Rapid Change on the Fly: A Multi-Site Descriptive Study Investigating Student and Faculty Learning and Teaching Experiences during the Initial Wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Rapidly changing on the fly is the new normal. Research results capturing the experience of the student and faculty during the initial wave of the pandemic, when campuses were closed and all programming moved exclusively online, will be presented while engaging attendees to share their pandemic experiences and best practices.


Dr. Cobbett has been a nursing professor for over 35 years and recently received the Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing Excellence in Nursing Education Award. Her research has focused predominantly in the area of nursing education with a specific focus related to best pedagogical practices in online nursing education, curriculum development, program evaluation and clinical simulations. Her methodological expertise is in quantitative approaches however the majority of her research also includes a qualitative aspect in addition to the quantitative methodology. Dr. Cobbett is the Site Administrator of the BSCN Program at the Yarmouth Camus and teaches face-to-face, hybrid and fully online courses.

Extended Abstract

Extended Abstract

Rapidly changing on the fly is the new normal. Research results capturing the experience of the student and faculty during the initial wave of the pandemic, when campuses were closed and all programming moved exclusively online, will be presented while engaging attendees to share their pandemic experiences and best practices.

Learning Outcomes:

  1. To understand the experience of students and faculty teaching and learning remotely in the online environment which began in a rapid shift to the fully online environment during the COVID-19 pandemic among three universities.
  2. To acquire knowledge related to the differing perceptions between students and faculty when teaching and learning online in a professional practice profession.
  3. Contribute to the generation of best online pedagogical practices to assist with future program planning.


With the declaration of a provincial state of emergency in March 2020 related to the COVID-19 pandemic, post-secondary institutions in our province closed campuses and moved learning and teaching online to complete the winter term courses that were in progress. The three university schools of nursing offer the BSCN program on a tri-semester basis which includes a 12-week spring/summer semester that is normally comprised of theory and clinical practice courses. With the suspension of clinical placement for student learners in most clinical practice areas, schools worked rapidly on the fly to rearrange the course offerings to increase theory in the spring/summer semester, move this learning to the online environment and shift clinical practice to the fall semester, as well as adding virtual clinical simulation to student learning throughout the spring/summer courses.  Little did we know at this time that the pandemic would continue into the years ahead.

Literature Review

The literature review prior to the implementation of this research yielded few results beyond editorials, student and faculty reflections, and blog postings in relation to COVID-19. Rose (2020) provided a viewpoint related to medical education and the need to transition theory courses to the online environment, including small group work and examinations, and stressed that the transitions from the work world to the home world results in isolation, increased use of email, and struggles with establishing boundaries between work and home. An editorial (Bauchner & Sharfstein, 2020) called for a suspension of medical education in the US for the fall of 2020 and enrolling those students in an online service program for Public Health while others (Harvey, 2020; Mahase, 2020) are advocating for early registration of medical students and newly educated doctors. Crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, is fluid with requirements and plans changing on daily and even hourly basis. Thus, it is imperative that educators be innovative and leverage technology to rise to the current challenge of maintaining quality education (Liang, Ooi, & Wang, 2020). The key to harnessing the current pandemic as an opportunity lies with a thorough evaluation of the learning and teaching that has occurred in an abrupt, almost immediate move from the face-to-face to the online learning environment. The team was unable to locate any published research studies related to the nursing student or faculty experience of learning and teaching in the online environment during the COVID-19 pandemic while in a provincial/national/global state of emergency. It is crucial that we learn from the experience of students and faculty to evaluate the novel and innovative approaches to learning that occurred and prioritize a well-thought out and scholarly plan for future educational programming. However, since the completion of this study there have been numerous publications related to teaching and learning during the pandemic that are beyond the scope of this literature review.


The purpose of this research was to gather the student and faculty experience of rapidly shifting learning and teaching to a solely online environment in three universities during a global pandemic. The intent of this multi-site research was to capture what it was like to be a student, or a faculty member, during the initial wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time of this research, the team was not aware that this was just the first of many pandemic waves that we would experience over the coming years.

