Acknowledging our Nurse and Midwife Educators we highlight one of ANMJ’s Focus education stories on World Teachers’ Day. The authors of this article discuss how they have changed the way they educate students to ensure they provide a safe environment during the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for academics in their support of student learning to provide timely, effective facilitation of student progression while observing social distancing, and other infection prevention and control measures (Dewart et al. 2020).
As isolation restrictions ease across most Australian states and territories, higher education institutions are moving towards models of education that better reflect discipline-specific requirements that necessitate on-campus attendance.
For the School of Nursing, University of Tasmania, in the initial stages of the graduated move back to on-campus teaching, the safety of all stakeholders was paramount and only ‘essential activities’ warranted consideration.
‘Essential activities’ are simulation laboratory sessions enabling mastery of clinical skills required for progression, or prior to professional experience placement. Before accessing on-campus activities, all University staff and students were required to successfully complete an eLearning module in which the COVID-19 key infection control principles were discussed.
Once on-campus, mandatory attendance at screening checkpoints included undertaking temporal temperature and health screening was undertaken, to exclude those with ‘flu-like symptoms’, recent interstate travel or having been in contact with a known COVID-19 case (University of Tasmania 2020).
Only then was it permissible for students and staff to enter the simulation laboratories while adhering to the social distancing rules. While COVID-19 restrictions have provided challenges to learning and teaching experiences, there were unintended positive consequences of a staged return to learning and teaching on campus.
Development of infection prevention and control principles were embedded as students began simulation experiences by cleaning their workspace and equipment, donning masks and performing hand hygiene frequently. All equipment and fomites were thoroughly cleaned with alcohol wipes before and after each simulation session, and equipment was rested overnight. Using the flipped classroom approach, with an emphasis on student-centred learning (Betihavas et al. 2016), students were required to complete theoretical components of their current year of nursing curriculum via eLearning before attending the oncampus skills demonstration and practice sessions.
Social distancing requirements offered a unique opportunity in face-to-face classes for a staff to student ratio of 1:9, whereas in pre-COVID-19, the ratio was 1:24.
The more personalised tuition reduced competition for resources and academic attention promoted a calm and effective learning environment with students being able to receive supported practice and individualised feedback.
Students could undertake formal assessment when they felt confident in their ability to perform the required skills. Students commented that due to low numbers in the laboratory, they had opportunity while social distancing, to develop a rapport with peers.
The smaller student groups provided the opportunity for enhancing professional communication skills modelled by the academic, and international students had more opportunity to engage in conversation than sometimes occurred in larger groups. The higher education landscape after the COVID-19 pandemic will be different. At least for the near future, the need to adhere to social distancing and other infection prevention and control precautions warrants ongoing logistical planning and evaluation to ensure that the learning environment remains safe for both students and staff. The commitment of the University of Tasmania in ensuring the students are supported to adapt to the impacts of COVID-19 and continue to learn during this difficult time remains the priority.
Annette Saunders, RN MCN is Lecturer in the School of Nursing, College of Health and Medicine at the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania
Kathleen Tori, PhD, RN, CCRN, BHSc, MHSc, MN(NP), Grad Dip VET, MACN, MCENA, FACNP is Associate Professor at the College of Health and Medicine at the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania
Carey Mather, RN, BSc, GCert ULT, GCert Creative Media Tech, GCert Research, PGrad Dip Hlth Prom, MPH, PhD, MACN, FHEA, FAIDH is Senior Lecturer in the School of Nursing, College of Health and Medicine at the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania
Diana Guzys, RN, BPubHlth, GDipEd, GDipAdolHlth&Welf, MNur is Lecturer at the College of Health and Medicine at the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania
Betihavas, V., Bridgman, H., Kornhaber, R., & Cross, M. 2016. The evidence for ‘flipping out’: A systematic review of the flipped classroom in nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 8, 15-21. https://doi. og/10.1016/j.ned.2015.12.010
Dewart, G., Cororan, L., Thirsk,L., and Petrovic, K. 2020. Nursing education in a pandemic: Academic challenges in response to COVID-19. Nurse Education Today, 92. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.nedt.2020.104471
University of Tasmania. 2020. Response measures for the three stages of return to campus. June (internal document)