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HealthDecember 10, 2020

The importance of being there when you can’t be

By: Christie Cavallo, MSN, RN, EdDc, CNE, CNEcl
Covid-19 has changed the way nurse educators are doing everything. There is a distance we feel from our institution, colleagues and students during this pandemic that is bothersome.

In this new era of hybrid, or virtual learning, we see others most often via Zoom every day for lectures, meetings, skills, simulation and, yes, sometimes even clinical. I saw a meme on Facebook recently that said class time now feels less like higher education and more like a seance “Bobby, are you here among us?”. Students are having many new distractions such as internet connection issues, computer problems and experiencing getting a degree while homeschooling their children. As nurse educators, we need additional time with our students during this time but instead we find ourselves at more of a distance from them than ever before.

Instructor presence is a term that has been popular in online learning. Ladyshewsky (2013) described instructor presence as having three facets: 1) social presence, 2) cognitive presence and 3) teaching presence. This “presence” was not something missing from our face-to-face classes because we saw our students all of the time and they saw each other. Instructor presence is missing in our virtual and hybrid learning experiences we are facing today due to Covid-19 by its very nature of delivery. Let me challenge you to implement instructor presence today in the three ways mentioned below so you can be there when you can’t be.

  1. Send out weekly emails. If your class is on a Monday, send out a weekly overview meeting on Fridays to show your excitement to “see” them in class . Remind them of assignments, what you will be studying this week and how best to prep for your class. Put something fun in the middle of the email, such as “If you are truly reading this, reply back with your favorite song”. Word will spread quickly to read your email and you will be surprised at their responses. Now you have connected socially, cognitively and instructively and your students will know that you are there waiting and you care.
  2. Have open hours. I am currently writing my dissertation for grad school and I feel one of the key components of my connectedness is based on the fact that the Institutional Review Board (IRB) has open hours for me to talk to them and ask questions. We can implement this with our students too! Find one hour in the week where you can leave open your class link Zoom meeting, inform the students and let the students pop in and pop out to ask questions or just benefit from others asking questions. You can even make this time informal. Call it a coffee break and everyone come with a cup of coffee and share your plans for the upcoming holidays.
  3. Stay after class. Budget your time around teaching where you can either come before or after your class is over. In our face-to-face classrooms, we were available when we came early and directly afterwards for questions or concerns. Do it this week! They need it now more than ever. There is something approachable about a teacher who is just available before and after class with no formal teaching agenda. This conveys a social presence that your students desperately need, and to be honest, we need it too.

These are a few ways that I have implemented instructor presence in my new virtual and hybrid classes. I would love to hear your ideas. Feel free to email me at [email protected].

Christie Cavallo, MSN, RN, EdDc, CNE, CNEcl
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
  1. Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2013). Instructor Presence in Online Courses and Student Satisfaction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1).
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