Virtual Collaboration 


Jack Yensen

Editor-in-Charge of eLearning


        If it is true that “none of us is as smart as all of us,” isn’t it strange that there are not more collaborative groups in nursing? Yes, it is true that nursing involves collaboration on a day to day basis, and many of us do collaborate effectively with each other, but it seems strange that with so much useful, free technology that we do not have more e-collaboration, spanning the globe and solving the big problems of health care.

        As an instructor and faculty member, I have thought about bending technology to the service of groups for many years and have tried many times to generate virtual group projects, including concept-resource mapping (1991 to present), the Florence project (1996-1998), and Project Cybernurse (1997-1999) amongst others. Although these projects seemed to generate initial enthusiasm and endorsement, they seemed to wither on the vine for lack of commitment. I have watched many colleagues start admirable and similar projects, only to suffer a similar fate. What is needed to successfully form, storm and norm a collaborative virtual group that is able to deliver something of value? I wished I knew.

        Let’s take instruction, as an example and in particular, nursing instruction. It seems to me that effective nursing instruction is getting more and more difficult, as we have to deal with content that has a shorter and shorter half-life. Using any decent search engine, it is easy to find similar nursing courses taught all over the world by hundreds of different faculty, and yet the obvious still eludes us. We seem to thrive on redundancy and ignore the principles of division of labor and differentiation of function. I am currently involved teaching health promotion and illness prevention and know that there are many similar courses being taught by many nurses worldwide. How marvelous it would be if we were to collaborate and share resources and strategies. This would not result in a bland homogenous weave, but a rich tapestry of possibilities, including being able to reach and engage diverse learning styles and preferences. In Project Cybernurse and the Florence project, I hoped that such sharing would occur, as it would have been “as smart as all of us” and yet, despite initial enthusiasm, these projects atrophied. Being interested in e-learning, I have watched the development of learning management systems like Blackboard and WebCT and actually consulted with WebCT for a year. During that time, it seemed as though there might be a lot of interest in teaching and learning using the emerging technologies, so I started an open WebCT course called “Extreme Teaching and Learning” assuming that everyone would like to co-own and co-design and collaborate in such a course. After an initial flurry of bulletin board posts, it became clear that this was not the case. The preference emerged that most participants wanted to get questions answered and simply “lift” whatever techniques and strategies they felt might be useful to them. It suddenly felt like an intellectual food bank, with lots of people lining up to fill their needs, but with very little in the way of reciprocity. Yes, perhaps I am being naïve expecting that people would want to contribute and collaborate, but I prefer to remain optimistic that this might ultimately be possible.

        What do you think about virtual collaboration? Why is that nearly every hospital in the world continues to re-invent policies and procedures, 90% of which are common? Perhaps it is time to go back to a token economy and start to trade learning objects rather than simply give them away. I am willing to give instructional objects to anyone that has a need and usually suggest that they adopt, adapt or re-purpose to suit their needs and ask nothing in return (and usually get exactly that!) In informatics, there is a great need for sharing of resources and strategies, and one would think that the nature of the discipline would make it de rigeur to share. Dr Linda Goodwin and I have collaborated for many years and episodically vow to launch a free, open introductory nursing informatics course for nurses and students everywhere. We shy away from the actual launch, sensing that it might become another “food bank” with only the two of us as providers. 

        I would be very interested to hear from any of our readers on this topic.


Jack Yensen


February 1st, 2002