From labs to living rooms: How our courses are adapting to remote learning

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all University of Kentucky classes have moved online and College of Health Sciences instructors adapted quickly to turn hands-on curriculums into engaging material for remote learning. Faculty from our physical therapy, physician assistant studies, and medical laboratory science programs share how they’re taking their interactive courses from inside the lab to inside students’ homes. students on Zoom call

“A crucial part of lab-based education is interactive learning allowing students to practice various techniques in a hands-on manner which can be difficult to replicate virtually,” said Christopher Swartz, PhD, MLS, (ASCP)CM, assistant professor in the medical laboratory science program. “Our biggest goal is to maintain connection with our students. Our faculty are meeting with students on-on-one to review content and reach out to see how they are coping in the middle of this difficult situation.”

Tony English, PT, PhD, department chair of the physical therapy program, agreed with Swartz that staying engaged with students is key. “Not being in front of students face-to-face is challenging,” English said. “Physically seeing a person often lets us know how well they are understanding the material.”

“We have frequent meetings over Zoom to keep students up to date and have gathered feedback to see how each class is adapting,” English continued. “Good communication practices will be instrumental to success in digital learning.”

In the middle of these challenges, CHS instructors are still delivering as authentic of an educational experience as possible.

teaching surgical tiesDeShana Collett, PhD, PA-C, associate professor in the physician assistant studies program, is teaching future physician assistants about surgical ties and suturing using Zoom and methods she found on online. Due to campus closing immediately after Spring Break, students were unable to receive surgical hand-tie boards normally used in class.  

“I searched online and discovered a way for students to build their own hand tie boards out of a cardboard box and shoelaces,” Collett said. “Now they can follow along with faculty using video conferencing to learn these different surgical ties. We divide the class into breakout rooms for more personalized interaction.”

The next skill Collett plans to teach is suturing. “Our students already have their own suture kits so we as the instructors have to get creative in making sure the technique is visible and easily accessible on their computer screen,” she said. “I am usually logged into Zoom on two different accounts. One of our retired instructors helped with the suturing demonstration and used a portable dock camera to provide an overhead view of the procedure being performed. Students were then able to follow along in a step-by-step fashion.”

English is learning how to administer tests over Canvas and adjusting practical exams to reflect the new online platform. “Our faculty have adjusted lab practical exams to a one-one-one format so they can get a good read on whether or not the students are accurately grasping the content,” he said.

Collaboration in and between programs has been critical for both students and faculty as they navigate this new form of education.

“As faculty we talk on a regular basis to assess our students’ needs. Under the circumstances we try to be more lenient and merciful,” Swartz said. “I’ve been really proud of all our students and how they’ve consistently attended classes and completed their assignments.”

 “Our sense of community as a program and as a college has greatly improved,” Collett said. “We’re all here for each other. I think my students now have a better understanding of what it means to be a compassionate caregiver.”

“When we teach a class, we let our students know that we’re concerned about them. We ask them how they’re doing,” English said. “It’s important they know we care for their well-being and remain supportive.”

Although the current situation is not ideal, Collett believes it shines a light on opportunities for distance learning improvement across the university.

“Many students rely on distance learning their entire college career,” she said. “Right now, we’re in a unique spot to strengthen programs for the future. There are so many resources for online learning we are just now discovering.”