Moving Beyond Discussion Boards: Building a Student-Driven Online Nursing Classroom

Moving Beyond Discussion Boards: Building a Student-Driven Online Nursing Classroom

Most of us began the 2020 spring semester teaching in face-to-face classrooms and then had to quickly move to online instruction. When face-to-face classes were suspended, Widener University’s School of Nursing faculty engaged students through synchronous and asynchronous approaches. All simulation scenarios were immediately adapted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Faculty needed to be mindful of and prepared for inequity in student access to technology and workspaces conducive to remote learning. Students needed to be reassured that they would receive a high-quality education in an online environment. Additionally, students needed to know that they would be heard over the chaos and uncertainty occurring. To assess student readiness during the spring transition, I employed a simple online survey that asked nursing students to provide input on the pace of the course and instructor availability. The students were also asked to answer questions such as, “If I am to succeed in this course, I need to…” followed by “If I am to succeed in this course, the instructor will need to…” Responses indicated that they were well aware of the importance of accountability for academic success and emphasized the need for strong faculty presence in an online environment.

Prompt and transparent communication helped students connect with faculty. Discussing essential nursing concepts, encouraging ideas, sharing feedback, and providing options to students as they recognized their own unique responsibility as a participant contributed to an impactful online learning. Open and respectful exchanges through internet communications tools, such as email, videoconferencing, and message chats to link groups of learners and faculty, encouraged collaboration and maximized student engagement in virtual learning spaces.

As the pandemic continued, the discussions among faculty shifted to purposeful use of technology and training. The opportunity for faculty to learn and integrate technologies for instructional use was a collaborative effort with the Widener’s Technology & Instructional Resources Committee, Teaching and Learning Technologies, and the School of Nursing’s Instructional Designer, Andrew Bobal, Ed.D. This collaboration allowed many to build trust in technology who were previously hesitant prior to the pandemic. Digital accessibility, classroom technology orientation and training for faculty, teaching with new software and equipment, and readiness upgrades to be done in classrooms were major discussions. Multi-factor authentication, phishing, and security awareness training was done to ensure that the Widener community had the knowledge, tools, and strategies to stay safe online.

 Providing clinical learning opportunities for nursing students is a challenge as restrictions for students remain in the clinical practice areas. Utilizing simulation-based learning in innovative ways maximized resource availability and learning opportunities. Teresa Lamarra MSN, RN, CHSE, Tricia Devlin, MSN, RN, CEN, and Simulation Operations Technologist David Brown bridged this gap through clinical simulation and innovative technology in the program’s Center for Simulation.

Small 8:1 student-faculty ratio in clinical, lab, and simulation settings occurred even before the pandemic. During the pandemic, smaller sizes, 6:1 in some sessions, presented the right ratio of student-centeredness to instructor-driven interactions to ensure that active and collaborative learning was facilitated.

Through technology-supported learning opportunities, students practiced skills, role-played patient care scenarios, and gained leadership experience in clinical and community care settings. Multiple types of technologies were used to provide real-world practice in patient-centered care through interactive virtual standardized patient simulations and web-based simulation. Software that allowed students to assess heart rate, blood pressure, and simulate an ECG for cardiac rhythms found in clinical practice provided students with valuable opportunities to enhance learning.

Widener’s COVID-19 vaccination policy and commitment to safe operations allowed students to return to in-person classes for the fall semester. Knowledge and skills for nursing practice in a complex, technologically supported environment is necessary as technology in health care advances. Even prior to COVID-19, telemedicine and telehealth were essential healthcare delivery systems. COVID-19 triggered the rapid adoption of innovative technologies into nursing education. The role of the faculty is not restricted to providing students with the technology tools, but to guide and motivate students to participate and collaborate. Faculty must continue to demonstrate a willingness to explore, learn, participate, collaborate, and adopt the use of technologies in nursing education. It is my hope that the use of technologies is driven by the needs of the students.

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