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Teaching future nurses through online courses

Fri Nov 6, 2020 at 12:13 PM

Joanna Hernandez, assistant professor in the School of Nursing, likes to see the faces of her students. When the students are sitting in a classroom, she’s able to tell if a concept makes sense. However, teaching remotely means she isn’t always getting the instant feedback she got in the classroom. After years of experience and learning to adapt to an online model, Hernandez has come up with solutions for making sure her students understand and retain the information necessary to make them great nurses. 

Hernandez isn’t new to teaching courses online. She has been instructing synchronously and asynchronously for several years. One of her recent courses, in partnership with McLaren Oakland Hospital, even earned her the 2020 University Professional and Continuing Education Association’s (UPCEA) Central Region Engagement Award.

The award recognizes an outstanding partnership between a member institution and an external constituent, in this case, MacLaren. Through a hybrid format course, Hernandez was able to educate a pool of nurses on medical procedures that weren’t previously used at McLaren to care for fragile, compromised patients pre-op, during surgery, and post-op. This collaboration met UPCEA’s Engagement Award requirement to demonstrate a mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources that resulted in a measurable and sustainable shared impact in areas such as economic development, community development, workforce training or capacity building.

Hernandez designed the Hepatico-Pancreatico-Biliary (HPB) Education hybrid course to meet the hospital’s requirements. The students took a pre-test, watched videos, went through resources and then took a post-test. They had to score an 80 percent or higher on the post-test to move on to the next section. After completing the online component, the nurses attended a one-time in-person course to demonstrate what they learned in a skills lab. More than 55 nurses participated in the training with a 100 percent pass rate. 

Hernandez uses the same model for her online nursing courses. Hernandez uploads lectures to Moodle and then, in a synchronous format, the students meet to discuss the information, ask questions and go through assignments. 

“The expectation is that they have to watch all of the lectures before they come to class,” said Hernandez. She has a discussion board online where students can ask questions as they are going through the course material. “During our class meeting time, I will have an outline that has the things we are going to talk about. I don’t lecture during class time. They will fill in the outline and I can make sure they are applying the information correctly. I post the answers after class so they have them. I can tell who watched the lectures and who didn’t because they can’t participate and then they really struggle.”

Hernandez said the teaching style is very similar to the way she teaches the class in person. The students get the information and complete the class practice, then, during the class meeting, Hernandez discusses the labs and procedures that need to be acquired from the patient. She is looking for class participation to determine her students’ understanding of the concepts. 

When students ask questions during class time that need more in-depth answers, she tells the student she will get the answer and get back to them. This allows her to stay on topic and keep things running efficiently for all students. Hernandez said the best tip she has to faculty and for students is to be flexible. 

“Even when we were on campus, it’s important to be fluid and go with the flow,” said Hernandez. 

Hernandez also encourages faculty to regularly check in with students. She said she checks in through announcements or messages in an asynchronous class or spending a few minutes checking in at the beginning of a synchronous class. 

While Hernandez and many professors do not require to turn their camera on in online settings, she said many students do turn them on--mostly as a way to feel together. 

“I don’t care if they have kids, are drinking coffee or are in their pajamas, by seeing them, I can see if they aren’t getting a concept. About 70 percent of my students turn on their cameras. They want to be together. As nursing students, they are going to be together for the next year and a half. This helps them feel less isolated,” sand Hernandez. 

She said this method of asynchronous and synchronous learning isn’t for everyone. Not all faculty members can teach the way she structures her classes and not all students can learn that way. She said it’s important to keep the lines of communication open throughout the course to make sure students aren’t falling behind.