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COVID-19 causes clinicals, student teaching to go online

The switch to online classes is a difficult adjustment for everyone, but for some students, it means missing out on the practical, in-person experience required for their major.

Students in the nursing and education departments are among these students who require in-person work in their field to stay on track towards graduation and licensing.

Nursing students require 80 hours of clinicals each semester in order to make progress towards completing the program. Since the semester has moved online, the department was required to find an online replacement for these practical experiences.

Jennifer Gray, associate dean for the college of natural health sciences, said clinicals will move to an online format for the remainder of the semester.

“We have found some virtual clinical experiences that we have purchased,” Gray said. “Our students lack time in obstetrics or medical-surgical nursing, so we found a product that will give them about 24 hours of clinical time.”

In addition, sophomore nursing students learning clinical skills will continue their lessons without lab practices, but they will receive future instruction.

“They are going to continue to get the content for the course during this time,” Gray said. “They will not be able to do the practice in the lab, so we are already looking at scheduling that for August so they can be prepared to go to clinical on time.”

According to Gray, senior nursing students will still be able to complete the program on time.

“The seniors have actually finished their clinicals,” Gray said. “Our seniors will be focusing on their licensing exam. It’s unknown at this time whether the licensing exam will be delayed, but they can still graduate on time.”

Emily Cornelius, a junior nursing student in clinicals, said she believes online clinicals will not adequately replicate the in-person experience.

“I think [virtual clinicals] will be a lot harder,” Cornelius said. “When you are in person, you can actually see it. It’s different than when you read it in a textbook or see it on the computer. The virtual clinical might teach us the idea of what is happening, but it will not be like experiencing it in person.”

Elise Stanley, a junior nursing student in clinicals, said she was concerned students may not receive the same quality of education online.

“You really need to experience it rather than look at it through a screen or use simulations,” Stanley said. “I feel like we are missing out on a lot of learning opportunities, and we might be underprepared.”

While clinicals are a major area affected by COVID-19 and online classes, other classes requiring practical experiences are being restructured.

“For one of our classes, to even pass the class, you have to go on a mission trip,” Cornelius said. “They canceled those, so that will be interesting. We have to do assignments now.”

Professors in the education department are also working to find alternatives to in-person experience hours so their students can graduate on time. 

Senior education majors require 360 hours of student teaching to graduate. However, with public schools switching to online instruction due to the COVID-19 outbreak,  the education department must change their approach to student teaching.

Darin Martin, chair of the school of education, said professors are considering new ways to conduct student teaching.

“The State Department sent out some guidelines for student teaching and those requirements,” Martin said. “We looked at giving them some videos of classrooms to watch and letting them respond to, ‘What would you do in this situation?’ And then having them do some reflection on student teaching they have already done.”

Martin said the State Department is understanding of the unique challenge COVID-19 plays in certifying new teachers.

“The State Department has loosened up what requirements have to be met and made sure there are some alternative ways to meet them,” Martin said.

Martin acknowledged the hands-on experience which student teaching provides is the ideal situation, but students will still learn and graduate through virtual learning.

“This is not the most effective way, but it is what we have to do,” Martin said.

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