UMSL nursing professor stays on the cutting edge of creating course content

by | Jul 23, 2018

Assistant Teaching Professor Lisa Merritt used her experience at the AACN-Apple Digital Innovation Bootcamp to explore new ways to enhance students' learning through technology.

Lisa Merritt is developing custom digital content to help all of her UMSL College of Nursing students — from the technologically savvy to the technologically averse — engage with the material. (Photo by August Jennewein)

One of Lisa Merritt’s biggest challenges as an instructor is making sure her course materials keep up with the rapid change in the health care industry.

Merritt, assistant teaching professor and coordinator of the Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Missouri­–St. Louis, finds that even the most recently updated textbooks have trouble staying current.

“Health care is constantly changing, and new guidelines are being developed every day,” Merritt said. “It’s confusing to tell students, ‘Don’t read this part of the textbook because there’s a new guideline.’ I know, at some point, I need to transition into not using textbooks at all and use all electronic resources.”

Merritt has always been a more visual and auditory learner, all the way up through her two degrees from UMSL – a BSN and an MSN – and her DNP from Saint Louis University. When she joined the UMSL faculty in 2016, she realized that many of her nursing students learned the same way.

So she’s made it an emphasis to integrate more technology into her lesson plans, to stay on the cutting edge.

“It’s an effective way to connect with students of all learning styles,” Merritt said. “Most students learn best by doing, not just by being fed information. By using technology, we can create mobile, interactive apps that utilize active learning strategies.”

Merritt recently spent four days sharpening the tools in her digital toolbox as part of the inaugural American Association of Colleges of Nursing-Apple Digital Innovation Bootcamp on the Apple campus in Austin, Texas. The event, which ran from July 9-12, allowed nursing educators from around the country an opportunity to learn how to enhance their teaching methods through sessions led by Apple executives and developers. Over the next several months, participants will get continued tutelage from the tech giant through virtual meetings and discussion forums on creating digital content, developing iOS mobile apps and multi-touch books.

More than 150 applied for inclusion. Merritt was one of 30 chosen.

UMSL Assistant Teaching Professor Lisa Merritt was one of 30 nursing educators from around the country selected to participate the inaugural AACN-Apple Digital Innovation Bootcamp, from July 9-12 at the Apple campus in Austin, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Merritt)

“It was exciting to see what other educators are doing across the country and inspiring that so many faculty really value the importance of this and want students to have a valuable learning experience,” Merritt said.

Merritt’s proposal, which she is continuing to develop through the bootcamp and onward, centers on using digital media to simulate a mobile electronic health care visit for nurse practitioner students. Merritt and some of her colleagues tested out an e-visit pilot program – with help from the UMSL Center for Teaching and Learning – last year. A virtual patient presents its symptoms and asks questions, and it’s the student’s job to diagnose and come up with a treatment strategy.

The early version of the software could only be utilized on desktop or laptop computers, and the sampling of 26 PNP and adult-gerontology nurse practitioner students who used it reported that the simulated cases closely resembled real-world situations and helped them understand the sorts of complaints that are usually logged in a remote, telehealth setting. Merritt, Assistant Teaching Professor Allison Brauch, Research Associate Annah Bender and Instructional Designer Dasha Kochuk published their findings in the May issue of the Journal of Nursing Education.

As the technology continues to progress, Merritt plans to develop the system for mobile phones, to simulate a patient exchanging information and photos with the nurse practitioner via text. She is presenting on the topic at the AACN Faculty Development Conference in November in New Orleans.

“When nurse practitioners take calls after hours, they’re usually on a mobile phone and may be exchanging information with patients via text messaging,” Merritt said. “That’s a hard experience to re-create in the clinical area, but it’s an important skill that we need to provide. It’s making sure students ask the appropriate questions, know what conditions can wait until the morning, what conditions need to go to the emergency room or a simple condition that they can just give patients or caregivers some guidance on how they can care for the problem at home.”

This is just the beginning. Merritt hopes to use the Apple experience to continue developing new content that she can work into her course of study, helping engage her more digitally savvy students while also making accessible programs for students that may not be as proficient technologically.

“There have been many changes in higher education and in health care that require nursing faculty to rethink the way we teach,” Merritt said. “We are educating a nursing workforce of the future, which means incorporating technology into the teaching-learning experience is no longer a choice.”

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