As classes resume remotely today, some faculty in disciplines where hands-on learning is essential—such as nursing, the lab sciences, and the arts—have been working extra hard to replicate a learning experience that might not translate easily to an online format. Some plan to use virtual tools, such as simulations and pre-recorded videos, while others will attempt to recreate the classroom experience the best they can. All intend to be flexible with expectations, knowing this is uncharted territory for both teacher and student.
Virtual Nursing Clinical Experiences
For nursing students, virtual simulations are replacing some clinical experiences to help students master clinical skills and cognitive-based concepts via virtual patient encounters, according to Nursing Professor Stephanie Chalupka, Ed.D., R.N. In their conference call staff meetings, nursing faculty talked about how they are more concerned about helping graduating seniors pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), than what the underclassmen might be missing in the second half of the semester.
“We all have a lot of ideas, and a lot of creativity. We’re nurses—we get things done,” says Chalupka. “But we know in the end, for everyone but the seniors, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed. We can get underclassmen positioned to succeed and be exactly where they need to be in the fall semester.”
The usual NCLEX review sessions for the senior class will be delivered online rather than face-to-face, although there’s still a question about when and how the licensing exams will be given. Students must take the online NCLEX test at a designated site, and a limited number of testing centers reopened on March 25 to address the unprecedented need for nurses during this time of global pandemic. In the interim, Chalupka says the industry may need to bring back the retired “graduate nurse” designation for nurses who graduate with a B.A. but aren’t yet licensed so they can relieve front-line nurses of some of the clinical duties.
Nursing students are barred from clinical rotations, mostly because of the critical shortage of personal protection equipment. But some continue to work in part-time jobs, such as those working as personal care assistants. “It’s harrowing for these students,” says Chalupka.
Like her colleagues, Chalupka spent hours contacting her students, gauging their comfort with technology and making sure they were set to begin this new adventure. She was particularly concerned with students in the Master of Science in Nursing, Community and Public Health Nursing Specialization  program, all of whom are working in the medical field already and might be overwhelmed by the stress of what is happening in their full-time job and family responsibilities.
Students in the Master of Science in Nursing, Community and Public Health Nursing Specialization program are required to do a practicum in public health departments, and many are playing a vital role in completing administrative tasks for these organizations, such as making calls to people who have been in contact with someone that tested positive, and to those with the virus that are in self-quarantine to ensure compliance.
“They have a very significant, relevant knowledge base. Here is an opportunity to apply knowledge and skills acquired through their program into practice. They are able to translate what they are learning into action to protect public health and support the community,” she adds.
A Defined Space for Art
Art Professor Amaryllis Siniossoglou, M.F.A., is planning to teach live from her own home art studio, broadcasting classes during the time she usually teaches. In her messages to students, she recommends they designate a specific space to work.
“You need that block of time, as well as a space, dedicated to art,” she says. “Also, I don’t want to lose the social aspect. Being with students is very important, and I need to acknowledge that I’m missing something without that personal interaction.”
Siniossoglou teaches 91 students in five different classes, everything from Cross Media Studio and Water Colors to Drawing and Print Making.
“I struggled a lot with how to change my classes, to figure out how that interaction can be translated online. I did lots of research and consulted colleagues. In the end, I had to redesign my classes for the rest of the semester,” she says.
Siniossoglou posted practical information on Blackboard—information on assignments, how to photograph and upload art works, video links of demonstrations, artists references, examples of student work from previous classes, even inspirational resources like relaxing music and virtual museum visits. She specifically chose examples that had uplifting and calming colors, recognizing that students may be under a lot of stress trying to figure all this out.
“For some classes, I’ve tried to be flexible even in terms of materials. We would normally provide the paper and other materials needed, so we’ve encouraged them to use whatever material they can find around their house,” including cardboard, scrap paper, or even plastic bags, she says.
“For print making, I’ve assured them they will be graded based on the work they can do under these circumstances. I’ll show them how to print by hand using a spoon, ink, and small print paper. I’m telling them to send me a cell photo and I can transpose the image as if it was printed. For underclassmen, we’ve told them they can bring it in next semester to actually have it printed,” she adds.
In the end, Siniossoglou says the extra work was worth it.
“I love teaching. I know the students are under so much pressure now. It’s important that we can offer our students support. We’re trying to be flexible, but also uplift everyone, including myself,” she says.
A Virtual Lab
Biology Associate Professor Roger Greenwell, Ph.D., is typical of many faculty who are juggling family responsibilities while also trying to reimaging how to teach his courses online. His wife is also working full-time from home and they are juggling care of their 2-year-old and 4-year-old children.
He’ll be relying, in part, on the Journal of Visualized Experiments (JOVE) , and case studies with QUBESHub, both online resources, to help teach some of his lab-based biology and biotech courses. Colleagues like Chemistry Professor Meghna Dilip, Ph.D., have also videotaped themselves doing experiments in the Worcester State labs, and he hopes he can get back to campus soon to do the same.
“Fortunately, we got through half the semester so they got some hands-on experience, and there are some resources available for moving forward,” he says.
In his Secondary Metabolism classes, he will require students to watch a laboratory experiment being conducted, read the research paper associated with the laboratory, and then write a detailed explanation of how they would do the experiment if they were actually in the lab. The exercise reflects practical skills necessary for duplicating experiments in the real world.
“It really tests your ability to do an experiment in the way it was constructed to maintain consistency and accuracy. For the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, you have to be able to follow directions, to the letter, for validation purposes and any deviation would need to be disclosed,” he says.
“Everyone is trying to adapt the best we can,” Greenwell says, adding that for underclassmen, gaps in some of the hands-on lab knowledge may be addressed next fall.
Accounting Videos on Demand
Mary Clay, D.B.A., C.P.A., associate professor of business administration and economics, teaches six accounting classes, two of which were already online. One was a blended model, mostly online but one class during the day, and the other three were traditional in-person day classes.
Instead of broadcasting her classes live, she has posted videos of her lectures so her students can watch when they can. She also taped explanations of homework assignments that she worked through on a white board. All videos are posted to Blackboard, but she also created her own YouTube channel.
Because Clay has a great deal of experience running online courses, she knows the software allows her to check in to see if her students have accessed the lectures and homework. She will be sending comprehensive emails with assignments at the beginning of each week, and following up directly with students who are not showing signs of keeping up.
Because of the preparation and continuous monitoring, “running online classes are often more work than traditional classes,” she says.
Clay says she is confident learning will continue in her classes, despite the challenges.
“We got a lot done in class before the break, knowing this might happen. I do recognize some students have never taken an online course, and online learning is not for everyone,” she says, adding that the short time they had to convert the traditional classes online was daunting. “I’m realistic that I cannot cover everything I normally cover. My plan is to cover the basics so that my students can succeed in the next level of accounting.”
On the upside, Clay says she knows from experience that, ultimately, the way classes are taught may not matter.
“I previously did a research study comparing outcomes—grades, homework scores, knowledge brought to the next level—from online, blended, and in-person models, and there was not a significant difference,” she says.
In the photo: Clockwise from top, the Journal of Visualized Experience, the home art studio of Art Professor Amaryllis Siniossoglou, and a computer showing virtual simulations.