The pandemic pinched a communication nerve in West Virginia at its height two years ago.
As COVID was then nipping at the state’s borders, Gov. Jim Justice ordered all public schools and colleges closed, in hopes of staying ahead of the contagion.
For the most part, those institutions made a quick pivot to remote learning, though it didn’t take long for the gaps and deficiencies to show up, either by demographics, topography — or both.
And students from all walks of the state’s educational ecosystem were mired in it.
Kelly Morton, a registered nurse, is also a clinical assistant professor in WVU’s School of Nursing.
Early on in the pandemic, Morton began musing.
She wondered how students in a field that requires literal hands-on learning and direct interaction with professors and practitioners were coping in the suddenly distanced endeavor.
The results are in the form of a survey and accompanying report now on file in the National Library of Medicine. Visit https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36038362/ to access the document.
“Online Learning Challenges for Nursing Students in Appalachia” looks at 154 nursing students on WVU’s medical campuses in Morgantown, Beckley and Keyser.
Morton was able to delve into the data to see how they coped during COVID’s early days here in the spring of 2020.
It was just as much about broadband as it was cracking textbooks, digitally or otherwise.
Around 72% of Appalachian households have a broadband internet connection, Morton said, compared to the 80% or so nationwide.
One-third of Morton’s students responded that they had to venture from their home or apartment to obtain an internet connection.
Another segment that same size reported living in counties with less than 60% broadband coverage.
Household budgets and caregiving obligations affected respondents across the board, Morton said.
One-fourth of the respondents who do have internet access at home reported a loss of connection more than four times, as they worked though assignments and sat in on remote classes.
There was already enough academic rigor, Morton said.
Having to “navigate physical and technological barriers,” on top of that, the author said, didn’t make it any easier.
As a course instructor, Morton had challenges also, she said.
She had be reachable online — at all times, she said.
Morton, she said, mainly had to be flexible with internet outages, the domestic day-to-day of her students with families, and all those illnesses and viruses that weren’t COVID.
“Change is inevitable in nursing,” she said.
“It is imperative that nurses adapt to the best of their ability.”