One of the hallmarks of Saskatchewan Polytechnic training is applied learning—hands-on
opportunities for students to put theory into practice. The School of Nursing, in
particular, has led the way in developing innovative, highly successful applied learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put this commitment to innovation to the test—with remarkable
For the first time ever, the Saskatchewan Collaborative Bachelor of Science in Nursing
(SCBScN) degree program offered in partnership with the University of Regina, delivered
the OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) virtually. The OSCE is a performance
test that uses interactive patient stations to assess student response to various
clinical scenarios. Some scenarios have written questions. The multifaceted exam can
take up to five hours, and SCBScN faculty had to move it all online, quickly.
“It was the first time we have ever given the OSCE virtually,” says Chris Barlow,
RN, Sask Polytech’s SCBScN academic chair (Saskatoon). “The exam included an online
evolving case study, quizzes and a video component in which students did an exam on
themselves (or a family member, a doll, even a picture) to demonstrate their learning
and understanding of a clinical scenario.”
Feedback has been positive. “Students found the process less stressful, in many ways,
than a traditional OSCE, but just as useful for demonstrating their knowledge. And
faculty appreciate having an opportunity to evaluate a new learning/teaching method,”
says Kandis Harris, RN, SCBScN academic chair (Regina).
According to Sandra Blevins, RN, Sask Polytech’s dean for the School of Nursing, all
nursing faculty deserve huge kudos for being innovative and moving to online learning
on such short notice. “It’s absolutely amazing what they were able to pull off in
just two weeks,” Blevins says.
Faculty in the Sask Polytech Practical Nursing diploma program are also pushing the
limits of innovation to adapt their teaching in the COVID-19 era. “We’ve all had to
find ways to accommodate learning while social distancing, and I believe we rose to
the challenge when our semester two students got to experience our first ever virtual
clinical,” says Regina-based faculty member Daria Biasotto, RN.
Biasotto was uncertain whether virtual clinical could ever replace hands on clinical
but says students embraced the experience. “As the days unfolded, I observed increasing
self-awareness, clinical reasoning, students not being afraid to repeat a simulation
for further learning and more. I have no doubt these students will take the knowledge
gained from this experience forward into their next hands-on clinical experience and
“By shifting to online and distance formats using virtual simulation and faculty-led
interactive evolving case studies, we’ve been able to continue to engage students
in high quality learning despite the challenges of the current COVID-19 crisis,” says
Billy-Jo Howe, academic chair of Practical Nursing. “Both faculty and students have
adapted well. I’m so proud of the creativity that has resulted and the depth of learning
that has occurred.”
Similar adjustments to learning and teaching have been made in the Psychiatric Nursing
program. “Students are usually honing year one skills in a psycho-geriatric setting,
but this year, our year one practice education will need to look quite different,”
says Laureen Larson, RN, academic chair of the program.
Program faculty have created case studies and virtual simulations to allow students
to apply theory to practice and to think broadly about seniors living in a variety
of settings. Students will also be using virtual simulation to practice clinical skills.
“Students don’t always have an opportunity to practice each of these skills in their
spring rotation, but in our new virtual world they will,” Larson says. “We’re confident
that students will have a great learning experience.”
Such positive feedback to online learning and virtual simulation is no surprise to
Dr. Madeline Press, RN, director of Sask Polytech’s Centre for Health Research, Improvement
and Scholarship. She completed her doctoral thesis on “Nurse faculty experiences with
integrating high-fidelity simulation into their teaching practice.” Late last year,
she partnered with University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina nursing faculty
on a white paper about increasing the use of technology in nursing curriculum.
“I think the COVID-19 pandemic has made us more aware of the need to change how we do things,” Dr. Press says. “The old view is that we need to give students as much clinical practicum time as possible. The new view, which is based on research, is that we can replace up to half of clinical time with simulation time. The key is finding the right balance.”
There are many reasons to integrate more simulation, including virtual simulation,
in nursing education. The most compelling is that simulation labs give students a
chance to learn hands-on process for a broad range of scenarios in a safe, no-risk
“That’s the key advantage of simulation-based learning,” Dr. Press says. “If a student
gets something wrong, it’s just a learning experience; there’s no patient impact.”
As COVID-19 continues to change the way we live, work and learn, Sask Polytech’s School of Nursing is pushing forward to innovative new ways to use online learning and virtual simulation in nursing education.
Practical Nursing faculty member Daria Biasotto, RN, delivers a virtual clinical facilitated by daily Zoom debriefings.
Published May 2020.