Jones & Bartlett Learning Health Blog

    What I Learned about Teaching During the First Months of COVID-19

    Posted by Bernadette Howlett, Ph.D. on May 19, 2020 9:00:00 AM

    Be Flexible sign with clouds and sky backgroundI have taught an online course in evidence-based practice (EBP) for undergraduate health sciences students (from various majors) twice a year for the last nine years. I was able to continue teaching the course this spring during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic due to its online format. This semester teaching EBP took on a deep feeling of urgency for me as our society grappled with questions regarding the relative hazard of COVID-19 versus seasonal influenza, and the accuracy (and rapidity) of diagnostic and immune marker testing.

    The students’ questions were urgent and frequent due to their sudden need for the information. I also found myself indirectly teaching others in students’ lives who were turning to the students in my course for knowledge and advice.

    It is important for health science educators to avoid indirectly providing advice to patients. It is an essential boundary many of us must maintain.

    The students who take this course are in different stages of their professions. Some are currently working health professionals, and others are preparing to enter the field or preparing for graduate education. This semester, students frequently asked questions on topics in which they historically have shown little interest, such as disease surveillance, attack rates, propagated epidemics, medical geography, and evaluating the quality of diagnostic testing research.

    Students found themselves in positions of being viewed as sources of wisdom and comfort by family and friends regarding COVID-19 due to their current learning of evidence-based practice.

    I found it was essential to have flexibility with assignment deadlines, allow extra credit, and adapt assignment requirements. Some colleagues of mine who teach biochemistry to nursing students at Western Governor’s University also emphasized the primary importance of flexibility.

    The main thing I've noticed is that people respond differently to being impacted by COVID.  How an individual student responds is based on a lot of variables. Because of this, some students will need to step back from the class or slow their pace, while others may want to ramp up their engagement and get the course done as quickly as possible.  As instructors, I think it is most helpful to ask students some questions to see where they're at and then follow their lead. We had a student, who was actually home sick with COVID, blaze through a 3rd attempt of the course, while there are other students overwhelmed by work and family responsibilities that need to take more time.

    -Caitlin Feather, PhD, Western Governor’s University

    Thus far, in the months of COVID, I have been reminded of five ideas of great value to teaching, which are important at any time, regardless of the urgency lent by the pandemic.
    1. Flexibility is Essential – Meet Students Where They Are
    2. Show the Caring Feelings and Compassion You have for Your Students
    3. Leverage the Teachable Moment
    4. Recognize You Might be Indirectly Teaching People Beyond the Students Taking the Class and Manage Those Boundaries Carefully
    5. Show Appreciation for the Grit and Courage of Our Students

    Lastly – for me – teaching is an act of love, for students and for learning. COVID-19 has given my work a greater meaning and heightened my gratitude for health science students. They are completing their degrees, working jobs, and coping with the impacts of COVID-19 on themselves and their families while preparing to enter the fray of combating this illness.

    About the AuthorEvidence-Based Practice for Health Professionals

    Bernadette Howlett, Ph.D. is an author, consultant, and educator who teaches evidence-based practice as an adjunct faculty member. She has been the Director of a research institute and also a Chief Research Officer of a medical school. She was an associate professor and research coordinator for a physician assistant (PA) studies program. She is currently an affiliate faculty member with the Kasiska Division of Health Sciences at Idaho State University contracted to design and teach courses in evidence-based practice as well as interprofessional practice.

    Evidence-Based Practice for Health Professionals, Second Edition is a resource for health professions students, residents, and practicing professionals. It explores the basic concepts of evidence-based practice with a clinical emphasis. This text gives readers the knowledge and tools to make self-informed, evidence-based decisions, and to communicate effectively with professionals in the pharmaceutical, medical device, and nutraceutical industries.

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