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Online education has become a fact of life during the pandemic, and on-campus nursing schools have been looking to online institutions for guidance. What should on-campus nursing programs know about the challenges of remote instruction, and what lies ahead for online teaching? DailyNurse asked Dr. Camille Wendekier, Program Director and associate professor for the Online Masters of Science in Nursing at Saint Francis University and Dr. Tom Kannon, Program Director of the Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program at Regis College to share their perspectives on distance education in the COVID era.

What are the greatest challenges that nursing instructors face when teaching in a virtual environment? What measures can they take to overcome these challenges?

Dr. Tom Kannon, Regis College: When teaching in the online learning environment, you have to remember that, for the majority of the time, the students don’t have that tangible face-to-face interaction with the instructor.  Most courses are asynchronous, and it can create a bit more anxiety for the student than a regular class as they cannot simply raise their hand to get clarification for something on the spot. 

Dr. Tom Kannon, Regis College

As an instructor, you have to be mindful that students are in and out of the course at all hours of the day and night, and will email with questions at all hours.  It is best to try to keep to a schedule for replying, such as all emails will be responded to within 24 hrs.  It is also necessary to still have scheduled virtual office hours that provided a more tangible connection to the instructor if help is needed. Another necessity is to have a contact list for technology support.

Above all else, clear communication is vital. Things happen, it’s inevitable, but communicating with the students that an issue is known and is being worked on, and providing updates, does a tremendous amount to quell uncertainty and anxiety. One major adaptation has been the need to provide greater flexibility in the clinical arena.  Regis implemented use of various simulation experiences to meet some of the requirement, and implemented expanded use of telehealth for precepting to try to enhance the ability for students to achieve meaningful clinical hours towards meeting competencies.

Dr. Camille Wendekier, St. Francis University: The biggest challenge in a virtual environment is maintaining the personal student connection. Nursing faculty can offer small group and individual tutoring via video conference applications such as Google Meet or Zoom. The ability of the course instructor to mentor reasoning and knowledge construction can move students beyond using rote memory associated with passive learning activities such as reading or watching recorded lectures.

Dr. Camille Wendekier, St. Francis University

Video sessions also offer students an opportunity to introduce themselves on a personal level… Such activities help the course instructor and students better understand the uniqueness of each person in the class and the unique contributions each student can make to the learning experience.  Knowing each other on a more personal level can help add excitement to learning, which could improve the metacognition associated with learning. 

The other challenge is providing for testing security during stay-at-home orders. There are many companies that offer remote testing services, but several of these companies were unable to offer their services during the pandemic, so schools needed to investigate alternative options. It is important to adopt a secure testing application that has a good workflow for both the faculty and students. In addition to workflow, it is also important to consider the Internet requirements of each application in relation to Internet resources that students have at home… [so students] can take the test without losing connectivity.

In the wake of the accelerated changes brought on during the pandemic, what are the key developments in online education that you hope/expect to see over the next 5 years?

Dr. Tom Kannon, Regis College: I hope to see greater inclusion/implementation of telehealth/teleprecepting for students.  The COVID pandemic has shown us how quickly providers can adapt to using telehealth and how successful it has been in maintaining provision of care to millions of people.

I expect that for an institution to stay successful and positively impact their students’ education, all courses will be interchangeable between live and online, with maybe more of a mix of synchronous and asynchronous courses.  I also expect to see a growth in the creation of more robust clinical simulation experiences that colleges/universities can tap into to provide greater flexibility to their students.

Dr. Camille Wendekier, St Francis University: Key developments in online education over the next five years may include:

  • Requiring faculty to obtain Distance Education Certification—either offered by the University or by an outside entity.  
  • Utilizing more Virtual Clinical Simulations as allowed by State Boards of Nursing and accrediting agencies. These simulations will improve over the years with the use of more avatars and more critical thinking virtual experiences.
  • Utilizing more Google Meets or Zoom sessions to provide for more personalized classes and office hours.  These videoconference sessions allow the course instructor and students to interact in real-time and discuss the course information in relation to individual learning needs.

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