McMaster University

McMaster University

McMaster nursing faculty guide curriculum development at South Africa’s North West University

By Amanda Boundris

Wendy Sword with nursing faculty from North West University
McMaster nursing professor Wendy Sword, third from left, with faculty from the Department of Nursing Science, North West University (Mafikeng).

Over the past two years, McMaster nursing professor Wendy Sword and retired faculty member Liz Rideout have assisted with curriculum development in the Department of Nursing Science at the Mafikeng campus of North West University (NWU) in South Africa.

In 2009 NWU secured funding to support collaboration between McMaster's School of Nursing and the nursing department at NWU. This funding, in part, was targeted to the development of capacity in the use of problem-based learning (PBL).

To help with curriculum development and incorporating PBL, Sword and Rideout have made four trips to South Africa, plus an offshoot journey to the University of Botswana in February 2012 to lead a PBL workshop and offer guidance on their proposed curriculum revision.

Liz Rideout nursing faculty from North West University
Retired McMaster nursing faculty member Liz Rideout, far right, with two faculty members from the Department of Nursing Science, North West University (Mafikeng).

McMaster pioneered PBL in nursing education. This approach is student-centred and involves small-group, self-directed learning. The student is responsible for identifying knowledge gaps related to a health care situation (the "problem"), acquiring new knowledge, and applying this knowledge in group discussion.

The pair’s first visit to South Africa took place in February and March of 2011. Sword and Rideout led a two-day PBL workshop that was attended by 110 participants from various institutions and disciplines. They also worked with the NWU curriculum writing team and focused on the new South African Nursing Council qualifications and integration of PBL. They began to draft outcomes and content for each of the four years of the nursing curriculum. During this time they also visited the local provincial hospital, which was very poorly funded, said Sword.

The next two trips to South Africa, in August and November of 2011, involved several more well-attended multi-day PBL workshops at the NWU, the University of Pretoria and the University of Fort Hare, as well as continued work on curriculum development with NWU faculty. There was also a one-week NWU faculty retreat in Lichtenburg, where they finalized the philosophy and program exit outcomes, drafted outcomes for each year and course, and began to develop specific learning activities for clinical and PBL courses.

Their most recent visit was in September 2012, where they participated in a one-week NWU faculty retreat in Rustenberg. There they completed and finalized year and course outcomes, continued work on learning activities, and developed a course schedule for all four years.

One issue that NWU faculty have with implementing PBL is letting go of content, said Sword.

"They still want to put everything in the curriculum they think students should know," she explained. "We have to keep reminding them that in PBL it is the learning process that is important."

Faculty resources, information literacy and library resources are other challenges Sword and Rideout observed. "They don’t have the access to databases that we have. It’s a real challenge for them in moving forward with self-directed learning," said Sword.

Keys to this successful international partnership have been the commitment of NWU to the curriculum changes and their students, as well as their willingness to learn about PBL and move it forward, she added.

"They’re appreciative of our sharing our experiences with curriculum development and integrating PBL. At the same time, they really take ownership of their work. It’s more of us guiding the process instead of telling them what to do," Sword explained.

Sword and Rideout plan to go back sometime this year to review what has been done and to give direction for completing the curriculum revisions.

"This work is important in terms of their nursing curriculum being current and fostering self-directed learning and critical thinking so that their graduates are better prepared to enter the practice world. It’s about moving from a very traditional didactic form of teaching to a more student-centred approach," said Sword. "The faculty at North West University are working hard to see how they can adapt this model with their existing resources."

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