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Associate Instructor Lynn Bartlett and Associate Professor Patricia Eathington
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WIU Faculty Training Next Class of Nurses During Pandemic

May 4, 2020

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Editor's Note: This is the ninth in a series of feature stories about Western Illinois University faculty who are adapting and finding unique ways to reach their students during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

MACOMB, IL – During a semester when faculty and students are isolated by the COVID-19 Pandemic, two teachers in the Western Illinois University School of Nursing are teaching their students about an academic arena on the front lines of battling the virus.

Associate Professor Patricia Eathington and Associate Instructor Lynn Bartlett are co-teaching a senior seminar, and Bartlett is teaching pharmacology this semester. The pair have the unique perspective of teaching the next group of student nurses who will be entering the healthcare field.

"I love watching a nervous junior, who is afraid to touch another person to do an assessment, become a confident senior who is ready to go into their first job as a nurse and know they can be safe in that job," said Bartlett. "In the nursing department, we really get to know our students because we spend so many hours with them. I like that personal time with them."

But for this group of faculty and students it has been technology challenges, not medical ones, that have been the biggest obstacles to overcome during this alternative course delivery format.

"The biggest challenge that I have had is the lack of internet access," said Eathington. "I live in the rural Avon/London Mills area, and I have satellite internet, but it is too slow for Zoom meetings. I have tried to get better internet access, but it doesn't work in my rural area. I have chosen to conduct virtual meetings from my mother-in-law's sunroom because she has great internet and I can still socially distance and not risk her getting sick."

Eathington said the shelter in place order has given her a new appreciation for the environment and resources WIU provides for its students, including computers, internet and other technological services students may not have access to at home. She added that the University has quiet spaces where students can study, but finding that space at home may be more challenging.

Zoom offers a group feature, which Bartlett said Eathington has used to divide the class into smaller groups so students can work together more effectively and present their research findings. Another challenge, Eathington said, has been giving the standardized testing WIU nursing students undergo to prepare for their licensure exams.

"Because it is a standardized exam from another company, they require very strict test security, so the School of Nursing has had to make some adjustments," she said.

Bartlett said emails, texting and telephone calls have become so much more important this semester to stay in touch with students. She and Eathington have also bonded with the students over pets, because so many cats and dogs appear sporadically on the Zoom meeting screens.

"We seem to all be animal lovers so one day during class and by email after, we presented our pets and found we have a lot of cats and dogs," said Bartlett. "One student said she had seen so many cats that her allergies were flaring up, and another said she now had an urge to go out and get a cat. I think this gave us something in common to talk about and something other than the pandemic to think about."

At the beginning of each class session, Eathington and Bartlett engage the students in discussion about how the pandemic is impacting the nursing field. They have also linked in nurses currently working during the pandemic to talk about changes the Coronavirus has brought to the field.

"Associate Instructor Lindsay White and Instructor Molly Wolfe had former students have a panel discussion about COVID-19 in their practice, and all our nursing students were invited to attend the Zoom sessions and ask questions," said Bartlett.

Other discussions have included talking about states that are allowing new graduates to work while their license is pending. Eathington said they also challenge students to advocate for themselves and request personal protective equipment when they begin working.

"We have talked about infection control and the spread in the community," she said. "We also talk on a personal level about how everyone is managing their time and multiple challenges during this time."

Both Bartlett and Eathington agree the new format makes it more challenging to stay organized and dedicate the number of hours of study the nursing program requires. Both also said the alternative course delivery has changed them as educators.

"I love my students," said Bartlett. "Our students often come to our offices to talk. not only about class, but concerns and worries about becoming a nurse. I really am missing this interaction with my students. I am really hoping that we will be back to face-to-face by fall."

Eathington said she has given students her phone number so they can text or call her with questions or concerns.

"I have had several students call me to review exams or discuss ways that they can improve," she said. "Sometimes they just want that verbal reassurance that this is a challenging time for all of us."

Both said faculty in the School of Nursing rely on each other for new ideas to implement into online teaching. They have also used workshops by WIU's Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research (CITR) to learn better methods.

WIU senior nursing major Jenna Bryan, of Carthage, IL, said taking online classes was difficult enough, but nursing classes present another set of challenges.

"We are so used to hands-on learning, whether that be in clinical, in simulation, or in class together. It's extremely hard to mimic that experience online," she said. "Our teachers have had to be flexible in the way they teach and present information, and we (the students) have had to be open to the change. Learning in this environment requires another level motivation and prioritization. We have had to hold ourselves accountable because our teachers can't the way they could in person. Regardless of the fact that we are online, our teachers continue to be helpful. I feel lucky to be a part of a program where I can have a relationship with my professors that comfortable and supportive."

For more information on the WIU School of Nursing, visit

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