Gathering together


Gather: Offering A Superficial Novelty or Genuine Pedagogy Promise?

By Matt Birch and Helen Kerr


The QUB School of Nursing and Midwifery Staff Development Committee chaired by Dr Helen Kerr organise a biennial Staff Development Day to support all categories of staff in maximising their working role potential and to encourage time out from one’s routine work environment. Although typically facilitated at Riddel Hall, QUB, the Covid-19 restrictions in 2021 compelled committee member Matt Birch to devise a solution that would allow the event and activities to occur remotely.  Although lockdown had resulted in staff gaining varying degrees of exposure to traditional conferencing tools like MS Teams and Zoom, the Committee felt staff were so accustomed to this modality, that a new, engaging approach should be considered. It was for this reason that Matt developed a bespoke virtual conferencing environment using Gather.

What is Gather?

Although described as a web-conferencing platform, Gather is special, as it affords users the ability to build ‘physical’ 3D graphical spaces, where avatar representations of participants can interact with objects and other live participants, in much the same way as in popular quest games like World of Warcraft. This affordance for legitimate spatial exploration and meaningful interactivity was why the platform was favoured over conventional tools, as it allowed for the mimicry of “real-world” rules, such as having to approach people to start conversations and being intentionally responsible for moving oneself to certain locations to view or interact with certain things.

How Gather was used

Event content had been developed based on a survey, which asked staff to comment on what they wished to experience on the day. Although much of this preparation occurred prior to the event moving online, the inclusion of interactive whiteboards, podiums, and video projectors within the Gather environment added an immersive aspect to processing, thus helping those in attendance feel more like they were in an authentic classroom or conference setting. Efforts were even made to extend activities beyond the formal, through the inclusion of a yoga room, a treasure hunt, and a real working cinema. Most significantly, immersive activity was achieved while also retaining all the standard features of a traditional web- conferencing experience including instant messaging (IM), screen sharing, as well as webcam and microphone control. This meant that Gather afforded a healthy combination of familiarity and novelty, therefore, emphasising intuition, engagement, and challenge.

Over 70 staff attended, with the agenda including a Keynote presentation from Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell and other presentations from staff at QUB on positive mental health, connected learning and embedding the ICARE values to one’s professional roles. The day was topped off with a quiz and a staff family photo of everyone’s self-created avatars

Image Of Staff Family Photo

Staff reviews were unanimously positive with 39 completed evaluations, which demonstrated a score of 4.2 out of 5 in terms of how much staff enjoyed the platform, and 4.2 out of 5 for how much they enjoyed the event.

Some Considerations

Having run a critical eye over the platform, we did see some important considerations, rather than out and out limitations, although the absence of a platform native video recording tool should be remedied. Firstly, although Gather is free for activities for up to 25 people, a payment is necessary for larger groups. This payment is based on attendee numbers, which makes it reasonable for one-off events, however, this could become expensive if one wished to run an event over a series of days. There are technical considerations, as Gather seems to perform excellently well in Chrome but exhibits an array of glitches when accessed via other browsers, which is not great for students and educators who use tools like Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Firefox. There are socio-cultural considerations, in the sense that although staff were free to explore and chat with whomever they wished, some staff noted they felt anxious to speak, for fear of not knowing who might hear. This is understandable, given a year of becoming conditioned to always being attentive to whether one’s webcam or microphone is active within live calls. This leads to one final consideration, which is that although the avatar of a participant may be visible in a Gather environment, there is no guarantee the person controlling it is paying attention or is even still participating. This is reminiscent of students remaining logged into web-conferences, even after a lecture has concluded. This suggests spontaneous interaction may be the only way to verify attendance.

Implications For Teaching and Learning

Gather provides much potential. For instance, although Gather could be seen as one in an increasingly long line of platforms, its capacity to mimic the proximity related rules of the real-world within 3D-spaces provides genuine opportunities to exploit active learning that goes beyond the superficial. For example, scenario-based roleplaying could provide opportunities for authentic knowledge application activities.

