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April 8, 2020

A Nursing Challenge: From Traditional Classrooms to Online Instruction

by Jacqueline Johnston, PhD '18

Jacqueline Johnston

Fully online instruction is a fairly foreboding thought to most professors who routinely teach in a classroom environment within the halls of the hallowed ground of higher education. As a baby boomer, college always meant to me a large collection of heavy textbooks, an assortment of highlighters and, of course, a multitude of pens (I’m kind of a pen thief). Life has changed; over the years, I find myself enjoying the computer—its convenience and the rapid surge of information at my fingertips. I actually believed I was quite tech savvy, or so I thought.

The 2020 pandemic of COVID-19 has turned everything upside down. In a matter of days, thoughts went from what will we do for spring break to who will live through this, where will I get toilet paper, and why am I so worried about that? After the initial shock of this disaster that we are all living through, we are trying to establish some sense of normalcy to keep things going.

Nursing in the Balance

Since the nursing profession is on the battlefront of the war against COVID-19, we know our contribution to this effort is to keep the human supply chain going by continuing to prepare future nurses. If we stop educating, we will end up with a disastrous shortage of professionals available to care for patients. It’s a new call to arms: prepare to teach nursing fully online.

This is not a completely new concept. A lot of programs in the College of Nursing and Public Health, as well as across multiple disciplines in higher education, are online. We currently have several online nursing classes, but teaching fully online is not in the wheelhouse of most nursing professors.

So, challenge accepted! Some of us took it in stride and just moved forward; others began going through the stages of grief. I had my own process: Let me binge-watch Netflix for about 48 hours, eat everything I would not normally even consider, then move to the permanent sweatpants-are-work-pants stage to finally end up in the “okay, time to get this done” phase or, as I like to call it, “acceptance.”

So what do you do? How do you start? Well, I am one of the fortunate ones. There are a lot of talented people at Adelphi University who have been preparing for this moment. You know the group: the IT departments in every business across the world. The highlight of their day is “Did you try turning it on and off first?” Well, they are our heroes. Within days, they had platforms up and running with instructions, videos, chat rooms, live sessions and basic virtual one-to-one hand-holding to get us to our “go-live date.” This all had a sense of déjà vu; I thought about the big Y2K moment when everyone prepared a year prior because it was feared that in 2000 everything connected to a computer was going to fall apart. Well, this time, everything went wrong and our IT staff was ready for it. This was their Y2K moment.

Lessons in Nursing Education

As a new full-time faculty member, I was petrified, nervous, excited and challenged to move my classes online. In other words, I had no idea. “What’s so difficult?” I said to myself. “I’ll just do the same thing I do every day but online.” Well, in two weeks I learned a lot of lessons.

First: No matter how hard you plan and prepare, you should have a backup plan. So far, everything I planned out so seamlessly on paper did not go so well. Flexibility—lesson number one learned!

Lesson number two, it is important to have a buddy. No matter how many times you’ve set things up, something can always go wrong, and it is always better to have a friend try it and give you feedback.

Use the resources your university provides. Our Faculty Center for Professional Excellence (FCPE) is amazing. I have a lot of friends teaching at other schools in the Northeast who have no idea where to turn, who to call or what to do. Thank you so much, FCPE—I could not have done it without you.

So what worked really well for me? I had used VoiceThread and Panopto before to record my lectures, but I had never utilized Zoom for recording. This tool is great—I am in love with Zoom. I record my lectures and they are saved in my Panopto folders in that mysterious cloud. The Zoom editing platform is so much easier to use and the storage of the lectures in the cloud allow me to save them for as long as I want and share with a simple link. On the downside of virtual learning, when just using my PowerPoint to deliver a lecture live with Zoom, I felt like I was reading to myself. It takes time and practice to get comfortable. I have accepted that week one is a wash—a lot of “Umm, ohh, okay, any questions, anyone…?” Silence.

What will I do differently? I am now recording the lectures and posting the shareable links on Moodle so my students can listen to the lectures prior to the scheduled class time. I am also posting the PowerPoint presentations without voice recording. This allows the students to download the slides, which they were unable to do with the voice-overs. I will hold live sessions to provide question-and-answer forums about the content and utilize interactive quizzing like Socrative [a quizzing platform] and polling to engage students and assess their level of understanding.

Lastly, Zoom has this awesome feature that I love called breakout rooms. I have it automatically set up to randomly assign students to groups of four. When it’s time to do a case study, I send them to their private group breakout rooms to work on the assignment. No other group can hear or see the others. As the instructor, I get to enter and exit the rooms remotely at my leisure to assess their progress and facilitate.

Knowing Your Audience

I think the biggest lesson I have learned is to think about my students—how they were adapting to new platforms, what their home environments (now their learning environments) were like. I spent so much time worrying about how I was going to teach the class, I never stopped to think about whether they were knowledgeable about Zoom and what their responsibilities were. The first 20 to 30 minutes of class were spent listening to such comments as “I can’t see anything,” “Can you hear me?” “Why is my screen black?” In the background, I could hear phones ringing, televisions blaring and dogs barking.

Yes, I forgot the number one lesson to remember: who your audience is. My audience needed clear, written instructions, not just “click the link.” Don’t assume your students know how to perform in this new environment. Just because they might be younger or you think they are tech savvy doesn’t mean they are not overwhelmed, frightened and worried about doing something new—just like you.


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