As the demand for online education surges, especially in the healthcare field, maintaining high standards and competencies should not falter because the delivery of education is on a different platform. The asynchronous learning environment allows students to view materials, and self-schedule the review and implementation of course instructions. The purpose of online asynchronous teaching is not meant to replicate the in-seat classroom format but to encourage using creative, imaginative, and experimental opportunities in the online environment. Faculty should be able to provide an exceptional active learning environment for our students that helps students achieve success of the desired course and/or program outcomes (Camacho & Conceicao, 2020). Teaching in the online asynchronous format can be great for the unconventional student but can pose challenges in experiential learning, and ultimately, lead to a lack of confidence for faculty. How our students view our teaching strategies and our institution is a key component in student success rates, retention, and attrition rates for higher education.
Proximity of human relationships
One of the greatest challenges for an online asynchronous program is the lack of proximity the faculty has with their students. Teaching in a traditional classroom arena has a clear understanding of the proximity of the faculty to the student (Dyer, Arox, & Larson, 2018). But when you begin teaching in an online platform this proximity can be lost. It becomes the faculty’s responsibility to close the proximity and strongly engage students to pay close attention to assignments, read announcements, hold virtual office hours, and positively influence student outcomes of the course. After all, the closer the faculty is to the student, the less likely the student is to fall off task. A close proximity, especially in an asynchronous environment, is absolutely essential.
Forming positive and trusting relationships
So, how can we involve our students? How can our students know that we are present and ready to support them? What is the best kind of presence to have for our students? As professors in an online graduate nursing program, we feel it is important to engage students and let them know there is someone there that truly cares about their learning and success in the course and overall program. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of personal communication was held via phone, through the learning management system, or within emails. These strategies were helpful but not enough.
One of the largest concerns we would repeatedly hear from our students was they didn’t know much about their faculty and felt like faculty were not an integral part of their learning experience. Yes, we would post weekly announcements, but at times, they were not always read by the students. How could we ensure that we were physically present to our students to show our enthusiasm and encourage them to reach out with any questions or concerns?
The experiential learning experience
Engaging students in an experiential learning experience was our way to engage our students. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we began mandating that our faculty members have a virtual meet and greet with their students. All faculty were required to hold at least one virtual online meeting(s) at the beginning of the semester. The virtual meeting allowed our students to place a face to the name of their faculty, ask specific questions they may have about the course, or discuss any concerns. The meet and greets were highly encouraged for students to attend, and were a great way to engage students with their faculty on a more personal level. Students realized their professor was a real person! A powerful and needed faculty-student relationship was formed during times of virtual communication and was found to be a key to success for all. As time went by, we realized effective personal communication was essential even when we could not be together physically in a classroom. Once trust was formed, program success was just around the corner for all!
Competence with technology is essential
Faculty need to be competent in technology and learning management systems, as well as have access to a reliable internet to engage in online education (Nabolsi et al., 2021). The basics of nursing gives us a good foundation to care for our patients, why should our approach with teaching our future nurses or nurse practitioners be any different? Faculty need to start with the basics. Making sure internet services are adequate for teaching in an online capacity, whether this is a remote employment or in a university setting, is key. Faculty should work with course developers and informational technology specialist in order to know how their course functions from the student’s perspective. How a faculty is prepared to instruct their students will impact how successful the student will be during the course (Gurley, 2018).
Components for change and success
Even with some of the challenges listed, there are great ways to overcome barriers and encourage good student engagement and success within online nursing programs. There are three components essential to student success: course presentation, faculty presence, and clear and precise assessment and measurement techniques (Authement & Dormire, 2020). Faculty need to make efforts to meet with students virtually in their courses in an online program. In an asynchronous program, faculty can cover the benefit of discussing problems, concerns, or assignments in a virtual meeting. Rubrics for all graded assignments should also be offered to students with clear details of expectations. The syllabus should be available to students at the beginning of the course and available on the course site for students to reference specific grading policies, course expectations, and course outcomes throughout the length of the course.
Effectively communicating with students in an online class encourages a sense of trust and a willingness to support that leads to long-term student and program success. For most online students, their primary contact for the institution of learning is the faculty member. As faculty, forming positive and trusting relationships, establishing a positive method of communication, and creating an open environment for the student is crucial. After all, we are real people—and the human connection will lead all to positive outcomes.
Dr. Laura Flinn earned her BSN (2008) from Bradley University, MSN (2013) from Illinois State University, and DNP (2022) with an emphasis in leadership from Bradley University. She is board certified through ANCC as a family nurse practitioner since 2013. Dr. Laura Flinn currently works at Bradley University in the Department of Nursing in Peoria, IL and as a family nurse practitioner at OSF St. Francis Medical Group. Her focus is teaching in the graduate online nurse practitioner program in a variety of in the health assessment, theory, and practicum courses.
Dr. Maureen Hermann earned her BSN (1995), MSN (2011), and DNP (2016), with an emphasis in leadership from Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing in Peoria, IL. Dr. Maureen Hermann currently works as an assistant professor in the Department of Nursing at Bradley University, Peoria, IL. Her focus is teaching the undergraduate fundamentals and health assessment theory courses, as well as graduate courses including a variety of health promotion, healthcare policy, ethics, and DNP project courses.
Authement, R. S., & Dormire, S. L. (2020). Introduction to the online nursing education best practices guide. SAGE Open Nursing, 6, 2377960820937290. https://doi.org/10.1177/2377960820937290
Camacho, L. F & Conceicao, A. (2020). Remote teaching in times of the COVID-19 pandemic: New experiences and challenges. Online Brazilian Journal of Nursing, 19(4), e1-4.
Dyer, T., Aroz, J., & Larson, E. (2018). PROXIMITY IN THE ONLINE CLASSROOM:ENGAGEMENT, RELATIONSHIPS, AND PERSONALIZATION. Journal of Instructional Research, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.9743/JIR.2018.10
Gurley, L.E. (2018). Educators’ preparation to teach, perceived teaching presence, and perceived teaching presence behaviors in blended and online learning environments. Online Learning, 22(2), 197-220. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i2.1255
Nabolsi, M., Abu-Moghli, F., Khalaf, I., Zumot, A., & Suliman, W. (2021). Nursing faculty experience with online distance education during COVID-19 crisis: A qualitative study. Journal of Professional Nursing, 37(5), 828–835. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.profnurs.2021.06.002
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