Additionally, one’s ability to independently move around the Gather environment in ways not possible in conventional conferencing offers potential for heighten learner-centred activities. For instance, in a conventional web-conference, students typically wait to view or present a poster in some prescribed sequential order. In Gather, posters can be placed throughout a digital room, thereby granting students a heightened locus of control over which posters they wish to view and when. This may seem trivial but imagine how this heightened locus of control could be exploited in the creation of WebQuests.

In fact, Gather’s free integrated map builder tool, as well as the platforms library of pre-built environments, means that educators are only limited by their own imagination, as any environment design, can be mapped out and produced with a little time, effort, and creative flair. Finally, although somewhat limited in customisation options, the fluidity of the avatar creation tool may also offer benefits to learning activities where an instantaneous or continuous change of appearance is important. 

Gather Map Building Tool


So, does Gather offer superficial novelty or genuine pedagogy promise? We think the latter, but you must decide for yourself. The key to successfully implementing platforms like Gather is letting the learning requirements, purpose and expected goals determine what product or process (if any) should be implemented. Gather may not be the solution to all your online learning needs but it certainly aligns well with plenty of pedagogic use cases.  


A New Mental Health Nursing blog

The mental health team recently started their own blog on mental health nursing and the connectedness that it bring with students and the wider mental health family. Here, blog editor Colin Hughes introduces the mental health nursing blog.

The first school blog- ‘connected learning’ – that launched late last year is I feel a very timely resource for both Staff and Students.  In many ways this blog demonstrates the need to highlight the similarities we share across all fields of Nursing and Midwifery, rather than working in an isolated fashion it is important to connect with each other to improve our practice.  

This leads to improved competency and confidence and a better joined up service provision which can only improve the lives of those we care for.  This concept of improved service delivery through a greater shared understand, via connected knowledge transfer has been highlighted by the creation of the Nursing and Midwifery’s (NMC) (2020) new pre-registration educational standards.  Enshrined within these educational standards we see a greater emphasis on the similarities shared by all fields of Nursing and an acknowledgement that we can no longer practice in ‘silos’, rather we need an enhanced understanding of each other’s practice areas. 

This additional knowledge is not about becoming an expert in all areas but is about having additional knowledge and skills which allow us to improve the physical and psychological wellbeing of those under our care.  These additional but less specified skills also permit for more efficient pathways of care a ‘connected network’ which allows for better understanding of and sharing of information.  All of this greater understanding and sharing of information through a new open connected and collegiate relationship does not diminish the role of the field specific practitioner, but simply allows for a better practitioner.  This new connected agenda can only be promoted and moved forward through greater understanding of each other and each other’s profession, facilitated by the NMC’s (2020) new standards.  Of course, this can only work if we in education in collaboration with our service side partners and all stakeholders, embrace rather than resist this new philosophy.

The Connected Learning Blog is a platform which can act as a natural fulcrum for us all to present knowledge, ask questions provide answers to help all of us in this journey of open understanding.  The Mental Health Nursing Blog perhaps the first of several field specific blogs is one which will support the philosophy of the Connect Learning Blog and one of shared understanding and learning.  This can only be successful if we all engage with these platforms, while it is true  common early adopters of these platforms will be staff and within the staff body those comfortable in the use of such platforms,  it is important that students, patients, carers, service colleagues and all those interested in improving patient care ‘connect together’ to push this agenda forward.  Improving our understanding of each other, broadening our own knowledge base, understanding, and embracing each other’s perspective and fields can only improve the care we can deliver to our patients and their carers. 

The Mental Health Nursing blog can be found here

Where there is a student nurse…there is an idea !


Laura Creighton & Alison Smart  

Innovative Student Nurses

Alison: I think as nurses and student nurses we are in the best position to be change agents and implement innovations to enable better practice, facilitating better patient care. Nurses in practice, within education and as leaders problem solve everyday and find excellent solutions to difficult and complex problems. When clinical practice is questioned, you may hear “that’s the way it is done” or when an alternative is suggested that “it doesn’t make sense”. This could be in relation to service delivery and operational systems within the hospital. With this in mind and the new curriculum on the horizon I was chomping at the bit to ensure the nurses of the future are encouraged to be innovators. Laura joined the team and we got our thinking hats on for a creative way to get the students to channel their inner Deborah Meade and the Dragons Den SNOM style was born.

