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RN navigates road to successful online education

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I decided to return to school for my master’s in nursing education after opportunities to precept and mentor new employees began to come my way, and I realized I enjoyed teaching new graduates the role of an ICU nurse and working with colleagues on the unit education council. I had achieved my goals of specialty certifications and leadership roles in the clinical setting. When the opportunity to have my tuition partially covered presented itself, I set forth in pursuit of my dream.

I settled on a school that had a brick-and-mortar campus, but its nursing education master’s degree program was completely online. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but I was willing to give it a try. I completed the application and was accepted into the program.

When the course opened and I had access to the virtual classroom, I felt lonely and isolated. There was no one to greet me at the front of the class and read the syllabus page by page and explain each detail. I was on my own. I timidly clicked through each section in the classroom, including assignments, announcements, discussion boards and much more.

The biggest surprise was the expectations for participation on the discussion board: when the boards opened, when they closed, how many times I needed to post and to how many of my classmates I needed to respond. I couldn’t just agree with a classmate’s post, but had to respond with a critical analysis and a reference for just about every word typed. I found myself referencing my own thoughts.

If I skipped logging into the course for a few days, I would miss segments of lively online discussion that would go silent quickly. I recognized discipline was going to play a large role in my success in the program.

My classmates and I started to become a little more familiar with each other a few weeks into the course. We started to recognize that we were on the same journey, with the same questions and fears. We began connecting in the student chat rooms and collaborating on group projects. We became like a little online nursing community, supporting one another every step of the way, even though we knew each other only by the pictures we were required to post with our introductions.

The only regret I have is that I did not attend the graduation ceremony. I didn’t think it was worth it to travel to a large campus with which I had no affiliation, where I could not recognize any favorite locations. Looking back, I wish I had gone. I’d been a student at the school, even if on a virtual basis. I enjoyed my experience and should have concluded it in my cap, gown and hood.

I went on to accept a faculty position at a local community college, teaching pediatrics and growing in the areas of theory and clinical practice. My assigned courses were taught in hybrid format with an online component. My online education had prepared me well to be in the driver’s seat of the virtual classroom. I was able to use my experience as a student to enhance how I interacted with my class. The students appreciated the timely responses to posted questions and my involvement on the discussion boards.

After much contemplation and guidance I decided to return to school for my PhD in nursing education, and chose again to attend online. I no longer feel isolated when I enter the virtual classroom. I understand it is an ideal way to learn that allows for flexibility and creativity.

To those thinking about pursuing an online nursing education, I would say to give it a try but don’t take it for granted. I would recommend getting engaged in the virtual classroom early and following the syllabus carefully. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to your professor or your classmates. Use the email system within the classroom and the student chat rooms. Post meaningful responses to the discussion questions and engage with your classmates daily. Online learning definitely is what you make it. •

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About Author

Sonique Sailsman, RN, MSNEd, CPN, CCRN, is a faculty student mentor for nursing at Western Governors University (an online school) and a full-time online doctoral student at Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

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