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Virtual delivery leads to innovative teaching

Future Physician Assistants intently practice suture knot tying

When St. Scholastica shifted to a distance learning format this spring, professors faced the challenge of converting hands-on, in-person learning experiences to meaningful virtual ones.

David LaBore PA-C, assistant professor of Physician Assistant studies, used a body cam and PVC pipe.

For a class on suturing and knot tying, he mounted a camera to his chest so that students could get a first-person point of view.

"They could also see my face on my PC cam simultaneously," he said.

He also fabricated "legs" out of PVC pipe, insulation, latex tubing and tubigrip (a type of tubular elastic bandage) and mailed them out to students to use to practice casting over the summer.

David LaBore's Physician Assistant students practice making casts on "legs" he crafted from PVC pipe

Telehealth applications

When Occupational Therapy classes moved online, instructors searched for ways to simulate in-person interactions with patients, and landed on a program called Simucase. Students in OT instructor Dr. Kaisa Syvaoja's class used the program to run through a simulated assessment. They learned what types of questions to ask to gain a clear picture of the patient's situation and develop an intervention plan.

Syvaoja said the program's immediate feedback enhances the learning experience and builds critical thinking skills.

"We want them to have to think about why their answer was different than somebody else's," she said. "It's a nice tool."

Doctor of Nursing Practice students in Associate Professor Sara McCumber, DPN's class also performed online simulations, using Zoom to conduct patient interviews in a virtual format. They performed a diagnosis on a Nursing department staff member who volunteered to portray a woman with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Students were tasked with asking her the right questions to come to the correct diagnosis and treatment plan, which included medication and therapy. Afterward, McCumber led a debrief of the session, and the students critiqued each other. The session offered a very realistic example of the possibilities of telehealth applications for mental health, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

"When the patient is in their own home and their own element, maybe they can be more open about how they're feeling," said student Rachel Mickelson.

PA students in Assistant Professor Carolyn Jahr PA-C's class used Zoom to demonstrate their skills in head, eye, ear, nose, throat and neurologic examinations. They also used Zoom to complete their summative Objective Structured Clinical Examinations, a set of standardized medical scenarios.

"Our students actually ended up learning an unanticipated skill — telehealth — this semester because of the pandemic, and will be better for it in the long run!" Jahr said.

Crossing disciplines

The transition to virtual learning brought about creative cross-disciplinary collaborations as well. History Professor Randall Poole, PhD, gave a two-part guest lecture about ethics to a class taught by PA Assistant Professor Jake Oesterich, MD.

Poole presented the ethical dilemmas brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, giving the students some tough questions to consider: for instance, how do you measure the value of one human life versus the greater good? Student Katelynn Deal said it was interesting to discuss pandemic ethics in real time.

"Our work is people's lives, and that requires extra thoughtfulness in each decision we make," she said, "not just in times of pandemic, not just in classic end-of-life discussions with elderly patients. Always."

Performing arts online

Faculty members in the performing arts also had to adapt quickly.

As a piano teacher, the main hurdle for Assistant Music Professor Nick Susi was figuring out how to accommodate students who didn't have instruments at home.

"During our extended Spring Break and the first week back to classes, I was scrambling to do everything I could to connect students with instruments," Susi said.

The College was able to loan out some keyboards to students who expressed a desire to keep practicing. In the end, only one of his students had no keyboard at home. Susi created a special lesson plan to allow that student to continue working through the course.

He said in-person piano lessons translate surprisingly well into an online format.

"I feel comfortable guiding students in technical and musical ways even from a distance, and students have already mentioned that they feel similar."

‘I catch every nuance'

Assistant English Professor Kevin Quarmby, PhD, has online teaching experience dating back to 2011, when he worked remotely from London as an instructor in the United States. Given his experience and class format, it was easy to make the move to online instruction.

"I've merely moved all my existing classes into the online platform without really changing anything at all," he said.

There are advantages, he says — namely, he can see every student's face.

"They can't hide. I catch every nuance, every facial expression. It's like every single person is sitting at the front of the classroom."