Nursing Lecturer Brings Innovation and Experience to the Online Classroom

Photo of Jennifer Cowley
College of Nursing senior lecturer Jennifer Cowley came up innovative ways to bring real-world experience to nursing students. Photo by Mark Cornelison | UK Photo, taken accordance with social distancing guidelines

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 7, 2020) When University of Kentucky faculty were tasked with taking their classroom teaching online, the College of Nursing's Jennifer Cowley was faced with the prospect of having to scrap her plan for guest speakers for her Career Management course. But with the help of UK’s Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) and the instructional designers within the College of Nursing, Cowley was able to turn her guest speaker series into a podcast.

“I teach a course for senior nursing students who are about to graduate and take their licensure exams, and I help prepare them for their careers,” said Cowley. “I brought in speakers in the past, but with COVID, that couldn’t happen.”

Cowley is developing a podcast series called “When I Grow Up” in which she interviews nurses from a number of different specialties to give her nursing students an idea of what different career paths look like. Many students, Cowley says, want to pursue careers in intensive care units or emergency departments. But this podcast, set to launch in the Spring 2021 semester, will expose them to career paths they may not have considered.

"I try to get a wide variety,” said Cowley. “I have interviewed an emergency department nurse, a flight nurse, a nurse anesthetist, midwife, a nurse practitioner, somebody with women's health background, somebody who works in the operating room, somebody who's a wound care nurse, somebody who's a hospice nurse.”

Most of the nurses Cowley interviews are her colleagues within the college or people she has met throughout her career. She also reached out to former students through social media to ask them to speak about their careers and experiences. Cowley notes that even if a student isn’t considering a particular career path, they will learn more about specialties outside their own.

“I think there is no other profession like nursing; there are so many directions you can choose,”  Cowley said. “This is going to give you a little glimpse into some of the opportunities you might consider when you grow up.”

Cowley reached out to nurses outside the clinical setting as well. She interviewed a former student who forged his own career path in nursing research, as well as Janie Heath, dean of the UK College of Nursing, to speak about her experience in nursing education and administration.

Bringing the Night Shift to the Classroom

Another innovation Cowley brought to her students is an interactive online series she calls “the night shift report.”

“I've taught for a long time, and one of the things that dawned on me about being a nursing student is the difficulty of getting reports from night shift,” said Cowley. “Everybody who is in nursing knows night shift reports typically don’t always go so smoothly. We've never had any type of formal education about how to get the report. What we always talk about is you're getting a report from someone who's been there for 13 hours and wants to go home.”

Cowley’s series is an immersive audio experience, complete with hospital sounds in the background. Three imaginary patients are presented, and based on the information provided, students have to determine which of the three patients to see first and why. There are breaks for quizzes so students can indicate how they will proceed with the information Cowley has given them. As the students proceed, the reports increase in difficulty. Cowley will present information out of order, misstate information about the imaginary patients, and sometimes will omit information intentionally so students can find the mistakes. Sometimes Cowley will throw curve balls such as including a medication that would cause the patient to have a reaction or mentioning that the report includes putting an IV in a patient with an arteriovenous fistula to see if students will catch it.

The goal of the night shift report is not just an exercise in critical thinking, but to encourage students to speak up and advocate for themselves and their patients when it comes to reporting information. Nothing included in these reports is accidental or insignificant, and students have to play detective in order to provide the best care for their patients.

Based on positive student feedback, Cowley and other instructional designers have plans to expand the report exercise, develop other applications in nursing education and conduct a study on its uses and effectiveness.

Cowley will continue to develop her online education initiatives to challenge students to think critically, ask questions and consider new paths.

“It gives people permission to think outside the box.”

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.