Campus closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic challenged nurse educators to develop innovative solutions. Face-to-face courses had to be adapted to a virtual environment. The University of Illinois Chicago College of Nursing (CON) has its main campus in Chicago, with five additional regional campus locations in rural areas around the state. More than 1,000 students are enrolled across all campuses in both undergraduate and graduate nursing programs, but only the RN-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing completion is designed and offered as a completely online degree program. The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program has an enrollment of more than 500 students, each completing a scholarly project at the end of their academic program. We used an on-campus poster session in the final week of each semester as a forum for dissemination of the outcomes of student projects for the past 5 years. When our campus was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, faculty developed an alternative to the in-person session, transitioning to a virtual session using the Zoom Video Communications platform. The purpose of this article is to describe the creation, format, and lessons of adapting the DNP student poster session using a synchronous, interactive design.
Description of the DNP Student Project
Our DNP student project is completed over a three-course sequence and must be an evidence-based practice (EBP) change or quality improvement initiative. The first course focuses on development of the proposed initiative, the second course on the planning and implementation phases at a clinical site, and the final course requires the evaluation and dissemination of the project outcomes. Each DNP project team includes the student, one doctorally prepared faculty mentor with a professorial appointment at our CON, and one designated practice mentor who is employed at the clinical site where the initiative is implemented. Assignments for the final course of the project sequence include both development of a poster and writing a publishable manuscript focused on their project topic. These requirements reflect our philosophy that the DNP project is a foundational experience for students' future scholarship (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2006).
The dissemination of outcomes is a vital part of the EBP process to share the results of practice changes with colleagues and stakeholders (Melnyk & Fineout-Overholt, 2019). The poster assignment includes writing a scholarly, evidence-based formatted abstract and developing a poster to disseminate the process and outcomes of the student's DNP project. Students may present their poster at a DNP student poster session held on our main CON campus with students from all DNP specialty foci or, alternatively, at a poster presentation at a local, regional, or national professional conference.
Traditionally, our campus DNP student poster session uses a face-to-face format and is offered as an open forum to all faculty, CON students, and clinical site practice partners to attend during the final week of each semester. The session is set up to mirror a professional conference poster session, and each student is expected to attend their poster session for 90 minutes to answer questions and discuss their project with attendees. DNP students from our regional campuses around the state also attend to present their posters. However, in March 2020 the governor of Illinois issued an executive order to shelter-in-place in response to COVID-19 (State of Illinois, 2020). This led to the sudden closure of our university campuses, mandatory transition of all in-person courses and activities to online platforms, and the cancellation of our DNP student poster session. Additionally, local, regional, and national conferences where our students had abstracts accepted to present their DNP project posters were cancelled. In response, DNP program faculty developed an alternative virtual poster presentation session for scholarly dissemination of student posters—a virtual poster session using the Zoom Video Communications platform.
Organizing Zoom Meeting Sessions
Seventy-three students enrolled in the final DNP project course were scheduled for poster presentations on the date designated in the course syllabus. Sessions were developed based on providing each student 15 minutes for their presentation. There were twelve 90-minute sessions, with six students assigned to each session. Sessions were designated according to DNP specialty focus (e.g., family nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, health systems leadership). Post-Master of Science in Nursing students were assigned according to the focus of their Advanced Practice RN specialty certification. A buffer of 15 minutes was scheduled between sessions to allow for exceeding session time limits and optimizing the ability to keep the start of each session on time.
The college has a dedicated information technology (IT) department that introduced Zoom Video Communications for use by faculty 3 years ago. Both faculty and students were accustomed to using Zoom videoconferencing technology for classroom teaching via synchronous course sessions, as well as one-to-one faculty–student meetings. Due to the large number of students scheduled to present at the virtual sessions and the volume of anticipated participant attendance, the IT department set up the Zoom meetings and required passwords for attendees for added meeting security. The meeting links were distributed to college faculty and students via the CON LISTSERV® but were not made publicly available to prevent uninvited attendees.
Training Faculty Moderators
Twelve faculty were recruited by the DNP program director to serve as moderators, one per session. The selected faculty taught courses in the DNP program and had robust knowledge of the DNP project. Faculty moderator guidelines were developed based on the standard expectations of a moderator for breakout sessions at a professional conference (Table 1). A training session for the moderators was designed and led by the DNP program director using Zoom.
Guidelines for Faculty Moderators
Student Poster Presentation Guidelines
A new learning module describing the format and guidelines for the virtual poster session was developed and placed on the course Blackboard™ site 4 weeks in advance for students to review. Individual student poster presentations were formatted to begin with a formal presentation for the first 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes dedicated to questions. Guidelines were provided for students that began with their description of the background and significance of the clinical problem, a brief review of the literature that provided the scholarly evidence for the practice change, implementation methods, evaluation of project outcomes, and implications for clinical practice (Table 2). The final 5 minutes of the session was designed to allow attendees to ask the student questions about the project implementation, topic, or lessons learned. The EBP poster assignment required students to use a standard template developed by the IT department for faculty and student conference presentations. In preparation for their presentation, students emailed a copy of their poster as an Adobe PDF to their assigned session moderator. We required use of an Adobe PDF format for the poster to prevent distortion or lag time during online scrolling that can occur using a PowerPoint® template.
