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(from eLearning at Camosun) Cheryl is a faculty member in the BSN (Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing) Program at Camosun College.  As you can well imagine, moving Nursing programs completely online, especially given some of the more practical, hands-on aspects of Nursing, would have presented a challenging puzzle.  And certainly this was the case during the sudden pivot in March of last year.  But luckily for Cheryl, after things settled over the summer, she was “fortunate to be teaching courses where there’s still significant face-to-face time. It’s changed [and compressed] face-to-face time,” so finding ways to address fewer/shorter classes by moving more material online (the program group had already built a lot of online course components into their teaching pre-COVID), and redesigning evaluations were where the lab team Cheryl works with spent most of their time.

Cheryl told me that the team “usually starts into a semester knowing how it was done last term, and we make a few minor tweaks and off we go. [But] the last two semesters since COVID, we’ve spent much of the week of start-up adjusting evaluative tools to make sense in this COVID environment with the type of learning the students are having.”  And when Cheryl says evaluative tools, she is referring to replacing students demonstrating their ability to perform a skill in the lab before going on to perform the skill on a live person in clinical practice.  “In the past pre-Covid, each student drew one skill at the end of the semester and had 10 or 15 minutes to gather their supplies and perform that skill in a reasonably safe manner. [But now,] we realized that the likelihood of us being able to have one-to-one time in-person with each student was slim to none…and we had to rethink how we could evaluate to ensure students had the knowledge, skills, and ability to provide safe patient care.”  After much discussion, the team redeveloped this assessment:  “a video skill was developed where students practice the skill, however briefly in lab, and then videotape each other in partners during lab time. [They then] take the video home and critique it. And last term [fall], they were graded on their critique of their skill.” I should note that Cheryl credits her other team members for this idea!

This was one of the main challenges the team faced, but it did not stop with the fall version of the evaluation.  They realized that just recording and critiquing the skill did not address the actual practice: developing the muscle memory of the skill. “So this term (winter), we added a second component of critiquing the actual performance of the skill and not just the student critique of the skill. While reflection on practice [is] a fabulous learning tool, we felt that there needed to be a level of competency as well.”

I asked Cheryl how the students felt about this new way of assessing their skills, to which she replied “I think it’s fairly across the board that students feel way less stress. What I’ve heard from students is, I like this a lot better than what I know of how it used to be done, because the stress before with one-to-one demonstration would not have been a true test of my ability of the skill.”  Comments like these from students, along with adding the skill performance critique, have convinced the team that they should keep this new way of assessing, something they may never have tried had it not been for COVID.  Cheryl reflects, however, that she does hope that as Covid cases settle, students will be able to return to open lab time to practice the skills in a way that is “more similar to how they practice in actual clinical settings with real people” rather than practicing at home with simulated materials.

Cheryl can’t emphasize enough how important being able to work in a team was to surviving, and dare I say to meeting the challenge of the move to online learning.  The courses she works with typically have 4 or 8 instructors teaching the same content to groups of students, each carrying a piece of the preparation and planning load, bouncing ideas off of each other…supporting each other.  That’s one piece of advice she has for someone new to moving a course online – “get help, find allies because it will gobble your time and you need other people to pitch in. It can’t be a solo kind of role that you take on.”  In addition, take the time to “talk it through and figure out what went well, what didn’t go well, and how it could be tweaked, and then bring in the experts that know and can give you ideas on what can be done to [move] forward.”  Think of Kolb’s Learning Cycle:  “experience and do, review and reflect, analyze and learn, plan, and [then] draw conclusions and plan, revising based on your assessment.”  And remember it is not going to come out perfect the first time.

And finally, Cheryl advises not taking it all on at once.  “There comes a point where we’re so overwhelmed with the small incremental layers of newness, we can’t take anything else on. So make sure you contain what you take on, because somewhere along the way we need to retain enough energy to teach students, to maintain the focus on doing the best we can for students. And if we overwhelm ourselves with what we take on, we can’t really be there for them…so dive in, take a risk, ask for what you need, be ready to put in the time, but be realistic about the workload, who’s there to support you, and how you can manage and contain it. Don’t do it all at once in one term.

I am so proud of the amazing team of Nursing instructors Cheryl works with, of how they adapted to a new, unexpected reality, and how they embraced the changes.  I am excited at how excited Cheryl is at the possibilities, and I am so looking forward to seeing what they do next in the BSN Program.