Saskatchewan Polytechnic School of Nursing goes virtual in response to COVID-19

Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

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 results.

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 beyond.”

“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 environment.

“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.

Nursing WeekPractical Nursing faculty member Daria Biasotto, RN, delivers a virtual clinical facilitated by daily Zoom debriefings.

Published May 2020.