“In March 2020, the world came to a stop,” begins Katherine Deering, DNP, RN, CPN, CNE, Program Director for the CARE BSN Program and Instructor of Clinical Nursing. “We were all asked to turn on a dime, to do something completely different than we had planned.”
Dr. Deering was teaching a women’s health course at the time. Her lectures were the first to be delivered via Zoom in what would become the temporary online teaching model for LSU Health New Orleans School of Nursing.
Like many institutions of higher learning around the world, the School of Nursing learned some fast lessons about online content delivery.
“One of our biggest hurdles was teaching clinical modules virtually because students were not allowed in hospital facilities for a short time,” Dr. Deering says.
Although hospitals remained open and kept essential workers on-site, in the days before a vaccine was available, they moved to limit the number of visitors in their facilities.
The School of Nursing temporarily replaced the clinical experience with virtual learning simulations. With a few instructors demonstrating skills and students observing virtually, the lessons went forward. The interaction between instructors and students, so important to nursing education, was added back into the curriculum very quickly – within weeks.
Innovation Borne Out of Necessity
“In nursing, it is not good enough to know what it is, you have to know what to do.”
Katherine Deering, DNP, RN, CPN, CNE
Delivering their curriculum virtually for the first time inspired creativity among faculty. Posting prerecorded lectures and asking students to watch them before their virtual class meeting helped facilitate active learning. Following the lecture, students could meet in the classroom in small, socially distanced groups for learning activities.
Case studies were also brought into the virtual classroom to facilitate active learning.
“In nursing, it is not good enough to know what it is, you have to know what to do,” Dr. Deering says, underscoring the importance of active learning. During the pandemic, she saw the faculty jump in to get students involved in active learning in whatever ways were possible.
Virtual learning eventually gave way to a hybrid model, as vaccines were made available to faculty and students through pop-up clinics on campus, approved by administration, and orchestrated by members of the faculty (see faculty spotlights).
“The hands-on nature of nursing education may seem obvious, but even the theory lessons get lost without in-person instruction.”
Katherine Deering, DNP, RN, CPN, CNE
The School of Nursing offered the hybrid learning model to give everyone an academic option they were comfortable with and to accommodate social distancing restrictions. Classes were taught in person and virtually at the same time. Most students who were able to attend in person seemed to prefer that option.
“One thing we learned was that it was very difficult for an instructor to deliver an in-person class and manage the technology for a virtual meeting at the same time,” Dr. Deering says of their practical takeaways.
When the School of Nursing began its fall 2021 semester, two instructors were assigned to each class. Faculty members now rely on a second instructor to help manage the dual presentation model of simultaneous in-person and virtual teaching. One instructor is in the classroom and the other assists in the virtual meeting.
“Another lesson was that you cannot learn nursing through a computer screen all the time,” Dr. Deering says. “The hands-on nature of nursing education may seem obvious, but even the theory lessons can get lost without in-person instruction.”
Small group meetings via Zoom helped to mitigate the static nature of all-online learning. In the hybrid model, students had more opportunities to interact with faculty and each other in person, as well.
Getting Back to Normal
A return to normal for the School of Nursing is imminent, though there is no certain date. Virtual learning and even hybrid learning are considered temporary measures. But there may be more virtual learning in the future.
“Just like in clinical nursing, we moved swiftly and efficiently to set up virtual learning within the parameters we were given. The transition was smooth and effective,” says Nicole Thomas, DNP, RN, Interim Program Director of Traditional BSN Program. “The administration held constant meetings to keep faculty and students informed and moving in the same direction together.”
The School of Nursing will use the lessons learned from this temporary situation to inform future decisions. The traditional BSN program will go back to a full-time, in-person format, but the RN to BSN program is in the process of being moved to an online platform.
“Before the pandemic, we did not offer any online programs, but now there are discussions about possibly adding some online options for students, as long as they don’t compromise the quality of education we are delivering,” Dr. Thomas says.
For Dr. Deering, there is no going back to “normal.” Instead, she has a new normal. During the pandemic, Dr. Deering stepped into an administrative role.
“The way the administration handled communication during the pandemic, especially at the beginning of the crisis, made me feel comfortable stepping into a role within the administration at the university,” Dr. Deering says.
According to Dr. Deering, the CARE BSN program admitted its largest class in August 2021. Her students have non-health-care degrees and are returning to school to become registered nurses. The increase in the number of applications the program has received over the last couple of years is a testament to the uncompromising standards set and met by the school in the face of, and in spite of, a worldwide pandemic.