Failure not an option in transition to virtual simulation

Dean's Blog |
Katherine Kenny

Welcome to our guest blogger, Kathy Kenny, Edson College associate dean and clinical professor.

For a few mind-blowing, adrenaline-pumping days in mid-March, Margaret Calacci, our director of the Grace Center for Innovation in Nursing Education, felt like she was back in the Army. That turned out to be a very good thing for the 345 nursing students whose education and future careers in the time of COVID-19 physical distancing depended on the building of a robust, remote simulation learning program on the fly. 

The Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at ASU is a national leader in simulation resources, delivering annually 90,000 hours of simulation and experiential learning in a wide range of patient care categories. The Grace Center provides simulation and clinical lab experiences for students in pre-licensure, post-baccalaureate, and doctoral nurse practitioner programs. 

Fifty percent of pre-licensure nurse clinical learning at ASU is done in simulated environments that help prepare students for actual patient care. These clinical learning hours are a graduation requirement and they help students prepare for NCLEX.  

Typically, nursing students do simulation learning in teams of 8 to 10 people. They are supported in classes by simulation nurse educators and technology experts. When ASU took steps in March to protect students and the public from COVID-19 by switching classes to online learning and limiting gatherings to only 10 people, the Grace Center had to figure out quickly how to allow students to continue their education. 

The decision to proceed with remote simulation learning through Zoom was made on Monday, March 16. The shift from in-person to online learning was made the next day, with 70 students making the transition. By Friday, remote simulation was already operating smoothly. 

In less than a week, 273 students had completed 1,650 hours of remote simulation and experiential learning. In the second week, 345 students completed remotely 2,200 hours of activities that were very similar to what they would have experienced in person. 

At Grace Center, simulation learning is template-based, which helped ease the transition to online learning. Software-based systems helped make remote learning work, but it was the creative use of those systems by experienced simulation nurses, faculty and staff and their quick reaction to solid, constant feedback from students that helped meet the challenge. 

Previous videos of students working on the same “patient” were cleverly repurposed for online use. Multiple screens provided different angles to help flesh out the remote simulation. New PowerPoint slides were created to help class instruction flow. Strategic use of photos of key items, such as IV pumps and the medicine cart, helped provide clear visuals for the task at hand. 

“Everybody got their skills up,” Margaret said. “It was quite remarkable how it all transpired. It was truly just a team effort.”

As we are witnessing now in hospitals and medical centers nationwide, nurses are doers. We are reliably dedicated to service, often in innovative ways that amaze and reward.

Margaret and her team are breathing a little easier now. But before too long, there will be discussions about their recent experiences that will inform our future work in remote learning and steps we can take for innovation in nursing education.

What would have happened if the Grace Center hadn’t figured out a remote simulation learning program for students who needed that education resource to stay on track? 

“Hmm, well, that’s not an option,” Margaret said. “In our world, that’s just not an option.”

More on Margaret Calacci


Margaret Calacci began her career as an Army nurse. She was stationed in Landstuhl, Germany, during the first Gulf War. Overnight, a 150-bed hospital became a 1,000-bed hospital. Her job as assistant manager was to help operationalize that medical center. 

Putting together a remote simulation learning program virtually overnight for the benefit of our students, Margaret said, felt pretty much the same as her Army work. And similarly, she could not have done it without her dedicated and capable team, the staff and faculty in the Grace Center who were flexible and responsive pulling together to deliver for our students.