Dragons Den was born

Laura: After a decade of clinical nursing, I cannot begin to express how refreshing it was to see the concepts that our students came up with.

We are a dynamic workforce, with a multi-faceted role that keeps on expanding. In the COVID-19 global pandemic, nurses, midwives and students in practice stepped up to the mark, reorganising services, so an increased number of patients could be cared for, with a drive to push through to better times. Our year one undergraduate nursing innovations project aims to inspire students to have the confidence to suggest changes in practice and education.

Nurse, midwives and students stepped up during the pandemic

Our first year students had three short weeks in placement due to the pandemic and threw themselves into every opportunity. Their innovative ideas as part of the SONM Dragon’s Den challenge, spanned from patient improvement projects, to how to improve their educational journey. Some ideas were already in practice but the students brought a fresh perspective and suggested new approaches.

We used tutorial classes to brainstorm innovations. The students were put into break out rooms and given 30 minutes to develop their idea and a selection for the final was decided on their pitch to fellow classmates. The final of the SONM Dragon’s Den was a sixty second pitch on the innovation. We had four judges Professor Donna Fitzsimons, Professor Karen McCutcheon, Maggie Bennett and Doris Corkin.

The top three innovations

1. Pre-placement visits
2. Cultural awareness App
3.Coloured vital signs equipment for children
School of Nursing and Midwifery Dragons Den Season 1 winners

The Winning Team:

Naomi Webb, Catherine Williamson, Fionnuala Whyte, Anna Whiteside and Evelyn Whithorn (AD10- Year 1 Undergraduate Nurses)

Taking part in the innovations project was energising and enlightening. As a group we appreciated the competitive nature of the challenge and enjoyed hearing others’ ideas across the cohort. Our innovation was centred on student familiarisation for practice and a product of a lengthy video call. We considered the issues we had faced so far, on our nursing journey and agreed the importance of being prepared for clinical practice. We focussed on how student anxiety could be alleviated prior to placement, through an introduction to the area.

We are delighted we won the innovations project! Our idea has been taken on board and will be implemented by the school of Nursing and Midwifery here at Queen’s University. We are thrilled by our achievement. It only takes one small idea to make a difference and anyone can do this. We feel confident to suggest more positive innovations in the future as nurses.

Thank you for reading. If you would like further details please get in touch, we are happy to share our experience.

Alison and Laura

Alison Smart is a lecturer (Education) in Adult Nursing and module leader in Health Assessment. Alison’s clinical background is within neuro-critical care and stroke.

Laura Creighton joined the School of Nursing and Midwifery as lecturer (Education) in adult nursing at Queen’s University Belfast in August 2020. As an intensive care nurse she continues to work clinical shifts at the weekend, through the pandemic.


All in this together….staying connected


In this post Pauline Cardwell, Year 2 Lead and Lecturer in Children’s and Young Peoples Nursing, reflects on the difference connection can make.

It is hard to believe we are almost 10 months into this pandemic event, which has caused each and every one of us to review and reflect on every aspect of our lives, personally, professionally and as a community.  This evolving and uncertain period of time has challenged us as individuals and has also afforded us some real opportunities to create and deliver on new ways of working, providing engaging and inspiring learning activities, whilst being mindful of the human cost individually, whilst ultimately remembering we are all trying to navigate this difficult and unpredictable time.

Essence of nursing

Nursing has always prided itself on being a caring and compassionate career, where at the heart of its DNA is the privilege to care for individuals and communities at vulnerable, challenging, difficult and joyous times in their lives. This act of caring is the essence of ‘what we do’, to hold the hand of someone who is frightened or scared of the journey ahead or celebrating the end of a successful treatment plan, a newfound independence, a recovery made, or a new life delivered. Whilst this may be the essence of nursing it can sometimes require a heavy payment. We have all seen so many images of those heroes after a demanding, draining and sometimes devastating shift and still we come back and do it all again.

Every one of us has paid the cost in a plethora of ways. The worry of supporting each other, hoping we can deliver a curriculum fit for the future and as educationalists caring for our students. I experienced this acutely one day in November where I unexpectedly was contacted by a student in distress, they were overwhelmed at the acuity and challenging clinical environment they were currently working in. The student was upset, tearful and visibly distressed, the wise ward manager had asked them to take a break and suggested taking a walk outside to assist in reducing the stress they were feeling.

