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Teach Future Nurse Educators How to Build a Curriculum

To teach about nursing, Alfreda Harper-Harrison’s students will need to create courses from scratch. Her 7-step group project shows them how.


Alfreda Harper-Harrison, EdD

Director, Advanced Nurse Educator Program, and Associate Professor, Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina

EdD in Adult Education, MS in Nursing, BS in Nursing, Registered Nurse, CLNC, BLS-I

For as long as she can remember, Alfreda Harper-Harrison, EdD, has wanted to help people. That was the reason she became a nurse 30 years ago. It was also the reason why, many years later, she took her career in a new direction—and took her helping to the next level.

“When I was working on the hospital floor, I saw a lot of nursing students come in for their clinicals, where they practiced nursing in the hospital setting,” she says. “When they are in the classroom, they focus on theory, but when they are in the hospital, they work in a hands-on way with patients.”

She slowly realized how drawn she was to working with student nurses: showing them the ropes, explaining how to put classroom theory into practice, and giving them the lowdown on the kinds of people they’d one day encounter as nurses. She now refers to the time she spent with these student nurses as her de facto introduction to teaching—an introduction that sparked an interest in teaching. Inspired by her charges, she returned to school, this time for higher education administration, and soon began a new professional life—this time in the classroom.

Today, Harper-Harrison is the director of the Advanced Nurse Educator Program at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. There, as an associate professor, she is now teaching nurses who will go on to become nursing teachers themselves. On top of that, the teaching is conducted online—making it available to more students but also bringing its own set of challenges for this dedicated people-helper.


Nurse educator students think curriculums are pre-set

Harper-Harrison says that nurse educators often do not understand the situation in which they are most likely to find themselves as educators.

“My students often walk in the door thinking that course curriculums already exist and they already build on each other, which isn’t true,” she says. “That’s going to be their job: to make sure that the curriculum flows well for their specific classes and that it will fit well in the sequencing of courses that the nursing students will be taking throughout their program.”

She says they are mystified as to how they will make that happen.


Make curriculum-building a group endeavor

Harper-Harrison created her Build-a-Curriculum project for her Curriculum and Instruction class that marries the task of creating a nursing course curriculum with learning how to communicate as a team in an online environment.

In this semester-long assignment, she has students work in groups and create curriculum committees, which are tasked with creating a new nursing curriculum from the ground up. This reflects what they will need to do when they are working in their careers, she says. (For example, they will definitely need to know how to negotiate.)

“When I went through my teaching program, I never had any group work on how to build a curriculum from scratch,” she says. Today, she is making sure her students have what she always wished she had gotten from her nursing education program.


“This course really does teach nurses how to develop a curriculum and how to make sure the curriculum matches the accrediting bodies’ requirements and the university and division mission and goals.”

— Alfreda Harper-Harrison, EdD

Course: NUR 6328 Curriculum and Instruction

Course description: This course is designed to introduce students to the components of educational program processes. Class and contemporary philosophies, theories, and research on development of nursing education programs will be analyzed. Principles of program design, development of teaching syllabi, assessment of nursing education and staff development are key concepts of this course. The course will address the development of cost-effective programs and the needs of multicultural learner environments.

See resources shared by Alfreda Harper-Harrison, EdD

See materials

Lesson: Teach nurse-educators-in-training to build a curriculum

As with any course, this distance-learning class requires a great deal of organization for the instructor. Harper-Harrison has spent a lot of time working out the right materials and instructions, how to provide them, and how to get students to engage with one another, which she feels is important to their development. All of those ideas are in place when it comes to her Build-a-Curriculum project.

Right from the start, Harper-Harrison outlines all the components that need to be in place to create a curriculum so that the students start on the right foot. She explains what makes up successful class content and how it should build, as well as how to make sure that each assignment has clear rubrics and aligns with objectives. She even discusses how to evaluate textbooks to ensure that they include the material necessary to help students achieve the learning objectives.

All of that knowledge goes into the Build-a-Curriculum project, which counts for 80% of the total course grade. Here is how she sets it up.

Make the challenge feel real

To help focus students’ work, Harper-Harrison starts by giving them a scenario: to redesign the nursing program curriculum at a (made-up) institution. She tells them, “Because of your knowledge in course development, you have been asked to work on a committee tasked with the planning and development of a nursing curriculum for a nurse educator program. As part of your responsibilities, you will need to select a chairperson who will be responsible for the organization of the group and assignment requirements.”

Curriculum Redesign Project (CRP) Group A will redesign the curriculum for a new accelerated advanced nursing education (ANE) program to be completed in 15 months. CRP Group B will redesign the curriculum for a new master’s in nursing (ANE concentration) program.

Explain group selection and set clear expectations

Students self-select their own groups, ideally of four or five people each. They are expected to connect through the school’s collaborative applications (e.g., online forums) as well as in person and through texts, calls, social media, and Skype. Students have to figure out how to meet with each other, which is challenging since they can be all across the state. Although Harper-Harrison requires some individual assignments as part of the project, she considers their success to be dependent on group discussion and negotiation.

Outline the critical steps of the project

Groups spend their time during the semester working through these seven sequential steps:

  1. Develop three curriculum goals/outcomes.
  2. Identify essential content to be included in the revised curriculum, based on credentialing expectations.
  3. Identify the total number of hours required to complete the program.
  4. Determine the number and types of courses allowed to transfer into the program.
  5. Establish a progression policy that takes into account both needed prerequisites and minimum grades required to move forward in the program.
  6. Negotiate the sequential course layout.
  7. Develop an implementation and evaluation plan.
Provide a shell (and other examples, if needed)

In the 10 or 11 times that Harper-Harrison has taught this class, she has learned that it helps to provide a shell curriculum for students to use as a baseline for their redesign. Many students have little to no experience in this area, so the layout example is especially appreciated. It also helps students see how to organize their ideas in the context of what comes before and after their curriculum.

Assign a presentation to showcase the results

Students are expected to submit a virtual presentation (which runs live for all members of the class), along with the proposed curriculum that will meet the needs of their populations. The presentation, which can use PowerPoint, Prezi, or other platforms of their choice, must document the process of developing the curriculum, students’ research of relevant nursing program curriculums, the group’s justification for course selection and placement, and a plan for the implementation and evaluation of the new/revised curriculum. Each group must use at least five research-based citations and follow APA format for writing, as outlined in the assignment rubric.


The school has also taken note of this project’s effectiveness. Based on the success of her lesson, Harper-Harrison says, her school supervisor and chair of the graduate program has incorporated an assignment for other classes that leverages the progressive nature of the Build-a-Curriculum project.

But Harper-Harrison is just as pleased with the reaction from her students, past and present. “Students have such pride in what they’ve accomplished,” she says. “When students finish this project, they can add it to their portfolio as they look for their jobs. It is such a real-world, hands-on project that they can refer to later on. Doing this definitely helps them in their careers.” She says numerous students, now educators at other institutions, have told her how helpful the assignment has proven. One told her, “I understand why we are discussing revising our curriculum; it was not set up properly for students to build on concepts.” Another was grateful to have learned the importance of negotiation, saying, “You were right; we are constantly negotiating what content to put into the curriculum and where it will be taught.”

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