reporting to

 Grantor Management

 Human Resource Material Management
Research Management Management and Business Support

Research Planning Organzation/Position Procurement Process
 Management Management
Research Project
Management Recruitment Inventory Management

Research Information Personnel Faculty Management
Research Result Reimbursable Services
Management Time Management
 Goods Services,
 Personnel Sales/Distribution
 Real Estate
 Compensation/Benefits Management
 Cash Management/
 Payroll/Accounting Treasury

 Travel Management
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Author:Nelson, Ramona; Meyers, Linda; Rizzolo, Mary Anne; Rutar, Pamela; Proto, Marcia B.; Newbold, Susan
Publication:Nursing Education Perspectives
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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