Technology and innovation have become a major part of our daily lives, and their place in modern education is no different. Innovation may be even more crucial to the education of health professionals. Medical procedures, pharmacology and best practices change daily as new technology emerges, so it makes sense that technology and innovation would and should play a significant role in healthcare education.
Nursing Education Online
Online delivery has gained ground as one of the biggest innovations in education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, an estimated 20.2 million students attended colleges and universities in 2014, and nearly 29 percent -- or 5.8 million students -- enrolled in online classes. Online delivery has in turn spurred other innovations in education. Perhaps nowhere are these innovations more critical than in healthcare education. For lifelong learning, nurses need an educational environment responsive to innovations in the field.
The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) has embraced online learning and the innovations that have come with it. A major technological innovation is virtual or screen-based simulation.
Dr. Beth Mancini, Sr. Associate Dean for Education Innovation, College of Nursing and Health Innovation, says, "Screen-based simulation builds upon the elements in the games you play on your computer or hand-held device." There is a long history of using simulation or games for serious purposes. As an example, she points to the Napoleon era when military commanders would move pieces around a board to test military strategies.
Nursing students can similarly experience what will happen to a patient based on actions they take when presented with a clinical case using screen-based simulation. Not only does this method allow students to safely try things out, but it creates engagement for the learner so "they have a deeper connection with the subject matter at hand," Dr. Mancini says.
Research has demonstrated the benefit of allowing students to explore different actions and the resultant different outcomes at their own pace. What if I just don't do this? What if I just do this? I know I shouldn't, but what happens? Why shouldn't I? "Students suddenly see the 'why'," she says, "so these experiences translate into a very deep form of learning."
"Virtual simulation provides us the technology to take case-based learning beyond the classroom and allows students to practice and study at times and in locations that are convenient for them." - Dr. Beth Mancini
Dr. Mancini continues: "Across our programs, whether the students are in our on-campus or online programs, we actively seek the opportunity to provide case-based learning. Virtual simulation provides us the technology to take case-based learning beyond the classroom and allows students to practice and study at times and in locations that are convenient for them."
Technology for Nurses
Virtual simulation doesn't stop when nursing students graduate and become licensed. "Nurses can benefit from this once they are in practice because they can review information they have learned in the past or learn new material using the virtual simulation approaches. They can continue to practice for infrequent, but important, events such as when somebody has a cardiac arrest in the hospital and you have to remember key elements of a CPR response," Dr. Mancini says. "That's infrequent, but it's high impact. By practicing using screen-based simulations nurses are able to maintain their competency so they are prepared do it right."
ADN-prepared registered nurses who enroll in UTA's RN to BSN program are seeking mechanisms to acquire new knowledge and maintain competency. Virtual simulations provide the technology for them do so throughout their nursing career. “It is very important that nurses are prepared to be self-directed, lifelong learners. The half-life of knowledge in the health professions is very short. New information is coming in every day and nurses need to keep up. There's no way what we teach you in school is going to keep you being a safe provider for the rest of your career," Mancini says. "You have to keep yourself up to date and providing access to information in fun and engaging ways makes this challenge less daunting."
UTA's Smart Hospital™
UTA doesn't stop with virtual simulation; in fact, it has an internationally recognized simulation center where students use "state-of-the-science" human patient simulators and hospital equipment to gain proficiency in various nursing roles and healthcare procedures. College of Nursing faculty integrate simulation across the curriculum to help nursing students learn, retain and apply the information they gain in the programs.
The Smart Hospital at UTA is an educational and research entity that includes a Smart Hospital and a Smart Lab. The 23-bed, 13,000-square-foot Smart Hospital enables students to concentrate on a specific practice-related area, depending on their needs. This immersive simulation center includes an emergency department, an intensive care unit and a labor/delivery suite and (like virtual simulations) helps students learn to make clinical decisions in a safe environment.
Dr. Mancini says, "We're able to put students, whether they are undergraduate or graduate students, into those environments to practice the team skills and psycho-motor task skills necessary to practice as a highly proficient and competent healthcare professional."
Thanks to innovation in simulations, nursing students no longer have to wait for a patient to present with a particular clinical condition or situation.
Virtual simulations are also being used to prepare nursing students for these immersive learning experiences. Mancini notes that much like traditional clinical sites (hospitals and clinics), simulation centers are becoming capacity constrained. "You can only put so many people through in so many hours, in so many square feet," she says. Virtual simulation allows scalability that is just not possible in immersive simulations. "As we look for scalability in our education process, we have to look for technology that's scalable and pedagogically sound." While online students may not have ready access to immersive simulation centers, they can use their computer, hand-held device, or even their cell phone to access virtual simulations that enhance their learning and ultimately increase their confidence and competence. As a learning technology, virtual simulations can engage these learners in ways that traditional lectures often does not.
All of the simulations at UTA -- both immersive and virtual -- are designed to overcome the "learning by random opportunity" associated with traditional clinical rotations. No longer do nursing students have to wait for a patient to present with a particular clinical condition or situation. By leveraging innovative educational technology, students are able to access desired clinical experiences when and where they need them.
UTA's College of Nursing and Health Innovation is dedicated to preparing its nursing students with the most up-to-date technology, so they can succeed in their nursing practice and continue to be self-directed learners long after graduation.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.