Student Preparation for a Successful Virtual Poster Session
Summary of the Innovation
Twelve 90-minute virtual poster sessions were attended by more than 150 nursing faculty and students. Each session included five to six students and one faculty moderator. Because virtual sessions were held over the course of a day, other attendees, including faculty, student peers, and practice mentors from the clinical sites, were able to drop-in to multiple sessions. Faculty moderators were the Zoom platform hosts and enabled screen sharing to display the posters for all session participants, facilitating smooth and timely transitions between student presentations. Moderators introduced each student and kept speakers on track by maintaining the 10-minute time limit for each presentation. Both students and faculty were engaged in the sessions, and moderators facilitated question and answer sessions after each presentation.
Faculty and Student Reflections
Semistructured interviews were conducted with faculty and students after the virtual poster session. Faculty provided positive feedback about the format of the virtual poster presentations and thought the session was a valuable experience. Many faculty initially expressed concern about the ability of an online presentation to demonstrate a robust level of scholarship; however, after participating in the virtual sessions, they strongly believed that there were benefits to the virtual sessions when compared with our standard face-to-face poster session. Students prepared in advance using a structured outline that facilitated well-developed oral presentations and added academic rigor to the dissemination. Additionally, the focused time and attention each student had with an engaged audience allowed for structured oral presentations, which is not always achievable during the brief visit with students standing with their posters.
Student feedback regarding the virtual presentation session indicated that the guidelines provided were beneficial to prepare for their presentations and that they were comfortable using the virtual format as a form of scholarly dissemination. The small-group session setup allowed them to participate in multiple sessions to support their student colleagues, as well as to learn about their EBP initiatives. This information was valuable for faculty because the annual university commencement was also cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual poster session turned out to be the final opportunity for face-to-face interaction among students and faculty. Students were grateful to have an event to provide support and encouragement to each other, and faculty offered congratulations and expressed their pride in the students' accomplishments, both on the successful completion of their final scholarly project and their upcoming graduation from the DNP program.
Implications and Future Directions for Nursing Education
The virtual poster session was a valuable platform for scholarly dissemination of students' DNP projects. The virtual format was a necessity due to the impact of COVID-19, but the structured presentation that was adopted garnered positive feedback from both students and faculty. All individual sessions ran smoothly and required minimal IT support, making this a feasible option for future poster presentations. Nursing scholarship uses knowledge in a variety of ways to improve health and transform health care (American Association of Colleges of Nursing, 2018). Introducing the DNP students to abstract and poster development and presentation prepares them for future scholarship. Using a virtual platform for student poster presentations could be successfully used for dissemination of scholarly project outcomes for any DNP program. Integrating the virtual format can provide a valuable platform for dissemination of scholarship for distance learning programs.
Guidelines for Faculty Moderators
|Practice prior to the poster session date:
Day of session:
Familiarize yourself with the Zoom toolbar.
Recognize that you are the meeting host with control of the meeting toolbar.
Know how to mute and unmute participants.
Practice “sharing” and “stop sharing” of document from your desktop screen with meeting attendees.
Upload each of your six students' PDF posters to the desktop screen of the computer you will be using.
Create a timetable with each student scheduled for a 15-minute time slot.
Include the students' names and poster title for introduction purposes.
Moderating the session:
Login to the Zoom meeting 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start.
Check that your audio and video functions are operating.
Ensure you can share the six posters on your desktop.
During the session:
Begin the session by introducing yourself and welcoming students and faculty.
Describe the 15-minute presentation format to attendees.
Assure students that you will keep them on track to stay within their time limit.
Using timetable, introduce one student every 15 minutes and share their poster with attendees during that time.
Closing the session:
Maintain a strict time schedule.
Be alert and ready to assist a student presenter experiencing any technical difficulties.
At the end of the first 10 minutes, announce that the floor is open for questions and discussion with the student presenter for 5 minutes.
During the discussion period, ask participants to begin by introducing themselves by name and affiliation—it will facilitate a sense of personal communication.
Be prepared to step in if the speaker or participant discussion is too long or off track.
Commend the students on their project accomplishments and presentations.
Thank participants for attending.
Remind participants that additional poster sessions are available for them to join.
Student Preparation for a Successful Virtual Poster Session
|Preparation for the session:
When it is your turn to present:
Practice your presentation aloud:
Time yourself so information is complete and not under or over allotted time.
Dress in attire appropriate to an in-person professional, scholarly presentation.
Control your environment:
Create a quiet environment without distractions as a courtesy to your colleagues in attendance (e.g., no pets, children, texting, or other distractors).
Keep your microphone muted unless you are speaking.
Make sure your video background is camera ready or use a virtual background.
Enter the Zoom session 10 minutes prior to start to ensure audio/video functions work.
Have your camera video on throughout the session so colleagues can see you virtually and see that you are actively engaged in their presentations and discussion.
Speak naturally and look directly into your camera when speaking to your audience.
Topics to focus on to engage your audience:
Introduce yourself—state the title of the poster and identify your coauthors.
Do not read the poster—describe and discuss to engage your audience:
Proceed logically through the section headers, summarizing key concepts.
Take time to explain your graphs and charts with the outcomes of the initiative.
What challenges occurred during the implementation stage?
Evaluation of outcomes
Discuss the interpretation of your project outcomes using the charts, graphs, or other schematics you designed for your poster.
Clinical implications for practice and next steps
Specify plans made with key stakeholders/facility to sustain the initiative.
How are you disseminating the project outcomes to key stakeholders?
Pearls of wisdom
How did the experience of completing an evidence-based practice initiative enhance your professional growth?
What advice would you give other students beginning development of their own project initiative?