March 17, 2021

Assistant nursing professor garners prestigious tri-council grant to prepare students in caring professions for digital working environments

Dr. Lorelli Nowell is part of a cross-campus team behind SSHRC-funded project that will find ways educators can integrate online learning in more meaningful ways
Lorelli Nowell, UCalgary Nursing assistant professor
Lorelli Nowell, UCalgary Nursing assistant professor

Since March of 2020, nursing instructors have been dealt a double blow: while teaching remotely they’ve had to instruct students on how to successfully provide compassionate care from those same remote environments.

“We’re used to providing care face-to-face and we’re used to teaching face-to-face,” says UCalgary Nursing assistant professor Dr. Lorelli Nowell, MN'12, PhD'17. “Students come to caring professions such as nursing, education, medicine and social work because they value that personal interaction.”

So the arrival of an esteemed funding award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) meets a critical need, as it presents an opportunity for Nowell and her interdisciplinary research team to explore how to integrate online learning in more meaningful ways.

“With the rapid onset of COVID-19, we had the bandaid ripped off and haven’t been able to transition to these online environments in as thoughtful a manner as we would like to. So if we can identify the best evidence-informed technologies and pedagogical strategies to support students in developing remote caring competencies, we can share these strategies with instructors from across caring disciplines in meaningful and easily digestible formats.”

While Nowell is the primary grant recipient, the project entitled Caring professions education and practice: Meeting today’s workforce demands is a collaborative study involving four other co-applicants from UCalgary: Drs. Diane Lorenzetti, Michele Jacobsen, Elizabeth Oddone Paolucci and Liza Lorenzetti. The team also includes students from across the caring professions to help look at these problems from the student lens. Their project is one of 36 recipients of a Knowledge Synthesis Grant: Skills and Work in the Digital Economy.

Dr. Lorelli Nowell (Nursing), Dr. Michele Jacobsen (Education), Dr. Diane Lorenzetti (Cumming School of Medicine), Dr. Elizabeth Oddone Paolucci (Cumming School of Medicine), and Dr. Liza Lorenzetti (Social Work) share how their team's diverse disciplinary perspectives are their team's greatest strength.

Top row, from left, Dr. Elizabeth Oddone Paolucci (Cumming School of Medicine), Dr. Lorelli Nowell (Nursing), Dr. Michele Jacobsen (Education). Bottom row, from left, Dr. Diane Lorenzetti (Cumming School of Medicine) and Dr. Liza Lorenzetti (Social Work).

In the research abstract submitted to SSHRC, Nowell explains how a “rapid pivot to remote care, where the essential caring cues and opportunities are not as readily available, has put unprecedented pressure on caring professionals.

“Remote interactions involve more effort and strategy on the part of participants (caregivers and receivers) and require digital literacy skills and comfort with technology - skills that traditionally may not have been purposefully embedded in formal caring professional education.”

The 12-month study will draw on domestic, international and cross-disciplinary evidence and aims to identify knowledge and practices that may work successfully across caring professional degree programs taught at universities. It will synthesize research knowledge that has emerged in caring professional fields over the past 10 years and identify gaps.

Results from the study will be applied to an evidence-informed toolkit for educators across caring disciplines, and an interactive website will house some of those best practices. Findings are expected to inform and guide caring professional education policy, practice, and research agendas in Canada and internationally with the goal of improving patient care.

This type of grant will can be leveraged into future research opportunities and foster collaborations with between interdisciplinary researchers looking at digital technology on a national scale. Furthermore, it’s an opportunity for Nowell to delve into an area of research that is timely and of special interest to her, as innovations in teaching and learning is one of her primary research focuses.

“As a relatively new assistant professor, tri-council grants are a big egg to crack. I was able to see how this funding call aligned with my research and professional goals and it all came together.”

It will also help advance nursing as a leader in interdisciplinary research. "The idea of nursing researchers leading interdisciplinary research is important. Not that it doesn’t happen but I think we could do more of it.”

When asked one year ago what nursing’s next big idea would be (in a profile to tribute the Year of the Nurse and Midwife) Nowell had answered: "Innovation in health-care technology.

“Nurses are on the ground and are acutely aware of pressure points within health-care systems,” she added. “Nurses can lead more creative and innovative ways to care for patients that improve patient outcomes...I would encourage nurses to stay abreast of new technology and how it can help provide better care for patients."

The need for that next big idea may have materialized sooner than expected and it appears that Nowell had the vision to see it coming, and now has the tools to take it on.