The power of connection

It was a bright, clear day and I reassured the student I was here to listen and asked them to explain what they were feeling. I felt the need to assist the student to achieve some grounding and perspective of what they were feeling, and I asked them to describe what they could see and if there was any greenery around. The student allowed me to view their surroundings and I noted a tree nearby and asked them to do something for me, I asked the student to go to the tree and rest their palm against the trunk of the tree. Initially, they were reluctant to carry out the activity, I reassured them I was with them and encouraged them to go ahead and trust me. We then both closed our eyes and I asked them to focus on their breathing. I then began to talk quietly and calmly to the student asking them to consider how the tree had lost its leaves and looked ‘dead’ essentially but also consider that come spring the tree would bud again and burst into life once more. I noted their breathing patterned had calmed and their speech was not as rushed as previously. Eventually we concluded the conversation when the student felt able to return to their shift.

Making a difference to others

Reflecting on this event, I feel grateful I had the opportunity and privilege to support this student at such a personally vulnerable time for them. On further consideration I truly appreciate that this is truly a momentous time for our professions, we are courageous, we are caring, we are compassionate but ultimately, we are human. So, my wish for us all as we move forward and hopefully to a more ‘normal’ way of life is to; be kind to ourselves and others, be keen to learn, develop and progress and to be confident we are capable of delivering, growing and most of all making a difference for others.

#proudofourstudents #IloveNursing

Iain and Maggie reflect on the development of the School of Nursing and Midwifery Blog


A blog was born

It was at a meeting of the Connected learning group that the idea of a blog to showcase our experiences with moving to a connected learning environment was first mooted. An off-the-cuff comment and our less than thought through response and this blog was born. At that stage neither of us had any experience in developing or running blogs.  This semester has been a steep learning curve.  Below we take some time to reflect on our experiences of the first semester.

One semester

Fifteen Posts

22 authors


A forum for colleagues to share good practice

Being connected is fundamental in nursing. It is that connectedness, both with ourselves and with the people and families that we are privileged to look after, that sets nursing and midwifery apart from our colleagues in other disciplines. We set out to provide a forum for colleagues to showcase good practice and to begin discussion and debate about how we move forward in an uncertain time. It was a way of us connecting with each other in the absence of the water cooler and kitchen. We hoped that people would learn from each other, and that some of the ideas you read might influence your practice going forward. Neither of us ever anticipated such a positive experience and level of engagement.

Developing digital communities, looking after yourself, moving classroom activities online and getting feedback from our students have all featured in the first 15 posts. There has been a wealth of learning and it has been a fantastic opportunity for reflection for us and, by way of example, with an average of over 36 reviews per day in the last fifteen days, it would appear that others are getting some benefit from it as well.

A vehicle to share creativity

For us though, it is the enthusiasm and warmth in the blog that has struck a chord. Colleagues and students have been offering ideas, posts and supportive comments throughout the semester. This is testament to the professionalism and creativity of the staff and students in the school. The School of Nursing and Midwifery have a lot to be proud of and this blog is a vehicle for highlighting that.

Increasing readership

The New Year brings new opportunities for the blog. The QUB Digital learning blog recently approached us asking to repost some of the blog posts with full recognition that the original was posted here. That will increase our readership and also further highlight the good work we do across the University. We invite you to stay connected with us,  by telling us about what you’re getting up to.

We would love to hear from you in 2021

Are you a creative teacher, or have you adopted something from a classroom to a digital setting? Perhaps you are a student and getting on the receiving end of what the staff are doing. Either way, we would love to hear from you. 

To contribute please email Maggie or Iain  at the School of Nursing and Midwifery.

Thank you

Iain and Maggie

Decorate your door/ Wall/ Space for Christmas


By Michelle Mullan

I need to start this blog with a disclaimer – at home I do not decorate until the middle of December, but in work…… a totally different story!

