A standardized self-paced nursing library course: Providing consistent instruction

Nancy Henry; Valerie Lynn; Lori Lysiak; Jane E. Sutterlin

The rapid expansion of the Pennsylvania State University College of Nursing programs and their geographic distribution, including an accredited online graduate program through Penn State Online | World Campus, motivated the authors to establish a nursing library instruction task force. Of the 24 campus locations, 12 support nursing programs, including undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees. The task force’s purpose was to deliver a self-paced online learning course to promote consistent nursing library instruction across a large research institution of higher education. The dispersed nature of the task force members (librarians and an instructional designer) created a complex environment in which to collaborate.

The idea to create nursing library content began as a discussion among a few librarians who thought it was important to provide competency-based library instruction to College of Nursing students anywhere, anytime.1, 2 The importance of developing and maintaining lifelong information literacy skills remains an essential role for librarians and provides an opportunity for partnership with nursing faculty.3 The task force consisted of four health sciences librarians from multiple campus locations and an instructional designer from the College of Nursing. Working in a distributed environment required that the group develop a number of methods to meet and share content. The task force used a Wiki and Google Docs to organize and share content. Initially, task force members met in-person to discuss the project. As the project progressed, task force members used Zoom video-conferencing software, which provided a multifaceted digital environment for meetings.

The task force members completed a literature review, benchmarked institutional websites for nursing library instruction content, and reviewed health-related information literacy standards, including those that specifically targeted nursing, for example, the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards for Nursing.4 Discussions took place with Library Services to World Campus, nursing faculty, and the College of Nursing Executive Committee to determine the demand for a standardized nursing library instruction course. The librarians responsible for Library Services to World Campus realized the importance of establishing an early and ongoing presence as they were also in the process of developing an online multidisciplinary tutorial repository for both World Campus students and resident students taking online courses. This repository included the platform (designed and owned by the World Campus) and best practices for the creation of online tutorials to be embedded in online courses. The objectives of the World Campus librarians intersected with those of the nursing library task force. Partnering with the nursing library task force offered clear benefits for all involved.

Determining a target audience was essential to the development of library nursing course content. The task force considered narrowing the information literacy topics to a particular degree (e.g., undergraduate, graduate, certificate, doctoral) but, upon reflection, decided that this was too broadly focused. After examining the Nurs200W (Understanding Nursing Research) course, the decision was made to align the learning outcomes to this curriculum and target this student population for the initial pilot. Following discussions with nursing faculty and a review of Nurs200W content, it was discovered that there were no standardized library-related instruction sessions or assignments. Having identified a target audience and the need for a standardized nursing library course, the task force began creating the content.

Content and delivery

Task force members outlined a curriculum based on the nursing information literacy standards found in the literature review and the Nurs200W content. The task force divided into teams of two librarians to create five modules for the nursing library course. Collaboration with the instructional designer was essential as she provided invaluable guidance regarding the structure and length of the content. The five modules developed were:

  • Module 1: Getting Ready for Research
  • Module 2: Basic Research Skills
  • Module 3: Identifying a Scholarly Source
  • Module 4: Writing Tips
  • Module 5: Dissemination of Research

Discussions about content structure influenced the way modules were delivered. Each module contained learning objectives and multiple lessons mapped to the learning objectives. Each lesson provided a self-paced slide presentation with text-based information and tutorials. Several lessons provided PDFs that students could print as a take-away handout. A “Check Your Understanding” assessment option for all modules allowed students to obtain feedback on their newly acquired knowledge. When students received an 80% or higher score on the assessment, they could print a certificate-of-completion. Each of the five modules was self-contained and could be assigned to students separately.

The delivery platform needed to be scalable, reliable, and easily available to students and faculty. The obvious platform option was Penn State’s Learning Management System, ANGEL. While not a sophisticated delivery system, the students were able to enroll, navigate, and complete the modules efficiently. Faculty, already familiar with ANGEL, were able to incorporate nursing library instruction into their curriculum. Use of Google presentations embedded within webpages aided in the flexibility of course content delivery. Screenflow and YouTube were used to create some of the video tutorials contained in module lessons.

In Module 1, Getting Ready for Research, the learning objectives include:

  • identify the pros and cons of using the Internet and library-licensed resources;
  • apply evaluation criteria to websites, including health information sites;
  • access the Penn State University Libraries website using multiple methods; and
  • locate library resources digitally (e.g., hours, subject guides, citation guides, and how to get help).

There are four lessons in Module 1 that address these learning objectives. For example, lesson 1 incorporates a video and comparison charts that provide a brief synopsis of things to consider when using the Internet and licensed library resources. A downloadable PDF of the criteria is available. The “Check Your Understanding” assessment (true/false and multiple choice questions) addresses module content/learning objectives. Immediate feedback is provided: a correct answer affirms and expands upon the response to the question while an incorrect answer prompts a description of the correct answer.

In Module 2, Basic Research Skills, the learning objectives are:

  • define a database;
  • locate the Penn State University Libraries Nursing Subject Guide;
  • search databases using Boolean operators, subject headings, and filters; and
  • find fulltext articles using the Penn State Get It! Button, the eJournals list, and interlibrary loan.

Module 2 contains only two lessons. The first lesson includes a screenshot slide presentation on locating and defining a database. Lesson 2 also uses a screen-shot slide presentation and describes an overview of database searching and techniques. Embedded links in the slides lead students to specific database tutorials from EBSCO’s CINAHL and the National Library of Medicine PubMed.

Screenshot of Module 2: Basic Research Skills course.

Screenshot of Module 2, Lesson 2: Database Searching Overview.

