Flipping the light fantastic – Moving nursing lectures online

This week’s Blog is written by Dr Tracey Harrington (@tharry) from Dublin City University. In it she reflects on her experiences as a lecturer when faced with delivering teaching online during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many words have been used to describe the last year and a half, unprecedented being one of many, that yes while it describes perfectly the situation, is now an extremely galling word which is overused. Jackson et al. (2020) description is of extraordinary times, and this sits better, perhaps as it is less negative. Undoubtedly the arrival of COVID-19 shifted us out of the ordinary on so many levels. And let’s be honest, as Síona Cahill, a campaigner, activist who was the President of Student Union of Ireland, so eloquently wrote in the Irish Examiner recently, it has not all been negative. I concur with what she wrote and agree that as we attempt to get back to ‘normal’ “We can do so much better than normal. Now’s our chance”.  When we look back, we will reflect on what worked well, what we learned and focus on making things better in the future.

As educators and facilitators, my colleagues and I faced the challenge of ‘flipping’ the classroom to online. As someone who loves technology, I embraced the opportunity to change the way I delivered a module. I still had to overcome lots of learning hurdles, but apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks”. However, doing so requires lots of support which was forthcoming from the team in the Digital Learning Design Unit & Learning and the Teaching Enhancement Unit of Dublin City University.

When it was obvious we needed to provide online lectures I enrolled on the #Openteach: professional development for open online educators  – a National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education funded project. Teaching online is very different and to be effective you need to understand and appreciate online pedagogy as well as the underlying technology used to facilitate online education (Farrell et al., 2021). You cannot merely present over PowerPoint presentations, you will lose the students’ interest rapidly.

Despite loving technology (I was the first lecturer in my department with a smartphone!) I avoid ‘Face-timing’ as I am old school- i.e. a phone call is just that, a call, but our students are a new, energised generation who use this form of communication and I had to overcome camera shyness and do things such as be present visually during both synchronous and asynchronous classes. Coker (2018) stresses the importance of creating a social presence, and so I knew I had to adapt. Lecturers have a key role supporting students’ participation in the online setting (Park, 2015; Stott, 2016) and being visible promotes student engagement (Arbaugh, 2014). Similarly, to the classroom setting, online students value teaching presence and lecturer-student interaction (Kyei-Blankson, Ntuli, & Donnelly, 2016). I tried to employ as many ideas and suggestions as possible from the #OpenTeach course, and lots of ideas are available for free for all in the recent publication of the Ebook (Farrell et al., 2021).

The class and I created a digital book, called the ‘Story of Us’, so the students could write their own story about themselves, their backgrounds and their reasons for wanting to become a nurse, and which pathway they chose. This was a way for students to get to know each other, as they were able to meet face to face. We had guest speakers from all walks of life, discussing topics such as sexuality, race, mental health, issues around stigma, such as obesity, Alzheimer’s and much more.

Software such as Vevox meant I could:

  • ask students how they were feeling
  • create WordClouds
  • ask students what topics they were interested in and what additional support they felt they needed.

I also started using Padlet, which enabled students to post questions anonymously – meaning that even the students who are normally afraid to speak up in class now had an opportunity to do so.  Hopefully this has shown how technology can help improve communication.

I recognise that my commentary is one-sided. I am hoping to conduct a survey to establish the students’ opinions and review the evidence from their perspective. Anecdotally online lectures appear to have been an additional stressor to students. Nursing students in Nepal were impacted by accessibility issues such as electricity disturbances and internet access (Subedi et al. 2020). However, this may not just be an issue for Nepalese student nurses. We must be cognisant of our own students – they may not all have their own laptops or WIFI. Many of my students relied on their smartphone to access lectures, using mobile data to watch recordings or live stream sessions.  Hence the importance of initiatives such as Dublin City University (DCU) Covid-19 Student Emergency Fund which had many objectives, one of which was to provide technology to ensure students could pursue their learning online.

Student nurses have had a lot to deal with, and it is vital we support them and provide safe spaces for them to discuss issues, worries and concerns. For example, online class discussions boards allow students to ask questions, answer each other’s queries, and provide their own peer support.  We all remember the days when the best person to ask was someone at the same level as you!

More and more nurses are required to deliver time sensitive, effective, and precise decisions and so we need our future nurses to be highly adaptable and proficient in the latest technologies (Atkey et al 2020).  Future nursing graduates will not only be required to skilfully navigate information systems and social media, but also be required to consolidate their research findings into a superior point-of-care practice (McKenzie & Murray, 2010). This will require development of technological skills and digital identities as part of the undergraduate education process to enable them to become competent and capable nurses of the future (Atkey et al 2020) and it needs to start with us, their educators and learning facilitators.


Arbaugh, J. B. (2014). System, scholar or students? Which most influences online MBA course effectiveness?Journal of Computer Assisted Learning,30(4),349-362. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12048

Atkey et al (2020) What do Nursing Students’ Stories Reveal about the Development of their Technological Skills and Digital Identity? A Narrative Inquiry, CJNI V15N2 2020 – http://cjni.net/journal/?p=6831

Coker, H. (2018). Purpose, Pedagogy and Philosophy: “Being” an Online Lecturer. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(5). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v19i5.3312

Farrell, O., Brunton, J., Ní Shé, C., Costello, E., (2021). #Openteach: Professional Development for Open Online Educators. Dublin: #Openteach Project. 10.5281/zenodo.4599620

Jackson, D., Bradbury‐Jones, C., Baptiste, D., Gelling, L., Morin, K., Neville, S. and Smith, G.D., 2020. Life in the pandemic: Some reflections on nursing in the context of COVID‐19. Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Kyei-Blankson, L., Ntuli, E.,& Donnelly, H.(2016). Establishing the importance of interaction and presence to student learning in online environments. World Journal of Educational Research, 3(1), 48-65. https://doi.org/10.22158/wjer.v3n1p48

McKenzie K, Murray A. E-learning benefits nurse education and helps shape students’ professional identity. Nurs Times. 2010 Feb 9-15;106(5):17-9. PMID: 20222485.

Park, J. Y. (2015). Student interactivity and teacher participation: An application of legitimate peripheral participation in higher education online learning environments. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 24(3), 389-406. https://doi.org/10.1080/1475939X.2014.935743

Stott, P. (2016). The perils of a lack of student engagement: Reflections of a “lonely, brave, and rather exposed” online instructor. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(1), 51-64.http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12215

Subedi, S., Nayaju, S., Subedi, S., Shah, S.K. and Shah, J.M., 2020. Impact of E-learning during COVID-19 pandemic among nursing students and teachers of Nepal. International Journal of Science and Healthcare Research, 5(3), pp.68-76.

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