It all started 15 years ago in Elmwood Avenue

It has been a long-standing tradition in the unit I work in (Continuing Professional and Academic Development) that we put our tree up on the day before Belfast City Council hold their switch on.  We started this over 15 years ago when we worked in Elmwood Avenue and which we continued when we moved back into MBC and merged with our clerical colleagues in undergraduate nursing. This would normally be a big event around 16th November with ‘special guests’ to do the switch on and an opportunity for a coffee morning.  One year we actually had Frosty the Snowman and the man himself, Mr Claus, in attendance!  Our office has a large glass door and about 4 years ago we idly chatted about how we could turn it into the entrance to Santa’s Grotto, and we did!  There was a lot of brainstorming involved, plus some cardboard and a brick wallpaper, then came the challenge of erecting it!  Then a couple of years ago we thought it would be a good idea to turn this into a fundraising opportunity and encourage everyone in the School to decorate their doors for Christmas whilst donating money to a chosen charity.   Our grotto door was exempt because, well, it was just too good!!

Annual event

The Decorate your Door for Christmas campaign was so well received that we decided to roll this out annually.  How staff decorate their doors (or not!) is entirely up to them.  We have a vote for the winner who receives a trophy (one out of a bag of six from the pound shop, but prestigious nonetheless).   The fundraising from the campaign has gone to a cancer charity and Cruse Bereavement Care. 

Foodbank donations

Now, the School of Nursing and Midwifery is constantly evolving in all aspects of School life, so when one of the lecturers mentioned a reverse advent calendar – putting something in instead of taking out – I thought, why not!  To do this, we obviously had to have a collection point, and so the fireplace was born, complete with chimney, stockings and roaring (fake) flames!   Staff were asked to donate foodstuff for the foodbank and, thanks to the generosity of the School staff, we have been able to donate over 80kg of food to the foodbank in each of the last two years. 

More than ever in 2020 sections of our society are struggling and the work of charities is so important for many who may never have had to access them before. 

Christmas doors decorated in the SONM QUB

This year is a bit different

This year we are running a “Decorate your Door/Wall/Space for Christmas” and no fake backgrounds are allowed!  Staff have been asked to decorate the space behind them. I’m in my kitchen, but others are in home offices, craft rooms, playrooms, living rooms, bedrooms or dining rooms!  Some will go all out (OK, I will!) and others will throw a bit of tinsel over the door handle, and that doesn’t matter, it’s the taking part (and donating the money) that counts. 

Chosen charities

The chosen charities for 2020 will be the foodbank (because we cannot have a food collection) and Women’s Aid.  To enable this a PayPal pool was established and whilst I have not seen any evidence of decorating just yet, the contributions are coming in and that’s what is important. 

Thank you

I think it is timely to thank everyone who takes part every year. Some like to groan and complain and walk about muttering something about ‘bah humbug’ and ‘it’s too early’, some are all in and others just like to enjoy the craic, but everyone contributes something and that only emphasises the sense of community we have in our School which is fostered by our Head of School who has been so supportive of all our mad ideas!  Christmas in July anyone??

Please donate by 11th December 2020!

PayPal Pool – Decorate your Doors – Donation  

Michelle Mullan

Michelle has worked in the School of Nursing & Midwifery since the Colleges of Nursing integrated with Queens in 1997 and her role entails working in CPAD providing administrative support for all of the commissioned programmes and post reg Masters students both local and international. Outside of work Michelle is involved in archery and an Akela for a Cub Scout Group. 

Empathy + Communication = Connection

To mark International Mens Day, School of Nursing and Midwifery Head of School, Prof. Donna Fitzsimons reflects on the connection made between her brother when he was ill and a male nurse, and argues that the profession and our patients would benefit from more men in nursing.

My name is Donna Fitzsimons and I’d like to share a short story with you that as a Head of a busy School of Nursing & Midwifery where less than 10% of our undergraduate students are male, I tend to reflect on quite a lot. 

It starts some 20 years ago now, when my brother Joe was 32 and he was diagnosed with a Ewing’s Sarcoma in his spine. This was a big shock to Joe who was an average sort of guy – a builder, married with three kids and a strong circle of family and friends. He was very much a man’s man, if you know what I mean, liked a pint with his mates and a game of golf at the weekend.

