Peer Mentors Prove to be Strong Assets in Virtual Anatomy & Physiology Labs
By Catherine B . Kim-Safran , Alexandria C . Reid , and Makayla M . Chatman
Many nursing students perceive anatomy
and physiology ( A & P ) labs as difficult and hard to master . Strong contributors to this challenge include lack of preparedness in high school , unfamiliarity with efficient study strategies , and lack of time management skills ( Behrendts et al ., 2020 ). Although active and inclusive pedagogic instruction can partly mitigate these problems ( Freeman et al ., 2014 ; Reinke , 2019 ), the use of a top-down teaching approach rarely promotes student success if students do not feel socially engaged and connected with the rest of the class and their program . Education research shows that the use of active learning techniques is greatly enhanced through peer teaching whether it is through a study group with friends or school organized peer-learning assistance ( Nation et al ., 2020 ).
Implementation of Peer-Mentoring At Widener University , the hiring of peer-learning assistants ( PLAs ) for A & P labs became possible through a Teaching Improvement Grant from the Provost ’ s Office . The grant provided funds for PLA stipends and additional on-campus related expenses for a two-semester A & P course . A couple of months after securing funding for this project , the pandemic hit , and we were forced to move all face-to-face instruction ( including A & P laboratories ) to a strictly remote format . This unfortunate situation did not stop the project . Two highly skilled PLAs , Alexandria C . Reid and Makayla M . Chatman , both juniors in the nursing program , were hired based on their prior experience with the course learning objectives as well as their motivation and positive social interactions with peers during laboratory activities . The PLAs worked for 11 consecutive weeks with the same lab section and were given the opportunity to facilitate teaching activities . This article reports on the benefits of peer mentoring during remote learning from the perspectives of both the PLAs and the lead instructor .
PLAs Reflect on the Remote Teaching Experience The COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped nursing students who dedicated some of their time to serve as PLAs ( while being enrolled in challenging courses ).
They gained a lot of experience and learned new skills , such as facilitation of online discussions , course activity planning , and coaching through sharing study tips and knowledge of the nursing curriculum . Below are two PLAs ’ reflections on the challenges and benefits of teaching A & P remotely for the first time .
1 . As a former student in Dr . Safran ’ s A & P course who is now enrolled in upper-level nursing courses , I was delighted to participate in an A & P course as a teaching mentor during the fall semester . Virtual courses actually made it easier to participate in activities without having to rush from one in-person classroom to another . Looking back , I strongly believe that my PLA experience was beneficial to both the incoming nursing students and myself . I think that my presence benefited the students because a peer can be easier to talk to about struggles in learning the material . Assisting students in understanding the material without offering the direct answer also allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of concepts related to how the human body works . Finally , I am convinced that I have developed valuable communication and leadership skills that can assist me in my nursing career . Overall , I believe that this experience had a positive impact on the class I was assisting and also had a positive impact on me .
2 . As a junior in the nursing program , I was excited to help and inspire students during the pandemic by applying my knowledge of the A & P course . This experience was beneficial for me because it made me more outgoing . I think that my presence benefitted the students because those afraid to ask the professor for help felt more comfortable asking me questions . I am taking online courses , as well , so I definitely understand the struggle of feeling overwhelmed and problems asking questions during an online class . In fact , I think that having the presence of a PLA in my own classes would be advantageous because , often , professors do not see our questions or know when someone is in the waiting room when they share their screens ; PLAs could help with this . In sum , I believe that this teaching experience will help further my career as I may be more prepared in potentially teaching new nurses when I am a nurse practitioner and a member of a healthcare team .
16 NSNA IMPRINT n JANUARY 2021 n www . nsna . org