Monthly Archives: June 2014

Ensuring Pedagogical Competence in Programs Transitioning to Distance Delivery:

Leadership, pedagogical competence and technological teaching/learning environment in a distance nursing program

 This post comprises a critical review undertaken by myself and my classmate, Renia Nissan, as a collaborate assignment.

 Article Reviewed:
Vioral, A. (2013). Exploring pedagogical competence in a distance education nursing program: A case study. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 3(9), 36-47. doi: 10.5430/jnep.v3n9p36

These slides summarize our review, and the full review is provided below the slides in this post. We additionally co-created a cognitive map as a visual-based knowledge object, which provides some additional details:

The journal article was a peer-reviewed source that explored pedagogical competence in distance education at a post-secondary level, specifically relating to nursing programs transitioning to distance delivery in response to a worldwide shortage of nurses. The literature review highlighted common issues of inadequate training and support for faculty as primary barriers in distance education (DE). The author identified a knowledge gap in existing literature relating to the relationship between leadership, pedagogical competence and technological teaching/learning environment (Vioral, 2013).

Summary of Article
The article proposed two research questions, one addressing the role of leadership in supporting pedagogical competence in DE amongst nursing faculty, and the second addressing how distance nursing programs integrate national (United States) standards for pedagogical competence (Vioral, 2013).

This case study evaluated data collected from a purposive sample of distance nursing program leadership and faculty (seemingly chosen as local knowledge cases, rather than key cases or outlier cases), utilizing mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) comprising surveys and audiotaped interviews. The Contingency Leadership Theory served as a framework for analyzing and interpreting the data. Three interconnected themes were isolated from the data – technological environment, pedagogy, and leadership – which the author concluded are vital for supporting faculty and sustaining successful outcomes in the online programs (Vioral, 2013).

Strengths and Weakness of the Article/Study
The article was well written, well organized with section headings, and easy to follow. It included a rich review of literature, incorporating studies that paralleled the problem statements, including studies from a variety of journal based articles, professional organizations and doctoral theses, DE, nursing and medicine (Vioral, 2013). Theoretical principles were well researched and provided as a strong basis for development of models, in this case to enhance pedagogical competence and improve technological environment, and leadership support in DE (Vioral, 2013).

Rationale for utilizing a case study design was provided and grounded in background literature. The article appropriately defined the study’s target participants, measures, and protocols for data collection and analysis. Adequate detail was provided to enable replication of the study. However, the small, homogeneous sample recruited and some serious study design flaws represented limitations.

The target sample size was N=6, which would include one administrator and one faculty member from each of three US nursing programs  that had been awarded the NLN Center of Excellence Award twice in past decade and offered online BSN, MSN, PHD, and/or DNP programs. While the article described the rationale for the inclusion criteria with links to background literature, no rationale was provided for the target sample size. Only one administrator-faculty member set was recruited from a single program/institution, representing a response rate of 33%, and researcher time restrictions was described as the sole barrier to recruiting additional participants (Vioral, 2013).

The author described that additional interviews may have increased the richness and validity of this study (Vioral, 2013). It is implied that this means interviews with additional administrator-faculty member sets from additional programs/institutions. However, this study may have also benefitted by including participants representing other roles in the DE team within the same institution. At minimum, including an instructional designer as a participant would have strengthened this case study.

The small sample size may have infused participant bias into both the survey and interview data. The study relied on the recruited administrator to identify potential faculty participants for the study, which presents serious problems. Firstly, the faculty member’s ability to provide free and informed consent may have been impeded, as s/he may have felt compelled to participate, based on the power relationship (i.e. being asked by his/her supervisor). Additionally, this recruitment method precluded participant anonymity. The author described the potential for faculty reluctance in fully disclosing information (Vioral, 2013), but failed to describe how the study design may have contributed to this bias. This bias could have easily been foreseen when the study design was initially being developed, at which point the recruitment methodology could have been appropriately modified. It is surprising this design flaw was overlooked during ethics review.

While the combination of qualitative and quantitative data collection (including surveys) is appropriate for case study design, in this particular study the surveys ultimately provided little value beyond collecting demographic data. The author described that the qualitative data was used to validate the quantitative data, but it is unclear how this was done, and no report seems to be made of the quantitative (i.e. survey) data. In particular, the survey results do not appear to be included in the analysis. For instance, Table 1. summarizes the identified themes and categories emerging from the data, but it seems these emerged from the guided interview questions listed in the table, and any contribution from survey data is unclear/absent.