From the word ‘Go’, the odds were 50/50 at best, and the gruelling 3 weekly chemo would last almost a year and require a minimum of 3 days hospitalisation for each one. A self-employed guy, Joe had to give up work, he lost his hair and he was pretty sick and sore. Despite that he loved a joke, was competitive on the Mirror Crossword and when I called up to see him at lunchtimes he was usually found begging the nurses to speed the drip and let him out of there. He hated living in pyjamas, wasting daylight and going bald. 

More importantly he hated sympathy or being treated as a sick person and that’s where Mark came in. He was a Staff Nurse on the chemo unit, always ready to have chat about his golf game, or seek Joe’s advice on how to fix a leaking flat or get new double glazing. Mark saw beyond the pallid guy pushing a drip around and helped Joe connect with his usual identity. They developed a therapeutic connection that really made that treatment journey less toxic to my brother; and all the more so when the cancer returned – when treatment had to start all over again, and when Joe acknowledged his days were numbered. 

In those days Mark came into his own and helped Joe get his head round some of the most challenging of physical and mental issues – usually with a joke or a pat on the back and a palpable ‘we’re in this together’, shoulder to shoulder approach.  Mark was a fabulous nurse, he had great empathy and communication skills, exemplifying that these are not gender specific qualities and that they are at the very heart of our professional practice as nurses and midwives.

I often reflect whether this was a gender issue? Were all the female nurses who cared for Joe in such an exemplary way not able to provide the kind of support that he got from Mark, just because they weren’t a man? I don’t really believe that. But what I do believe is that because roughly 50% of patients are men, we need to rectify the gender balance in our profession. 

Diversity and inclusion are a top priority for Nursing & Midwifery. I think our professions provide wonderful opportunities for career development and job satisfaction, and despite all of the inherent challenges that we face, we are also privileged to have rewarding and enriching careers. Currently we also have job security and reasonable pensions to enable us to provide for our families. So let’s stop worrying about the optics and do what we know in our hearts is the right thing to do – shout it from the rooftops – patients need men in Nursing & Midwifery and so do the professions.

Prof. Donna Fitzsimons

CPAD and Connected Learning

In this post Prof. Michael Brown reflects on the challenges to, and opportunities for CPAD in the School of Nursing and Midwifery by moving to a connected learning model.

As most people know, CPD stands for Continuing Professional Development and is the term used to describe the learning activities professionals engage in to develop and enhance their knowledge, skills and abilities.  Evidencing Continuing Professional Development is a requirement of revalidation by the Nursing and Midwifery Council every three years. The evidence required can take different forms which creates exciting and innovative opportunities for nurses and midwives.  CPD activities that often spring to mind include the mandatory elements required by the job, such as Equality and Diversity updates; the list of mandatory updates seems to grow every year.  Other examples of CPD might relate to education and training regarding specific developments regarding new treatments and interventions, necessary to enable nurses and midwives to deliver safe and effective patient care. For colleagues working in higher education, the focus may be on activities such as new technologies to support Connected Learning approaches to delivering education.  

The pandemic has seen a rapid increase in the need to move from ‘traditional’ teaching and learning approaches where we meet face-to-face with students and get to know the individual learner. For us all this is the heart of what motivates us within higher education. The move to Connected Learning brings many challenges and opportunities. It has been challenging to move rapidly to develop new learning materials and resources for on-line delivery with limited time, sometimes leaving the feeling of being a bit under prepared and flying by the seat of our pants. Chocks away!   Chocks away conjures up the image of the start of a journey with a planned destination, yet where the route is less clear.  

The opportunities involve a period of self-reflection on personal approaches to pedagogy per se and approaches to teaching and learning.  From a personal perspective the move to Connected Learning has presented an opportunity to think about what motivates ne as an educator and how I can continue to sustain it during these ‘unprecedented times’ to use a much-used phrase from the BBC.  Having little choice but to adopt new teaching and learning strategies has not been a bad thing. Stressful at times, yes, but not a bad thing.  It is often too easy to adopt a Manjana approach of ‘tomorrow’ as there is always a list of other priorities that need to be met.  Working collaboratively with academic and IT colleagues to share knowledge, skills and ‘know-how’ has been invaluable.  Without sharing newly acquired knowledge and skills many of us would struggle in a rapidly changing higher education environment.  

