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College of Nursing

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Virtual Connections

Learning anytime, anywhere 

A registered nurse, two to three years post-graduation, is ready for more autonomy within their practice and begins to explore master’s and doctoral options.

But with outside factors such as needing to continue working full time, caring for a family, and proximity to a university, the days of classroom instruction being the only option for learning are long gone.To meet the needs of modern students, universities have moved toward online models of teaching. Currently, the College of Nursing’s masters and doctor of nursing practice programs are taught almost exclusively through distributed learning.  The University of South Carolina is a member of the Quality Matters Consortium and the College of Nursing’s Distributed Learning Courses must meet the standards outlined in the Quality Matters Rubric, including accessibility, usability, and copyright compliance.

Faculty members Phyllis Raynor, Megan Cain, and Kate Jones currently teach online graduate classes in their designated specialties. Each instructor starts their week with a video to their students. The weekly intro video is recorded in a casual tone that provides feedback from the prior week and shares expectations for the current week. All three professors agree the principal benefit of online learning is the flexibility that it allows. The asynchronous learning delivery model enables students to complete their work based on their personal scheduling needs.

 “As faculty, I feel more connected to students. I'm able to check in multiple times a day, give students the best answers, and provide personal and group feedback.”  -Megan Cain, Clinical Assistant Professor

When working on group projects, students plan with their peers’ meeting hours to complete project guidelines and prepare presentations and other project criteria. Working with fellow students on projects promotes problem-solving abilities, and many students have shared they gained professional skills in managing group dynamics. Faculty believe that online learning fosters a great deal of student-to- student interaction. Students find online discussion groups to be a safe environment for participation. Students also aren’t restricted to a one-hour class time to engage. With online discussions, students have the opportunity to formulate their thoughts before sharing and interacting in discussions. Raynor has watched many of her classes form a sense of community that supports one another and improves students’ practice.

Similarly, professors teaching online courses feel virtual classes present unique opportunities for communicative environments that stimulate positive learning outcomes. However, it takes intentional work, planning, and practice to consistently produce such environments. Teaching in a distributed learning format requires different pedagogical and technical skills when compared to classroom teaching.

This type of teaching often involves significant changes in the presentation of course content, teaching strategies, and evaluation methods. To ensure faculty are effectively engaging with students, the College of Nursing created a position to specifically support and guide nursing faculty in class development.

 “I enjoy connecting with my  students. I receive emails from students years after they are in my class- which shows me the tangible impact of connecting with my classes.” - Phyllis Raynor, Clinical Assistant Professor

Currently, Jones, Raynor, and Polyakova-Norwood are working on a grant from the Helen Gurley Wolford Fund to explore the concept of “caring” in the context of online courses and identify faculty behaviors perceived as caring by online students.  The project began with an extensive literature review and gathered data about student perceptions through an online survey and focus groups.  The team plans to offer a workshop for the College of Nursing faculty and publish their findings.  

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