Social distancing and masks quickly moved to solitude and isolation for students and instructors alike. Distance learning is the coined term in academia and oh how fitting it is right now. Whether distance learning was new to the educator and/or student or an area of expertise it is always appropriate to reevaluate our methods of student engagement to ensure a meaningful experience.
The belief held by many is that distance learning is not intimate or up to par within seat instruction. This was proved by the push back from students at the height of the pandemic with requests for reimbursement from tuition fees. My goal is to provide real-life examples of what has worked for me to ensure that distance learning can be as intimate and meaningful as you, as the educator, and the student would like it to be.
My experience has been as a full-time professor of nursing both in an in-seat traditional program and an online RN-BSN program.
Require active learning
Active learning is an absolute must in distance learning. Simply stated, active learning is putting an emphasis on the student actually doing something-whether physical or cognitive to allow for the application of the concept. It is much more than passive learning, and the student must take responsibility for their learning while the instructor sets the student up with the opportunities. An instructor cannot merely put a voiceover PowerPoint on the platform and call it a day. If a video over the content is to be uploaded, it shouldn’t be more than eight to 10 minutes in length.
Active learning can be in the form of small group work in break out rooms, experience a situation-virtually or in person, prepare an overview of a concept, build a patient from disease process up, lead a discussion board post, and/or solve a series of unfortunate patient outcomes through an RCA with diagrams. Challenges do exist in the online realm, but the hurdle is no more challenging than in seat instruction.
With active learning activities also comes chunking content. Chunking content is breaking the concepts down into smaller more manageable pieces and in return, it is more memorable for the students. Think of it this way, chunking content is having one scoop of ice cream instead of the whole carton. We, as educators—myself included, can easily participate in infobesity; providing too much information on the topic by teaching everything in the textbook and reviewing all our real-life examples. It simply is not needed and not remembered by the student.
Example of an active learning activity in an online classroom:
- The concept is mental illness’, specifically schizophrenia with auditory hallucinations.
- Segment of a chapter in the textbook assigned (do not assign full chapters).
- Students are to listen to a four-minute video experiencing auditory hallucinations while attempting to complete a weekly to-do list.
- Students then are to post in the discussion board forum a self-reflection on their experience “walking in a schizophrenia patient’s shoes”, the experience will entail conscious and unconscious biases and how it affects the care provided to a patient.
- Students are then required to react to a minimum of two of their classmates.
This is just a simple example of chunking content with an active learning activity, that in my experience proved highly beneficial for the students in understanding the stigmas associated and examining their own bias’s conscious or not. There are lots of ways to promote active learning in the online classroom. When in this realm of teaching—voluntary or involuntarily—we are required to promote learning and encourage critical thinking and application of concepts.
Explain the whys
It is imperative for the instructor to explain the why behind an assignment. Students deserve to know the rationale, goal and method of competency expected. Once a student understands this, they are much more likely to complete the assignment thoroughly and with a more active participation.
I begin one of my online courses with an introductory forum that I ask the students what their favorite office supply is and why. This allows me to indirectly learn their learning styles and plan my class activities around the majority of styles in the course, but still offering something for all students. For example, if 80% of the students list a highlighter or colored pens to color-code their notes; I can comfortably assume the majority of students are kinesthetic learners and need to tailor my course to meet their needs.