Recognising the opportunities and the challenges leads me to reflect on the ones presented to our students.  Many are working in health and social care services providing essential care and support to patients and their families while at the same time coping with changing life circumstances and uncertainty. As the School of Nursing and Midwifery lead for Continuing Academic and Professional Development, I have the privilege to lead a team of perfectly formed academics and to work with first rate administrators.  The role gives a clear overview of the education programmes, courses and modules provided. It is a complex picture of academic levels, studied ate different times full-time and part-time. We have a mix of local students undertaking studies to support development and delivery of health and social care service.  Studies which are coupled with professional demands and family commitments.  International students, often with their government’s support choose Queen’s to undertake further study. 

Yet, despite these demands, students have risen to the challenge of adapting to our Connected Learning approach to continue with their studies.  The new journey has been forced upon us all and is not how we would have planned it.  However, while it is clear that there remain challenges to be overcome, there are new opportunities to change our teaching and learning practice for the future, thereby opening the learning opportunities for students of the future.  To quote C.S Lewis who wrote many books including the Chronicles of Narnia, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” 

Why not add your thoughts or comments by posting in the comments section below

Continuing Professional Development during COVID-19

‘Please remember many of us are working full time, trying to provide a service as well as studying”

I have always worked full time throughout my career, incorporating both work and education which can be challenging. Whether it’s an age thing but to me education should be conducted within university and not on-line. I firmly believe that you learn more within a classroom as it enables you to partake, ask relevant questions and gain knowledge and experience from both the lecturer and fellow colleagues. I don’t agree that this is achievable to the same standard when classes are online. 

My reason for this is as follows, 

I had never heard of Canvas until last year, even though I had completed a recent Intensive Care Nursing course in Queen’s University Belfast a few years previous. Technology constantly changes and unless you use it every day I feel you can fall behind very quickly.

I have worked in ICU and have trained hospital staff on how to use equipment, so I have excellent knowledge on medical devices however I don’t feel confident about Information Technology (IT), simply because I have very little interest! Believe it or not I actually like to communicate face to face, an art which I find sadly lacking in some nursing students and nurses today. To prepare for online classes during Covid-19, which I appreciate is unique and challenging time for all, I asked my NHS employer to ensure I had access to the required platform. Unfortunately my request could not be accommodated by the Trust and the platform could not be accessed from the Trust computers. This caused me a huge amount of stress at an already stressful time. Not only was I still providing a service during Covid-19, I was also anxious that I was going to miss out on valuable information required for my module and exam.  

After numerous conversations with my lecturer, who was very supportive, I was able to connect to the next class although very anxious that I might lose internet connection, sound, video link, etc. Once connected the quality wasn’t great, other class members struggled to get and stay connected and sound quality was poor. 

I had been reassured that classes would be recorded and could be watched at another time, should the technology let me down. However, other than my allocated day at university I unfortunately don’t have the time to go back and re-watch a class. My days off are and will be spent preparing for my exams as well as fitting in normal life activities outside work and study. 

Providing lecture material well in advance of the online class is so important. When presentations are not available at least 24 hours in advance, it causes unnecessary stress. Personally I like to be prepared,and not rely on my printer the night before or morning of the online class. If I do lose internet connection, for whatever reason, having the relevant written material in front of me enables me to work through it and make the most of the protected time.  

Consistency in communication is key and has been challenging throughout my course. Sometimes we would receive emails vis Queens online other times via Canvas, all I ask is pick one and use it, don’t have me guessing!

 I appreciate that Covid-19 is a difficult time for us all,  but to support post registration students through their programme of study please remember many of us are working full time, trying to provide a service as well as studying. The university needs to ensure that staff unfamiliar to studying online receive extra support, to get them through their course successfully and ensure that they actually enjoy learning and don’t see it as a burden, and that information is provided in a timely manner. 

About the author:

Sharlene, has been a qualified nurse for 27years, and has worked and studied in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland.  Her varied career which includes, Accident + Emergency, Surgical High Dependency, Outreach as Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Intensive Care Nursing and most recently as a Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist.