There is no doubt that educating nurses during the pandemic was a challenge, unlike anything we had ever experienced. None of us were prepared to move an entire nursing curriculum to a virtual environment. Nursing students also weren’t prepared. While some may have taken a pre-requisite course via online format, none were prepared for the purely virtual education that they were to receive. Not only did they lose the personal touch of sitting in a classroom with their peers or caring for patients during their clinical experience, but they also lost the one-to-one contact of being able to talk with a faculty member and ask questions as they came up, such as what often occurs during a class or a moment of patient care. They had to transition to scheduling a virtual meeting through an online meeting platform. These meetings deprived the participants of the personal, physical presence associated with talking with someone. The loss of in-person education and communication, accompanied by the other stressors of being quarantined during the pandemic, had a devastating effect on some nursing students, leading to them not being successful in their courses.
My role at the college where I teach is focused on assisting and remediating the students who are not meeting our academic standards, primarily in their didactic courses. Students are required to work with me if they are on probation due to a course failure, and they are recommended to see me if they fail an exam or are deemed to be at risk for failure. Pre-pandemic, I would meet with students one-on-one and assess their learning style and learning needs, and then help them identify ways to better study and/or improve test-taking skills. These meetings were held in person so I could see the notes they took in and/or after class, or work through practice exam questions to determine what sort of test-taking help they needed. I would look to see if they were missing key words, if they understood the question, or if they just did not know the content. I would also review individual exams with students to determine why they weren’t being successful. I would holistically assess the students to learn what was happening in their lives outside of the classroom – Did they have food to eat? Were they working too much? Were there relationship issues with the people close to them? Do they have a support system? Just like caring for a patient, assisting students to help increase their chance of academic success takes a holistic approach that focuses on their learning styles, their critical thinking, clinical judgment abilities, and their test-taking skills, as well as outside life influences (Betts et al., 2017; Merritt, 2021; Myles, 2018).
The way I assisted students changed during the pandemic. I was able to talk virtually with the students, but we were not able to review individual exams as we did not have the software at that time that preserved exam integrity. I could not see the notes that they were taking in their classes. I had to learn very quickly how to use multiple virtual meeting platforms as we changed platforms multiple times. I had to learn how to modify my plans in case the student did not have good internet service, which was a common problem. Flexibility became the theme for my student meetings—sometimes we would use the screen but then have to talk via phone. Sometimes we could only use a phone, which made things very interesting. I would take this opportunity to emphasize to students that flexibility and adaptability are key traits to possess in nursing, and these technological issues were giving us opportunities to work on those traits.
What exactly did I do with the students? We would first talk about time management and how to learn in a virtual world. I would emphasize the need to block off time for “attending” class, just like they would have had to do if they were in person. I would talk with them about self-control and self-motivation, and being accountable to themselves for doing these required activities. I would have them re-teach me the content, talking through the information and then performing some Socratic questioning to help them think deeper or look at the content in a variety of ways. I had online versions of books, and I would pull up sample exam questions, share my screen, and have the students answer the questions. I would have them tell me why they chose the answer that they did and if they got the question wrong, we would talk about the rationales and work on studying and test-taking techniques that would help them on their future exams. I would listen to their frustrations about nursing school and the pandemic, and then either refer them to our college counselor or work on identifying ways to help them redirect their energy back to studying (depending upon the needs of the student). I would remind the students of some of the things about nursing school that were still the same, such as using the textbook as a resource. I encouraged the students to draw pictures alongside the notes so that it could provide more meaning. Sometimes I would use the virtual whiteboard to draw a picture, which was often quite poor in artistry, but it gave the student more meaning to the content and they didn’t forget it. I demonstrated how to make Venn diagrams and compare and contrast tables to learn information, particularly concepts such as hypo and hyperglycemia that had opposite assessment findings and interventions. We would work on creating concept maps to see the connections between assessments and nursing actions. These are all study strategies that were demonstrated during in-person meetings but became much more complicated to demonstrate in a virtual environment.
The biggest lesson I learned was realizing how much I use my assessment skills to perform a more holistic assessment of our students. I can see if they are unkempt or frazzled, indicating a lack of sleep or other health concern. I can better see their facial cues that indicate they are about to cry, which then helps me ask more appropriate questions about their outside life stressors where I can make referrals to appropriate resources. I can see what kind of drinks they are drinking or snacks they are eating regularly, which gives me more concrete information to help assess their diet and/or their food needs. Many of our students suffer from food insecurities, and being able to physically see them helps me better refer those students to our food pantry. I can smell those who are not taking care of their hygiene as they should, and then ask if they have access to hot water. Overall, what I have learned is that just like our patients, our students need that personal connection with us faculty to thrive and become the excellent nurses that this world so desperately needs.
CJ Wright-Boon earned her BSN (1996) from Bradley University and her MSN (2008) from Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing (SFMCCON). CJ currently works as an assistant professor at SFMCCON and is the coordinator of the College’s Academic Development Center. Her focus is working with the students who need extra assistance in order to help them meet their goals of becoming a nurse.
Betts, K., et al. (2017). Identifying academic & social risk factors of baccalaureate nursing students using the college persistence questionnaire. Journal of Education and Practice, 8(12), 159-167.
Merritt, S. (2021). Supporting at-risk nursing students to increase their final course grade. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 16. 74-80.
Myles, M. (2018). Remediation: Using data to prescribe interventions for nursing students. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 13, 249-253.