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Learning During the Pandemic: Boise Practical Nursing Teachers and Students Adapt with New Hybrid Teaching Approach

August 18, 2020
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When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March, most people saw their daily routines screech to a halt.


But Dena Robinson, RN, and Deb Vincent, RN, who teach Practical Nursing at Carrington College’s Boise, Idaho campus, found their world thrown into overdrive almost overnight.


“When you have 20 nursing students who are halfway into their first semester, the question isn’t whether to continue teaching, but how to teach in a way that is safe, accessible, and effective,” says Robinson.


Since mid-March, Robinson and Vincent have developed a comprehensive hybrid teaching model for the Practical Nursing program that features online lectures, live video clinical simulations, virtual group chats, video tutorials, and other tech resources. In June, students began returning to campus for selected labs and medical procedure demonstrations.


“Our hybrid teaching approach is a work-in-progress—for us as well as for our students,” says Vincent. “In February, before the pandemic, all of our classes were taught on campus. By May, everything was exclusively online. We don’t know what things will look like six months from now. What we do know is that we’ll continue to be flexible and creative so that our students can succeed.”


To say that the past five months have been challenging would be an understatement.


“Even under the best of circumstances, many of our students are often stretched thin,” Robinson explains. “They have very full, demanding lives. The vast majority are juggling work, family, and school. When the pandemic hit, some students suddenly found themselves without child care, working from home, home-schooling their kids, and trying to keep up with their nursing classes.”


Robinson, who has worked as a home care case manager and as a registered nurse in the Medical Surgical/Orthopedics unit for St. Luke’s Health System, earned her master’s degree in Nursing Leadership and Administration in 2017. Vincent, who began teaching at Carrington six years ago, has been a nurse for 27 years and was a patient and family educator and cardiac community educator at St. Luke’s. They agree that this year has been one of the most demanding—yet energizing—of their careers.


“It’s really been tough on everyone, but nurses are trained to focus, shift gears and respond to unexpected situations and circumstances in the moment,” says Vincent. “In an odd way, the pandemic has been great preparation for students to hone those skills.”


Robinson says the unique circumstances that have unfolded in recent months have called for teachers and students alike to be more understanding and empathetic.


“The simple truth is that life isn’t normal right now,” Robinson says. “This is a time when we all need to be more patient. We need to mentor as well as teach. Rather than seeing us as authority figures, we want students to see us as partners in their education.”


“We make it a point to listen to our students and do whatever we can to help eliminate, or at least work around, whatever obstacles they happen to be facing,” adds Vincent. “Sometimes a private conversation about time management or establishing priorities is all it takes to help a student get back on track. We have the same goal they do—to see them succeed.”


Robinson says that compared to a class on campus, online classes or group discussions can be tougher to keep focused.


“In one of my lectures, I recently had several students each bouncing a toddler on their knee while we discussed end of life issues, hospice care, and death and dying,” she recalls. “Other times, students need to step away to change a diaper, let the dog out, or receive an Amazon delivery. It may not always be the optimal learning environment, but they’re doing their best to keep it together—and we’re doing our best to support them.”


The Practical Nursing program, which includes three 16-week semesters, will welcome a full incoming class of 25 students in September.


“At the moment, we have no idea whether we’ll be teaching exclusively on campus, completely online, or some hybrid combination of the two,” Vincent says. “However it looks, we’re confident we’ll continue to adapt and adjust as needed so that our students get a great education, complete their programs, and begin their nursing careers.”

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