The author does provide a detailed description of how categories and themes emerged from the data, including the application of pattern-matching logic and idealized theoretic patterns as comparators to maximize internal validity (Vioral, 2013). However, what this pattern-matching logic is and what the comparators are was not explained.

The findings flowed from the data analysis, and were interpreted through the Contingency Leadership Theory framework. This theoretical framework is appropriate and relevant for research regarding institutional and organizational processes, and application of this theoretical framework was a distinct strength for this study, contributing to its generalizability, and the findings are relevant to other cases of DE in nursing and to other DE programs in general.

Importance and Relevance to Distance Education
Despite the study’s design flaws, this article presented findings that are of strategic importance to the general issue explored in this study. This article presented a study that explored topics of great importance to the study of DE because it provided insights on the supports and barriers to successfully implementing distance programs that center learning around the student, upholding leadership, administrative support and technical support as critical factors contributing to faculty pedagogical competence (Sad, Goktas, & Bayrak, 2014; Vioral, 2013; Hoffman & Dudjak, 2012).

Perhaps the most critical insight for DE in nursing revealed was that the program involved in this case study employs standards of good practice that are consistent with NLN and iNACOL competency standards, but does not specifically incorporate standards (Vioral, 2013). This finding presents a specific target for nursing program leadership for supporting/improving the pedagogical competence of their faculty.

The article focused on the needs of the faculty delivering DE, and provides evidence-based information that can inform program/institutional processes and policies for preparing and supporting faculty teaching in the online setting (Hoffman & Dudjak, 2012; Lee, Paulus, Loboda, Phipps, & Wyatt et al., 2010; Vioral, 2013).

This study addressed a gap in the existing literature regarding the relationship between leadership, pedagogical competence and technological teaching/learning environment, thus providing background and a mandate for future research.

Many studies have concluded similar barriers encountered to learning online, and this particular study contributed by providing an alternate view focusing on the levels of preparedness of the faculty to teach an online course (Vioral, 2013). The results concluded in this study will guide future research in understanding the teaching needs of the teachers that are progressively moving towards leading online courses. Specifically, the author suggested further research might focus on exploring the integration of instructional design in course development, and on replicating this study across nursing programs and DE programs in other disciplines (Vioral, 2013). It will aid in identifying structure, organization, and consistency, which are identified as critical factors in improving student learning outcomes (Sad et al., 2014).

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Is specific training in distance/online education the best way to ensure pedagogical competence amongst faculty? Why or why not. How and what alternatives might effectively facilitate the development of pedagogical competence in developing and delivering distance/online education?
  2. Would you recommend that faculty undertake specific pedagogical training in developing and delivering distance/online education? Why or why not. What would a training program for faculty look like? What topics and skills development would it cover?
  3. In what ways might students be impacted by the differences in pedagogical competencies between faculty who have undertaken vs. not undertaken specific training in developing and delivering distance/online education? Do you think training makes a difference? Why or why not.
  4. How have technological environment, instructional design, instructor pedagogical competence, and program administrative structures supported and/or impeded your own learning in distance/online courses?
  5. What learning barriers have you experienced in your distance/online courses, and how might they have been prevented/resolved? What elements have provided the best support to your learning?
  6. What insights does this study provide regarding the different roles (administrative/leadership, instructional design, technical support, faculty) involved in developing and delivering a distance education program/course? Why are these roles critical, and what might be the consequences be if one of these roles were absent? Is leadership the most critical role? Why or why not?
  7. How might the findings of this case study of one online nursing program be relevant (or not relevant) to distance education in other disciplines and to distance education in general? What aspects of the findings of this study might not be relevant to other distance education programs? What insights does this study contribute to the existing knowledge about pedagogical competence in distance education, and what knowledge gaps does this study not address? 


Hoffmann, R., & Dudjak, L.A. (2012). From Onsite to Online: Lessons learned from Faculty Pioneers. Journal of Professional Nursing, 28(4), 255-258.

Lee, D., Paulus, T. M., Loboda, I., Phipps, G., Wyatt, T. H., Myers, C. R., Mixer, S. J. (2010). A faculty development program for nurse educators learning to teach online. Tech Trends, 54(6), 20-28.

Sad, S.N., Goktas, O., & Bayrak, I. (2014). A comparison of student views on Web-based and face-to-face higher education. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 15(2), 209-226.

Vioral, A. (2013). Exploring pedagogical competence in a distance education nursing program: A case study. Journal of Nursing Education and Practice, 3(9), 36-47. Retrieved from