Notes from the Dean's Desk
Pandemic Tests Our Ability To Move Much of Our Teaching Online
Over the past three decades, the emergence of digital technology at a personal level was hailed as a facilitator of economic connectivity, information sharing and even personal convenience. It became increasingly possible to handle, with a few keyststrokes on a computer, what had always required person-to-person contacts.
This spring, the COVID-19 pandemic has given technology an essential role in protecting public health, allowing us to minimize personal interactions during an episode with no precedent in much of the world since the influenza pandemic of 1918-19. The ability of millions to move many daily work and learning activities online is – it appears for now – helping to significantly limit the spread of the coronavirus to an extent impossible in the late 20th century.
In early March, Jefferson College of Nursing and other divisions of Thomas Jefferson University rapidly moved the majority of instruction online, allowing professors and students to interact safely from their homes. Dozens of weekly meetings among faculty and staff members also became virtual, drastically reducing opportunities for the virus to spread. Of course, we have continued to face challenges in keeping our students and faculty safe in clinical settings. Nursing education is one of those fields where hands-on experiences are vital; not everything can be learned from a book or computer screen. However, we have found ways to keep our students engaged in the clinical environment through virtual patient encounters, both real and simulated.
Technology’s role in informing people about COVID-19 while also limiting its spread is an unanticipated application within a trend that already was transforming the healthcare world, from academics to patient engagement and everything in-between. In preparing our students for nursing careers, we at Jefferson know it is critical to orient them for highly technological environments. In both the classroom and on the clinical side, we stress the power of technological skills, in lockstep with medical knowledge, to reshape the world.
Our embrace of technology is a differentiator for JCN in attracting both new students and new faculty. We collaborate with numerous strategic partners to implement new modes of curriculum delivery and other approaches that make learning more flexible and accessible.
A key initiative is our engagement with Apple, which allows the college to equip all of our faculty, staff and students – undergraduate, graduate and doctoral – with iPads, immersing them in technological skills that are essential as students move on to their careers. Through our JeffLEARN (Lead Engage Advance Reimagine Nursing) initiative, JCN is integrating Apple technologies and other digital applications in classrooms (virtual and onsite), simulation rooms and clinical settings across Jefferson and beyond. Through Apple Professional Learning sessions, they are immersed in professional development delivered by Apple Learning Specialists. These in-person trainings provide tailored integration of iPad and other academic technologies to JCN courses. (I was heartened to hear from our key Apple contact, Kelly Dunaway, that JCN’s use of Apple technology is seen within that company as an outstanding example of how to keep instruction on track during the COVID-19 crisis.)
The college aims to obtain Apple Distinguished School designation, described by Apple as “... centers of innovation, leadership and educational excellence that use Apple products to inspire creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. They showcase innovative uses of technology in learning, teaching and the school environment and have documented results of academic accomplishment.”
Through Apple Professional Learning sessions, they are immersed in professional development delivered by Apple Learning Specialists. These in-person trainings provide tailored integration of iPad and other academic technologies to JCN courses.
Increasing our use and comfort with technology is also helping us pursue adaptive and active learning models. In fact, more than 65% of our faculty and staff are Certified Apple Teachers (part of a free professional learning program designed to support and celebrate educators using Apple products for teaching and learning). Through use of artificial intelligence and other predictive analytics, we can tailor our education of students and offer multi-pronged approaches that facilitate student learning at the highest level and include the diverse perspectives that create a dynamic academic community.
Our Apple engagement has launched us on our path to attain Apple Distinguished School Status. Benefits of becoming an Apple Distinguished School include:
- Enhanced technology-rich environment that will serve as a differentiator
- Transformed teaching and learning with a shift in the academic culture
- Increased opportunities to blended and online learning environments and applications
- Increased opportunities for connectedness
- Enhanced opportunities for creativity, collaboration and critical thinking
- Increased higher level thinking
Beyond this immediate crisis and its challenges, we will continue to explore with Apple and other partners the best ways to integrate technology into the profession, from the first day of nursing school to the last day of a career. I will continue to share our experiences here and on Twitter (@DeanJeffNursing). What new tech tools are you discovering in this unique situation? I’d love to hear from you personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.