Upon completion of Module 3, students will be able to identify a scholarly article. A direct link to a three-minute educational video developed by Vanderbilt University discusses a comparison of scholarly versus popular periodicals.

Module 4, Writing Tips, focuses on the following learning objectives:

  • construct an annotated bibliography;
  • describe the components of a research paper;
  • create citations using APA format;
  • explain plagiarism;
  • demonstrate ability to give attribution to others and ask permission to use a copyrighted work; and
  • locate instructions on following common citation management styles (e.g., Citation Guides).

This module comprises multiple screenshot slide presentations with links to appropriate content.

Module 5, Dissemination of Research, has five lessons with learning objectives:

  • describe the elements of a scientific poster;
  • locate templates and design recommendations for scientific posters;
  • identify the complexities in publishing research;
  • gain a basic knowledge of copyright;
  • apply the concept of fair use;
  • gain insight into publisher contract negotiations;
  • discuss the benefits of amending publisher agreements to obtain author distribution rights;
  • identify instructions for authors from different scholarly journals;
  • identify repositories in respective disciplines to store and access research;
  • apply the various models to the different publication needs;
  • recognize the benefits of the open access publication model;
  • locate campus resources and tools for data management planning; and
  • articulate basic data management principles.

Module 5 content format is similar to the other modules.

Once module content and structure were completed in ANGEL, surveys were used to obtain feedback from various constituencies, including nursing faculty and nursing liaison librarians. The task force chair sent an email to Nurs200W faculty and librarians requesting reviewers. To complete the review process, volunteers were placed into two groups. The first group reviewed the content and provided feedback via the survey. Based on reviewers’ comments, task force members modified the content. The second group completed their review of the revised content using the same survey. The two-tiered rapid review process contributed to a valuable and functional online research skills curriculum for both librarians and nursing faculty.

The library nursing course was piloted before being made available to all Penn State College of Nursing faculty and university librarians. The 2014 pilot started at the beginning of the fall semester, and the spring 2015 pilot started at the beginning of the spring semester. During the pilots, a small cohort of nursing instructors asked their students to complete the modules as part of their Nurs200W course. Some nursing instructors asked their students to submit their certificates as proof of passing the nursing library modules. The pilot process took place over one academic year with minor adjustments occurring to the library nursing course content.

Moving forward

During the pilots, a total of 112 students were enrolled in the library nursing course. Although originally students enrolled in the undergraduate Nurs200W courses were the target audience, other graduate nursing faculty expressed interest in the nursing library course, particularly those teaching the Nurs513 MSN Capstone course (analysis and synthesis of research). Faculty felt that returning graduate students also needed to be taught more information literacy skills, especially in the digital environment.

An investigation of the online graduate population revealed that more than 50% of online MSN program students were 45 years old and older. Furthermore, more than 60% of students in the online Doctor of Nursing Practice program were 45 years old and older. These students, most likely, have not used library online resources extensively.5 After receiving favorable evaluations from the graduate students who participated in the pilot, the College of Nursing is now strongly recommending that every new graduate student complete the nursing library course modules and obtain completion certificates.

The nursing library course module certification process is integral to meeting education skill requirements throughout nursing students’ academic careers. Additionally, some nursing faculty teaching the Nurs200W course now require students to submit certificates of module completion. In the fall 2014 and spring 2015 pilots, the following completion results give an indication of the number of certificates earned by the participants:

  • Module 1: Getting Ready for Research—82
  • Module 2: Basic Research Skills—78
  • Module 3: Identifying a Scholarly Source—76
  • Module 4: Writing Tips—75
  • Module 5: Dissemination of Research (Lessons 1–2)—65
  • Module 5: Dissemination of Research (Lessons 3–5)—76

For ongoing assessment, the instructional designer created a survey at the end of each module lesson to obtain additional feedback for improving the lessons. Survey results from the pilots showed that 99% of respondents thought the modules were easy to navigate. Other results indicated that 98% experienced no technical difficulties, and 93% said that the content was relevant to an assignment or their research.

Following the fall 2014 and spring 2015 pilots, the content was marketed to university librarians and College of Nursing faculty for use in their curricula. The task force will continue to monitor, change, and add content to reflect current information literacy competencies.


A standardized nursing library information course based on core competencies is increasingly essential to reach students enrolled in geographically distributed nursing education programs at Penn State. Collaboration with the instructional designer and College of Nursing faculty proved integral to the creative process. Although the coordination process for creating the content was complex, the resultant product and established relationships contributed to a richer educational experience for nursing students.

The benefits of creating the nursing library course are:

  • the creation of a standardized nursing library course based on core competencies;
  • the opportunity for library and nursing faculty to provide flipped classroom instruction;
  • the delivery of a self-paced library course for nursing students to access anywhere, anytime; and
  • the course provides an avenue for returning students to update their information-seeking knowledge and skills.

Issues that need to be addressed in the future include sustainability and ongoing assessment measures.6 Although the completion of the nursing library course took longer than anticipated, the process and platform provide an adaptable model for further collaborative library course development.

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3. Turnbull, B. Royal, B. Purnell, M. , “Using an interdisciplinary partnership to develop nursing students’ information literacy skills: an evaluation. ,” Contemporary Nurse 38 no. 1–2 ( 2011 ):122-9 –. doi: [CrossRef] .
4. “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Nursing. ,” last modified October. 2013 ,
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5. Henson, A. , “The Success of Nontraditional College Students in an IT World. ,” Research in Higher Education Journal25. Sep. ( 2014 ): 1-19 –.
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Copyright © 2016 Nancy Henry, Valerie Lynn, Lori Lysiak, and Jane E. Sutterlin

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