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Community Immersion as Distance Learning

Community immersion classes are central to teaching nursing students about social determinants of health. But what happens when on-site engagement is suspended due to a pandemic?

In an article in the journal Pedagogy in Health Promotion, researchers and students share how the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) successfully transitioned a community immersion class to a virtual learning experience. The article outlines important lessons learned when the School of Nursing had to suspend on-site engagement due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

To adhere to social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 outbreak, the School of Nursing moved its “Addressing the Social Determinants of Health: Community Engagement Immersion” class from an in-person community health education course to a distance-learning experience. The challenge was to reconfigure a class originally designed around understanding social determinants of health through community immersion to a remote learning and engagement experience.

“Responding to the events posed by the COVID-19 pandemic enhanced the student educational experience as they recognized and adjusted to their community sites’ needs during a crisis,” explains Dalmacio D. Flores, PhD, ACRN, Assistant Professor of Nursing and lead author of the article. “Encouraging project continuation remotely reinforced the students’ commitment to community sites and underscored the value of maintaining community partnerships despite obstacles.”

As it turns out, remote community engagement juxtaposed with health care’s transition to remote care (e.g., telehealth, drive-through testing sites) modeled the essential task of adapting to a population’s needs in real-time. The article provides insight into how faculty minimized disruptions to the health promotion class, maintained existing commitments with different community organizations, and adapted meaningful engagement to community needs during the pandemic in a remote work environment.

The article, “When Community Immersion Becomes Distance Learning: Lessons Learned From a Disrupted Semester,” is available online. Coauthors of the article include Penn Nursing’s Claire Bocage, Sarah Devlin, Meredith Miller, MSPH, Alyssa Savarino, and Terri H. Lipman, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, the Miriam Stirl Endowed Term Professor of Nutrition, Professor of Nursing of Children, and Assistant Dean for Community Engagement.