Calling all website designers, techies, software developers, database managers and educators with connections. This is a call for help, referrals and advice. I have been assigned what seems like a huge task and I am not quite sure where to start! My task is to develop an online tracking system to give students and educators a more meaningful way to use clinical evaluations. I have been told that other Schools of Nursing have developed their own similar tracking systems so it is an achievable goal. Commercial systems exist but are too costly (and advanced) for our needs.



Clinical education is a cornerstone of nursing.  It is where a lot of students learn how to nurse best.  They get to apply theory and skills learnt in class in a real world setting – with real patients. They work closely with other students and nurses in small groups. As educators we need to make the best use of these valuable learning opportunities that we can. Students need consistent, timely, constructive feedback from clinical instructors. Access to such feedback helps the student improve and keeps clients safe in rare situations where students demonstrate problematic behaviors.


The Problem

For years it has been a struggle to maintain continuity between clinical placements. Some placements are only 6 weeks. By the time student weaknesses (or growing edges) are identified it is often too late to remediate them. We develop learning contracts but they are often not communicated well or at all to the next clinical instructor. Students may be given feedback but report being shocked when it comes to the mid-term or final evaluation and they are being told that they are not going to be successful.


Outdated, paper-based evaluations are a major source of this struggle. We need a better way to track student skills, competencies and evaluations. That is why I have been given this project.


Project Goals

The online system needs to be able to

  • Track skills/competencies that students have demonstrated in the clinical setting.
  • Allow for text-based notes on student performance.
  • House clinical evaluations (likert scale and text based)


Faculty (teaching theory courses) need to be able to log in and access all student records. Student records need to be searchable by student name, skills and weaknesses.

Clinical educators need to be able to log in and see only their students. They need to be able to make notes on each student as often as they want, ideally every shift. At mid-term and final evaluation time they need to fill out the evaluation forms that consist of a series of likert scale ratings of student performance supported by text based notes.


Students need to be able to log in and see only the things under their own name (skills checklist, notes and evaluations.


Note: There are others that want me to take student tracking further and add on more things to track (assignment progress, bumping of grades etc.), but I am focusing on clinical evaluations for now.


Any help or ideas would be really appreciated as I am not sure where to start.


Thank you!!


Categories: Reflections


Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


Tom · September 24, 2017 at 10:11 pm

I’ll just say some stuff as I’ve got no idea what you know/don’t know so forgive me if it’s obvious. I ended up here as a result of one of Alan Levine’s tweets. 🙂

You probably already know you’ll likely want a database.

There are a large number of database options but it might depend on what you already own and what you (or the people you have access to) already are comfortable with. Filemaker Pro and Access would be an option. Both can be networked and are reasonably friendly to basic setups like this.

Non-standard web-based choices could include WordPress or even Google Drive/Docs (knitted together properly). Either of these would require more custom work on the programming side. Were I doing it in WordPress, Gravity Forms and Gravity View might get you a chunk of the way there.

Where I designing it, I’d get a big whiteboard or multiple pieces of butcher paper and sketch out the interfaces for the various users. What do they look like? What can each one do? Then I’d break down those interfaces into the data elements that you’d need to show and enter that information. From there, I’d look at relationships between the elements.

I’d suggest lots of testing on functional prototypes and doing that sooner rather than later.

You can also consider big picture questions around syncing to other systems, is this a single sign on situation, who provides training and support etc. etc.

I think you’re very wise to keep this focused. There are reasons large and complex software to do this is expensive. Adding lots of additional elements will make this grow quite a bit. I can’t quite tell if you’re doing this yourself or looking to hire someone. Maybe some combination. Make sure they’re giving you the time you’ll need to focus on this. ‘Other duties as assigned’ won’t quite cut it for something like this. It’ll take time and focus and then lots of revising and helping people actually use it.

**Caveat – With this particular situation, you may end up in both HIPAA and FERPA compliance land . . . which would likely require many conversations. Conversations with your legal and tech people would likely be lengthy.

    NurseKillam · October 10, 2017 at 7:21 pm

    Thank you for your insight. It is definitely quite the project and I am not really a programmer. We aren’t looking to hire. I will look into your suggestions. Great point about needing to talk to legal.

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.