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Getting personal

Teaching Tuesday: Dr. Caroline Porr

Teaching and Learning

By Marcia Porter

As Dr. Caroline Porr gets ready to teach 80 first-year nursing students this fall, she’s keeping interpersonal skills top of mind.

Dr, Caroline Porr plans to stimulate learning, and engage hearts and minds in her Developing Therapeutic Relations class.
Photo: Submitted

“Never have I wanted to think more about my students on a personal level than I do now,” said Dr. Porr, an associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing.

“Some will be new high school graduates, quite a few are mature students, and they may be dealing with anxiety and extra stressors now because of COVID-19.”

Personal and professional insight

She can well understand pandemic-induced anxiety. During the early days of March, on the verge of a global shutdown, Dr. Porr moved her elderly mother into her home, and ventured out very little in the following weeks.

Teaching nurses online in the faculty’s master of nursing program this past winter and spring semesters has also given her insight into life on the front lines of the pandemic in hospitals and community care settings across Canada.

“This fall, I’m going to do as much as I can to be personal, to share my own concerns, to share my own anxiety.” — Dr. Caroline Porr

Master’s students talked about holding the hands of a dying patient, praying with them and stepping in for family who were not permitted to visit because of hospital restrictions.

Another student shared what it was like to be the town mayor and nurse in a community with active cases of COVID-19, responsible for co-ordinating community emergency operations while working extra shifts in the local hospital to cover for staff in self-quarantine.

Heart-warming and heart-wrenching stories that stay with her, and fill her with pride for her chosen profession.

“This fall, I’m going to do as much as I can to be personal, to share my own concerns, to share my own anxiety, fears, if that seems to be something they need to hear from me,” she said in an interview with the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s (CITL) Teaching Tuesday’s video feature showcasing approaches to remote teaching.

Excited for fall

Developing Therapeutic Relations is a foundational course for all new nursing students.

They learn how to establish relationships with patients and families and how to consider their health concerns, communication barriers, social circumstances, ethnic backgrounds and whether they feel stigmatized or come from a marginalized community – covering the spectrum of factors that can influence interaction between the nurse and patient.

That’s a tall order for a remote classroom, but Dr. Porr isn’t worried. She’s excited.

She’ll have her favourite coffee mug at the ready, and is looking forward to pet photo bombs and other humorous ice-breakers to put students at ease and hold their attention.

Dr. Caroline Porr believes in active learning. Well before the days of COVID-19 and physical distancing, she brought her mom to class so that students could talk to her about caring for older patients.
Photo: Submitted

To prepare for a very different start of a school year, Dr. Porr became a remote learner herself. She attended a virtual resource forum through the Academy of Communications and Health Care, and earned a certificate through the Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute.

She discovered that virtual role-playing can be just as effective as it would be in a face-to-face laboratory and that even standardized patients can impact learning in remote delivery.

“To be able to jump in virtually and introduce something that stimulates their learning appetites, maybe a visually stimulating image or real-life inspirational story that will engage their thoughts and perspectives as well as their hearts and emotions.”

Online ≠ remote

Joining the faculty back in 2010, Dr. Porr had a key role in leading the revision of the undergraduate nursing curriculum, with an emphasis on active, engaged learning.

She points out that online and remote teaching are not the same; the former being primarily delivered through written communication, the later very much about maintaining a face-to-face relationship with students.

Dr. Porr says “there’s almost a silver lining” in the switch to remote delivery.

“I’ve always been a proponent of active engagement in the classroom, and you really can’t do remote delivery any other way,” she said.

“You can’t have a monotone, cluttered PowerPoint slide that goes up on the screen. I think you’re compelled as a faculty member to really think about how to engage students in the virtual teaching and learning environment.”

Read more about plans for teaching and learning this fall at the Faculty of Nursing.


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