As the world grapples with COVID-19, industries of all kinds are transforming (some more successfully than others) to a new, virtual reality — and nursing education is no exception.
Unfortunately, for many students around the world, their university did not (or could not) invest in building an online learning infrastructure prior to the onset of COVID-19.
Now, thousands of students are stranded in traditional, face-to-face programmes that are struggling to move instruction online in a meaningful way.
Thankfully, many schools and universities had the foresight and the resources to lay a solid foundation in online learning.
Some contracted their online course development to third-party companies with turnkey solutions, others decided to build robust capabilities in house to ensure quality control, customisability and innovation.
While the school is only 10 years old, it has been ranked in the US News & World Report’s top 10 online graduate nursing programs for the last three years. Its inaugural dean Dr Jean Johnson brought an understanding of online education with her from a mid-1990s partnership between George Washington University and the US Navy.
“The internet was just emerging, but I had faculty members who were risk takers and wanted to figure out how to use this new technology to advance education,” Dr Johnson said. A few years later, she made online education a priority for the university’s fledgling nursing school.
In 2015, Dr Pamela Jeffries became the second (and current) Dean of the GW School of Nursing, bringing with her expertise in nursing simulation and online learning pedagogy after serving as the first vice provost for digital initiatives at Johns Hopkins University.
Building on what Dean Johnson had started, Dean Jeffries funded expansion of the school’s Online Learning and Instructional Technology (OLIT) team.
With her support, Miro Liwosz, Assistant Dean of Online Learning and Instructional Technology (OLIT), has assembled a team of experts in their respective fields of instructional design, video production and more.
Faculty members come to Mr Liwosz and his team with a vision for their courses, and they find ways to realise that vision so students can easily understand and learn.
With an emphasis on quality, the department has built new infrastructure and greatly increased its scope of work to include emerging technology and new infrastructure to improve online offerings.
And it was a timely investment, serving the school well as it moves all Bachelor of Science in Nursing programmes online for the summer 2020 term in response to COVID-19.
“In the past, we were only doing instructional design for graduate programmes. Now our team focuses on providing support for all programmes,” Liwosz said.
“Whether they are teaching online or face-to-face, instructors can now look to common standards and best practices created by our team for posting course materials for students electronically.”
When Liwosz came to GW more than four years ago, the team consisted of three people.
Today, a core team of six work on instructional design, e-learning, multimedia production and instructional technology.
Experts like Tiffany Moy, an eLearning specialist and former high school teacher, have added valuable skills and new perspectives to the department’s work.
Ms. Moy’s experience in teaching and technology helps her develop the vision instructors have for their courses. She then communicates that to the team to create new modules and animations.
Recently, she built a module to help faculty identify ways to use Blackboard’s discussion board feature more effectively for online learning:
“We’re having constant conversations about what is going well in a course and what faculty need more support with,” she says.
“Then we always frame our professional development offerings around those areas of improvement.”
OLIT recently completed renovations on its video production suite to outfit it with state-of-the-art equipment, LED lights and soundproofing for cleaner acoustics. This has enabled the school to grow its video presence.
“Research on instructional design shows that not only do students learn better by watching and listening, they also enjoy video content more than static text,” Liwosz said.
The team has also focused on adding closed captioning to videos to improve online accessibility, streamlining course evaluations, creating templates and standardising the online course user experience.
This helps students taking multiple courses find all their assignments in the same place, Liwosz adds:
“We always work with the students in mind first. Students should not be focusing on learning the new course structure; they should just be focusing on learning.
“We’ve provided a common look and feel, and we trained the faculty to work with us to ensure that universal design is visible throughout the whole academic offering.”
Mr. Liwosz also said that his department aims to be a resource to the entire GW Nursing community.
And as the summer term approaches and the reality of online learning settles across the world of nursing education, the GW School of Nursing will be ready.