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HealthSeptember 20, 2021

Three strategies for moving from virtual learning back to in-person within nursing education

By: Lisa Shustack, EdD, MSN, RN, CNE, CNEcl
It has now been over a year since Covid-19 forced nursing programs to suddenly flip and move to an online learning format. During that rapid transition, nurse educators did what we do best and demonstrated our flexibility and adaptability to new situations and tackled the virtual learning world. In some instances, the transition helped to remove stagnation and “this is the way we always did it” thinking and ignite innovation and enthusiasm in nursing education.

However, once again, we now find ourselves on the brink of another change. The fall semester for many schools brings a return to campus and the need to help nursing students transition from virtual learning back to in-person classrooms. For some first- or second-year students, they have not had an opportunity to sit in a college classroom and have only experienced nursing school through a virtual learning lens. Therefore, nurse educators need to be cognizant of this transition and integrate some strategies to help these students acclimate themselves into this new learning environment.

Below are three strategies that nurse educators can implement to help make the transition from virtual to in-person learning easier.

1. Foster community building

Although we tried our best to keep the virtual classroom connection strong through different online group activities, building a sense of community and comradery among upper-level students who knew each other personally pre-Covid was much easier as compared to working with first- or second-year students who many have not had that in-person opportunity. Therefore, as nurse educators, we should be sure to take time to plan social interactions at the beginning of the semester to help foster those relationships. This can be done with team building activities and get-to-know-you games. This is the time to bring group work and discussions to the forefront of our teaching-learning activities.

One example of a fun first-week community-building activity is called “A Bucket of Fun.” This “get to know you game” is fun and a great way to say goodbye to summer and hello to the start of the school year. Fill a small sand pale with sand and insert a plastic shovel for décor. Print out “get to know you” questions such as: “What was your favorite memory from this summer? What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? What is your favorite vacation spot?” Cut each question out and roll them up and stick them in the top of the sand bucket. Pass the bucket around the room and allow each student to answer one question.

2. Follow a 20-10-20-minute classroom rhythm

A 20-10-20-minute classroom is structured in a way that encourages movement and activity. The first 20 minutes is set aside for lecture or content discussion. Following that first 20-minute segment, students should then be asked to do something physical and move about the room. This can be simply getting up from their chairs to move into a group formation or walking about the room for a learning activity that lasts no longer than 10 minutes. The final 20-minutes should focus on reviewing the content or main ideas students should take away from the lesson. Students who have been in a virtual classroom will need time to adjust to being back in person and creating activity and movement will help to break the monotony and maintain engagement.

An example of a 10-minute classroom movement activity is called “Sticky Stuff.” In this activity, students are each given one sticky note and asked to write down one important fact they learned or write down one question about something they did not clearly understand from the previous 20-minute lecture or discussion. Students are then directed to four areas of the classroom walls where they are directed to post their notes. Once they post their note on the wall, the students should be instructed to walk around the room and read other posts. What is written on the sticky notes should lead to the final 20-minute discussion.

3. Keep technology integrated in teaching and learning

Although the transition to virtual learning may have been challenging for some nurse educators, there are many great things that were discovered along the way that should be continued moving forward. First, consider prerecording lectures and posting them for students prior to class. This will allow students to listen to the lecture at their own pace on their own time and review as many times as needed. In-person classroom time can then be spent working on active learning case studies or activities to help students dive deeper into the content. This is also a great way to differentiate your classroom to meet the needs of diverse learners. Second, you may want to consider allowing students to Zoom into your classroom if they are unable to attend the live session. Using appropriate classroom rules, Zoom access can be a way to provide flexibility for students who have transportation issues or are ill and concerned about being on campus.

While we are all excited, but cautious, about returning to in-person learning, we need to remain cognizant of the effect that virtual learning for over a year has had on our students. It is critical that we do not simply revert to the old ways of doing things and utilize the positive aspects of virtual learning to create a more engaging, exciting, and interactive learning atmosphere for our nursing students. Now that we have our feet wet in the virtual world, let’s continue to slowly wade in a little deeper to see how we can continue to create the best learning environments for our students.

Lisa Shustack, EdD, MSN, RN, CNE, CNEcl
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
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