When Tina Hernandez first enrolled for classes, she was full of expectations. A nursing student, she was excited about her new career path. Just being back in a classroom again was a thrill. That classroom experience was short-lived. The Coronavirus pandemic meant she would now have to take classes remotely. Any concerns she had, however, were soon allayed.
“It’s been challenging for me,” she says. ” I have four children. Three of them are in school, so I have my own schoolwork, plus I am now a teacher to them. I maintain a strict schedule. I do my studying at night and on the weekends. And it certainly helps that the faculty at ECPI has been very understanding through it all. I am determined to make this work. I have awesome boys that know how much this degree means to me and they are very well behaved when I am in class. They know I am doing this for them!”
“We have students that are quarantined due to exposure at work and awaiting results. Some of them have loved ones that have tested positive. We have one that is due to deliver a baby soon and is terrified to go to the hospital. They still keep trying to do this with me every day. It is impressive. I am amazed by their resilience and determination to become nurses.”
– Carolyn Miller, Greenville Campus Nursing Faculty
Tina is one of many ECPI University students who are successfully adapting to the current reality. “We have students that are quarantined due to exposure at work and awaiting results,” says Carolyn Miller, a member of the Greenville campus nursing faculty. ” Some of them have loved ones that have tested positive. We have one that is due to deliver a baby soon and is terrified to go to the hospital. They still keep trying to do this with me every day. It is impressive. I am amazed by their resilience and determination to become nurses.”
At every ECPI University campus, faculty members are going the extra mile to help students navigate the new learning environment. “When it comes to students who are just getting started, I think one of the most important things we can do is just be patient and understanding as they adjust to some of the technologies,” says Alina Lotstein who teaches Anatomy and Physiology. “Some of them have little experience with computers, so if they are not cut some slack and patiently walked through certain things, they can quickly become frustrated and disengage.
“I do my best to try and make the remote classroom feel like a normal classroom. To encourage participation, I stop the lecture at frequent intervals to ask for questions, which works for some students. Others, who are more intimidated about talking in front of the class, prefer to message me, either in the group chat or individually. I keep a second device with Microsoft Teams Chat open at all times, so I can see questions coming in even with a PowerPoint in full screen. I actually think that this has encouraged questions from students who, in a normal classroom, would not ask them, since they can privately message me live during the lecture.”
What’s more, Ms. Lotstein has created subgroups in Teams, so students can break up into small groups to work on assignments and projects. “I think this helps them form connections with their classmates and help each other out,” she says. “I also use the Kahoot and Quizizz websites. We do at least one of these with every class, lecture or lab, and the students love them. It allows them to compete among themselves, as well as practice the material they have learned in a game format.
“One of the things I was most concerned about was not being able to draw on the whiteboard, which I know many students prefer to PowerPoint slides. But, I downloaded a whiteboard app on my iPad, and in many ways it works better than a real one because I never run out of space, have to stop to erase things, and can zoom in and out with ease. I think something about seeing drawings on a whiteboard in real-time is more engaging than just looking at slides, I get really great feedback whenever I use that feature.”
Is this new environment different? Absolutely. Challenging? Without a doubt. Still, there are times when a little levity keeps everyone loose. “We’ve had some funny situations,” says Ms. Lotstein. “On a daily basis, I am subject to cats walking across my keyboard, stepping in front of the webcam, and generally interfering with what I am doing, which the students find hilarious. They are often experiencing similar scenarios with their own pets and/or children, so they tend to sympathize.”