Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction



Major Advisor

Susan Martin


Health care and nursing are political, and nurses need to be at policy decision-making tables. Graduate nursing education prepares nurses for policy roles, but little research exists about what political and policy education is taught to undergraduate nursing students or how they learn the concepts, skills, and disposition for political and policy work. Nurses need education for civic engagement and political advocacy in their undergraduate professional education. A study was done to learn how undergraduate nursing students made sense of civic engagement concepts like political advocacy and policy making in an online blended, required Policy, Power & Voice course in one nursing curriculum.

Constructivist grounded theory methods guided design and conduct of this study. Interviews of fourteen students after completing the course provided rich data that led to a theory of political learning, Engaging in Learning Together. Four primary processes were involved in participants’ learning: Push Starting Learning, Doing the Work, Learning Online Together, and Making it Real. These four processes resulted in Learning Deeply for most participants, which contrasted with previous experiences of “learning by checklist.” Engaged learning was defined as a promotive, synergistic learning process involving self, peers, teachers, and/or others, requiring investment of one’s physical and mental capabilities along with a positive commitment of spirit and energy. Put simply, it is learning in relationship with others that involves head, hands, and heart.

By course end, all participants related changes in their understanding of political processes. In addition, they had new perspectives of the nursing discipline and nursing’s current and potential involvement in political processes and policy making. They began a journey of Becoming Political.

Three study conclusions were: 1) Engaging in Learning Together emerged as a substantive theory of learning for undergraduate nursing participants’ political and policy course learning. 2) Engaging with peers, the instructor, and others in a blended online course contributed to deep learning and strengthened habits of learning. 3) Embedding civic engagement learning within a disciplinary focus provided a positive context for professional formation and fostered development of participants’ knowledge, skills, and disposition for political and policy advocacy work in the profession.

The theory has potential, in similar contexts, for guiding nurse educators’ curricular and pedagogical decisions, course design, and instructional strategies when teaching political and policy advocacy to undergraduate students. It raises questions about civic engagement learning for undergraduate and graduate nursing students and the potential impact on graduates’ future nursing practice. Incorporating distinct opportunities for gaining civic and political knowledge with practice in policy processes from the beginning of nurses’ education may help them see these skills as fundamental to their nursing practice as taking vital signs. The ultimate aim is to foster a disposition in undergraduate students toward civic engagement in communities and use of political processes and policy making in their professional nursing roles.