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For students across the country and around the globe, the coming school year probably looks different than what you’d envisioned. With COVID-19 changing the way we go about our daily routines, including work and school, students will have some serious adapting to do in the year to come. This can be especially true for students working toward healthcare degrees. Whether you’re studying to become a nurse, dental assistant, surgical tech, or a paramedic, you may be wondering how the required hands-on portion of your program will work in a world where social and physical distancing is the new norm. Luckily, with the help of technology, healthcare students won’t have to press pause on earning their degrees and can instead expect to conduct their clinical requirements a little differently than those who came before them. So, if you’re ready to start your Zoom clinicals off on the right foot, here are a few tips to get you going.
Dress the Part
Many of us have entered a transcendent relationship with our favorite pair of sweatpants as we have abandoned any form of recognizable classroom attire, and while comfort is a valuable aspect of remote learning, it may not actually be helping you succeed. Taking advantage of relaxed sartorial standards is a benefit of online learning, however, make sure that your wardrobe encourages you to be attentive and deliberate about the task at hand. Even if you plan to spend the day in leisure clothes, have a different set of leisure clothes for school time than lounging or sleeping and consider dressing the part to create a boundary around academic time. If you have scrubs at home, you could wear those, or even consider dressing the way you would have if you were returning to class in person.
Curate Your Space
While social media can create an overwhelming sense of how to have a perfect work-from-home space, it’s important to consider the components of the area where you’ll be conducting the majority of your learning. First, look at the lighting of the space and determine how much you can rely on natural light versus supplemental lighting. Consider having a small lamp in addition to overhead lighting so you can vary the amount of light you add depending on the time of day and your mood. Next, look at your workspace itself. Do you have a desk or table with enough space for everything you need, like your computer, notebooks, writing utensils, office accessories, and a glass of water? Some welcome additions to your immediate workspace might be a vase for fresh flowers, a potted plant, a candle, or a meaningful framed photo. Finally, look at the surrounding area and make sure you have other things you’ll need nearby. This might include a phone charger, hand lotion, tissues, post-it notes, ready access to water and other beverages, and nutritious snacks, like mixed nuts or dried fruit.
Turn Your Camera On
As we enter longer months of interacting over Zoom, the desire to rock the mute and keep the camera off is tempting. However, for some accountability, consider some spot checks with your camera on for a few minutes at a time. As much as your instructor is prepared to have a two-hour conversation with themselves, which is even true for classroom learning, it’s more engaging for them to see their students and be able to gauge facial expressions for retention and comprehension. The more you engage with the instructor and content, the better able you’ll be to take advantage of their breadth of knowledge on the subject. Remember, they know all this information already, they want to make it most relevant to you! Many instructors welcome questions in the chat so they can braid it into their lecture, and in smaller seminar settings, asking a question outright is usually welcome.
Take Notes & Go Analog
Taking notes is a good way to stay engaged in any lecture setting and it’s especially important through the barrier of a screen that separates you from your instructor. Interestingly, research indicates that taking notes by hand is more effective for memory retention than typing them on a computer. This happens because when we take notes on a computer by typing, we’re actually usually transcribing the content instead of digesting it, while taking notes by hand requires us to synthesize the material once already between hearing it, summarizing it, and writing it down. Additionally, since slides are often available through institutional classroom software, transcription may not even be a particularly helpful study tool. Consider taking analog notes to accompany a set of slides and numbering your notes accordingly to reference the corresponding slide. Additionally, taking notes on paper will keep you from the temptation of opening a new browser window to scroll on social media, use texting or messaging programs, or visit other unrelated content while you are engaged in a lecture. Think about using this as another opportunity to curate your workspace – purchase a notebook and writing tool that you love so that you’ll be excited to use it, and keep it in your workspace at the ready for lectures or sessions where you want to take notes.
Plan Ahead for Fidgeting
Let’s face it, it’s difficult to sit for long stretches without something to keep your hands busy. There is even theoretical exploration to support kinesthetic movement as an important component of information imprinting for some learners. While at an elementary level, this may include play-based learning, some form of movement while taking in information can be helpful for retention. If you know that your attention can wander, plan ahead with a low-impact activity in which you can engage that will keep the majority of your focus on the auditory component of your lecture. You could try fiber crafts like knitting or crochet, a fidget spinner, doodling, using a desk cycle, or working on a jigsaw puzzle as ways to quiet a tendency to fidget. Note that scrolling through social media on your phone or browser window will inevitably divide your attention as you read captions or comments. Author Nick Hornby shared that he uses a jigsaw puzzle as a necessary writing break for this very reason – scrolling the internet took him out of his work, while making progress on a puzzle allowed him to keep contemplating his story and proverbial writer’s block and turn back to his computer when he was ready to keep working.
While adjusting to virtual clinicals may be a learning curve for both students and teachers, taking a few easy steps can help you adapt and set yourself up for success. Whether Zoom clinicals are here for a year or here to stay, healthcare programs will find unique ways to utilize existing technology for the sake of patient and practitioner health.