Category: Health Magazine, Summer 2024

Title:Teaching transformed

When the Virtual Interprofessional Education Consortium launched in 2017, Georgetown School of Nursing (then the School of Nursing & Health Studies) was already in the vanguard as a provider of distance-based learning programs.

Since 2011, Georgetown faculty have designed, developed and taught graduate nursing education to students across the country through an innovative hybrid-distance format. “We have been able to bring a Georgetown nursing education to rural areas and other locations where students would not have had the opportunity for advanced practice nursing education,” says Debora Dole, professor and vice dean of academic affairs at the School of Nursing.

The initial move to online learning was understandably challenging for faculty accustomed to sharing their expertise via classroom lectures. “You have to not just be on your game, you also have to understand how student learning takes place in this environment,” Dole notes.

“And at that time the technology was changing rapidly. A lot of folks didn’t have access to reliable high-speed internet. Platforms which were used to deliver content and support video conferencing for synchronous learning were also changing,” she continues. “Faculty had to learn a different skillset, mastering technology, on top of new pedagogical skills.”

Above and beyond these challenges, the program designers needed to determine how to incorporate essential hands-on clinical training for students. The answer: on-campus Objective Clinical Intensives (OCIs) for each graduate specialty, where students work through simulations and interact with standardized patients to develop competency and confidence. Nursing faculty then oversee clinical placements for each student, identifying and vetting sites within an appropriate geographical radius.

“It’s a unique aspect that other early distance programs didn’t have, and another key piece of how Georgetown’s program was really groundbreaking,” Dole says. As Dole emphasizes, the move online has transformed nursing education. “This format really puts students at the center of the learning environment,” she says. “The pedagogy is completely different—faculty are not just transmitting information, they facilitate deep learning. Students can learn visually, they can learn tactilely, they can learn through discussion or narrative assignments.”

Over time, particularly as technology has vastly improved, the benefits of online education have become readily apparent even to early skeptics. “VIPE is a perfect example,” Dole says. “Teaching across the country, internationally, across disciplines—you would never get the opportunity to do that if you were constrained by your brick-and-mortar classroom.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person education in March 2020, Dole and her colleagues were able to leverage their expertise gained from teaching approximately 50 online courses per semester.

“We held workshops and set up a buddy system, and distance-learning faculty held open office hours to support colleagues.

“CNDLS [Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship] was a huge help as well,” she adds. “They also were trying to build the plane as they were flying it.”

In the world of online education, the plane is now soaring. “Thinking about the future can be mind-blowing,” Dole says. “As we look at more nursing pathways, for example, there’s the opportunity to use virtual reality—having students in multiple locations participating together in some kind of simulated learning experience, learning from each other. We’re just at the very beginning.”

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