How to Teach Nursing Students Online: Tips and Resources for Nurse Educators

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A nursing instructor teaches a class online.The importance of nurse educators can’t be overstated. These caregivers, scholars and teachers use their clinical experience and medical knowledge to equip the next generation of nurses, ensuring an ongoing continuum of optimal care. Although a well-established discipline, nursing has been forced to adapt and evolve in light of COVID-19. Many of today’s nurse educators have been forced to pivot to virtual instruction, ensuring that they can train the next generation of nurses while minimizing the risk of infection.

Training nurses in a remote setting requires a unique set of skills; thankfully, for those looking to determine how to teach nursing students online, many resources are readily available.

Nurse Education Curriculum Strategies

In considering how to teach nursing students online, one of the preeminent concerns is curriculum design. To adapt to a remote pedagogical environment, nurse educators may need to revise their curricula to optimize learning opportunities for their students.

Creating a Structured Itinerary

Learning outside of a traditional classroom environment can cause students to feel unmoored. One way to ensure that all nursing students are on the same page, with a clear sense of their trajectories, is to provide a structured itinerary from day one. Nurse educators can use detailed itineraries not only to provide a sense of the long-term goals of the class, but also to bring a sense of order and discipline to individual class sessions.

Establishing a Clinical Working Strategy

While basic nursing competencies can be reviewed in the classroom, students ultimately need exposure to actual, real-world clinical practice. Nurse educators must ensure that students can still get experience in practicum settings at hospitals or medical practices. This may mean developing strategic partnerships with local medical organizations or providing students with instruction about how to develop their own practicum opportunities.

Reviewing Care Policies and Regulations

In addition to learning the technical skills associated with patient care, nursing students must also know policies, best practices, and regulations that guide their clinical practice. This is an area in which a remote learning setting works well, and nurse educators may assign independent reviews of these core policies and regulations.

Incorporating Cultural Competencies

Nurses must be equipped to provide optimal care to patients of all backgrounds, including those who speak different languages or have unique cultural or religious practices. An important part of the nurse education process should be honing cultural competence, providing nurses with the skills they need to ensure proper, equal care for all their patients.

Additional Resources for Curriculum Design

For nurse educators who wish to learn more about the importance of curriculum design, consider the following links and resources:

Tips for Teaching Nursing Students Online

Beyond curriculum design, nurse educators must develop instruction styles that help them optimally convey information in a virtual learning setting, all while building a strong rapport with their students. Consider a few tips for how to teach nursing students online in a way that achieves these lofty goals.

Developing a Comfortable Teaching Style

Creating a comfortable teaching style may take some trial and error, and one of the most important things a nurse educator can do is show a willingness to take stock of each class, solicit feedback and make adjustments as needed. Depending on the size of the class, the nature of the material and the personality of the instructor, nurse educators may find it more comfortable to lecture, facilitate classroom discussion or involve students in other ways.

Communicating with Remote Students

Because students won’t have the opportunity to see their teachers face to face, instructors must establish consistent forms of communication from the outset. Online instructors are highly encouraged to respond to email inquiries as quickly as possible. They should provide clear instructions about how students can reach them, including any virtual office hours they plan to hold. Online instructors should also set expectations about when students can expect to receive answers to their questions — ideally within 24 hours. Instructors may also want to consider alternative methods of classroom communication, such as Slack or Google Hangouts.

Creating a Consistent Presence

In a remote setting, nurse educators must develop a consistent presence. This means being fully engaged during class sessions, greeting students by name, and actively facilitating discussion. It also means being consistently active in-class discussion boards or other online forums. Above all, students must know that their instructor is actively guiding the class and monitoring their activity, as opposed to being distant or aloof.

Adapting to Unforeseen Circumstances

Nurse educators must be flexible, prepared to adjust their schedules or their methods when unforeseen circumstances occur — including a global event like the COVID-19 pandemic. This may require instructors to provide greater leniency regarding the completion of clinical practicum work; it may also mean allowing students flexibility in juggling their coursework with work or family emergencies.

Integrating New Technologies

Numerous adaptive technologies can be used in virtual nurse instruction, including tools that allow instructors to administer quizzes, as well as platforms that allow students to track their progress in class. Consider these resources on the topic:

Additional Resources for Teaching Online

For additional insight into how to teach nursing students online, consult these links:

Nurse Educator Tools for Online Teaching

To facilitate an optimal learning environment for their students, nurse educators must employ the right technological resources, along with savvy instruction strategies.

Using Secure Software

One of the most important concerns for nurse educators to keep in mind is data security. During the course of online instruction, students will need to upload and download files, collaborate with patients or other caregivers, and participate in class discussions. All these activities can open the door to data loss or cyberattacks, making it essential for nurse educators to work with information technology (IT) experts who can ensure a secure virtual environment.

Building an Interactive Environment

Nurse educators need to also create ways for students to interact with one another; this may mean online quizzes or “virtual” nurse centers, allowing students to practice making clinical decisions in a controlled, online setting. A number of virtual classroom options allow teachers and students to be “together” on-screen, sharing slides and presentations and interacting with one another without the risk of face-to-face meetings. Bitmoji classrooms, for example, have proven popular as educators work to create community.

Using Virtual Patients

Thanks to advances in telemedicine, nurse educators can actually connect their students with real-world patients, allowing them to practice their diagnostic and caregiving skills in a safe, supervised setting, while interacting with actual humans in need of nursing intervention. Coordinating these opportunities is crucial for effective online nursing instruction.

Providing Collaborative Learning Tools

Finally, nurse educators should establish collaborative spaces where students can work on projects together, share insights and benefit from diverse perspectives. Discussion boards, project management portals and online chats can all be valuable. For example, Backchannel Chat allows for real-time, moderated class discussions, and online quiz sites such as Kahoot can provide an engaging way for classes to review information.

Additional Resources for Virtual Learning

Nurse educators who wish to learn more about creating effective virtual learning spaces may benefit from the following resources:

Instructing the Next Generation of Nurses

Nursing education is crucial for delivering optimal patient care throughout the country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional nursing instruction methods have been turned upside down, making remote learning the best and safest option. Nurse educators have ample opportunity to provide meaningful educational experiences, even remotely — but doing so requires strategy, technological skill, and a willingness to adapt.