The study population is all nursing students who were currently enrolled at the three Universities in semester/term 3 through 8 and all undergraduate nursing faculty who taught online during the spring/summer semester 2020 during this initial wave.

The research questions were:

  1. What was the experience of nursing students and faculty learning and teaching in the fully online environment during the COVID-19 pandemic at three universities in the same province?
  2. Is there a relationship between the student perception and the faculty perception of the effectiveness, engagement, and comfort in the online learning/teaching experience?

Using a descriptive survey design, participants were invited to complete an online survey related to their experience of learning or teaching in the fully online environment. Two surveys were administered: The Student Survey of Online Learning Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Faculty Survey of Online Teaching Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic. Demographic and quantitative data was analyzed using descriptive (frequencies, means, modes) statistics to describe the sample, the experience from the faculty and student perspective and inferential (t-test) to investigate any perceptual differences between the faculty and the student perspective related to the effectiveness, engagement, and comfort in the online learning/teaching experience. Qualitative data was analyzed using thematic analysis following a six-step process as outlined by Braun and Clarke (2006). The resulting knowledge provides an in-depth understanding of the learning and teaching experience during a global pandemic that will be invaluable to inform future program planning in relation to online learning and teaching in a professional practice profession.


The study sample consisted of 195 undergraduate nursing students (response rate 31%) and 38 faculty (response rate 74.5%). Sample characteristics will be presented in relation to years of experience teaching, program level of students, geographical location, and experience/comfort in the online environment. Faculty and student perceptual similarities will be outlined as well as those areas that were statistically significantly different (top three most used educational technologies, preference for synchronous versus asynchronous learning, effectiveness, and course engagement).

The qualitative data will be presented accompanied by implications for future online learning and teaching. Three main themes were identified from the qualitative data with 10 sub-themes: Relationships (Social Isolation, Virtual Relations, Communication), Learning and Teaching (Environment, Evaluation), and Mental Health (Academic Shock, The Waiting Game, Technology, Resiliency, Work-life balance). Lastly, best practices that emerged from our research in relation to building capacity for good, online educational practices will be presented. Attendees will be invited to share their best practices that were realized during the pandemic based upon their experiences and observations, to continue to build collective capacity for online learning and teaching.

Throughout the pandemic many system efficiencies have been realized and it is important to capitalize on the successes while mitigating the challenges encountered. In these difficult times it was imperative that we captured this experience to inform us as we move forward to implement the realized opportunities to continue to enhance online learning and teaching.


The last couple of years have been anything but normal in our global world, including institutions of higher education, with the only true “given” in our lives being that change is ongoing at warp speed. Changing on the fly has become a part of what we do almost every day, at times even hour by hour- a metamorphosis that was not predicted nor welcomed. This research has captured the experience from the learner and the teacher perspective at the beginning of the global pandemic providing an historical record of information to inform future program planning.


Bauchner, H., & Sharfstein, J. (2020). A bold response to the COVID-19 pandemic: Medical students, national service, and public health. Jama, doi: https://dx-doi-org.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/10.1001/jama.2020.6166 

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.

Harvey, A. (2020). Covid-19: Medical students and FY1 doctors to be given early registration to help combat covid-19. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 368, m1268. doi: https://dx-doi-org.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/10.1136/bmj.m1268

Liang, Z. C., Ooi, S. B. S., & Wang, W. (2020). Pandemics and their impact on medical training: Lessons from singapore. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, doi: https://dx-doi-org.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/10.1097/ACM.0000000000003441

Mahase, E. (2020). Covid-19: Medical students to be employed by NHS as part of epidemic response. BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.), 368, m1156. doi: https://dx-doi-org.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/10.1136/bmj.m1156

Rose, S. (2020). Medical student education in the time of COVID-19. Jama, doi: https://dx-doi-org.ezproxy.library.dal.ca/10.1001/jama.2020.5227