Dawn Nilsen

Associate Professor of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine (Occupational Therapy), Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Professor Dawn Nilsen shares her experience with online teaching in 2020.

In order to keep student density low so that our second year professional graduate students could come back to campus to complete their clinical core courses in preparation for their fieldwork experiences, I converted our first year students’ Anatomy Foundations course to a fully on-line, active learning format.

The course was structured according to the guidelines provided by the Distance Learning Best Practice Subcommittee of the CUIMC Education Task Force for COVID-19 Recovery Planning for Robust on-line learning: 50% of the course content was delivered asynchronously using lecture videos that were prerecorded in Panopto and posted in Canvas; 25% was delivered synchronously using the Zoom platform, and the remaining 25% consisted of on-line peer-interactive learning activities using 3D4 Medical Complete Anatomy Software and the Piazza platform. Students were broken up into groups of ~18 students per group and “accountability partnerships” were created (2-3 students) within each group.

The first week of classes included a “Welcome Video” and “Welcome Assignments” designed to acclimate the students to the on-line course format, set expectations on how to study using this format, and to build connections with each other in the virtual environment. The video included an introduction of the faculty and teaching assistants; a review of the course objectives, format, learning activities, and outcome assessments; and a tour of the Canvas site and on-line learning platforms. The “Welcome Assignments” included: (1) Getting to Know You Post to Piazza; (2) Name Recording in Name Coach; (3) Accountability Partner Check-ins; (4) Mock Self-Assessment Quiz; and (5) Technology Training Session which taught the students how to use the 3D4 Medical Complete Anatomy Software.

The course was divided into modules and each module followed a similar structure: (1) students were required to watch 3-4 asynchronous videos (combination of PowerPoint, use of virtual anatomical models, and hands-on clinical palpation videos) that were on average ~45 minutes in length prior to attending a small group synchronous session; (2) 1 hour small group synchronous sessions designed to further explore and work with the content presented during the lectures via the use of structured Zoom “breakout groups” and Poll-Everywhere questions; (3) lab assignments were completed independently off-line and discussed with accountability partner, and students were allowed to adjust their lab assignments based on this feedback prior to submitting their lab; (4) student generated polling questions were posted and answered weekly in Piazza.

Anonymous check-ins with students were conducted to see how they were adapting to the online learning format and minor adjustments were made to the course structure as needed based on student feedback (e.g., providing review sheets to structure exam preparation and flexibility with respect to lab assignment dues dates).

Creating a consistent structure and teaching students how to navigate the on-line course environment, being available for remote office hours, and the monitoring of the Piazza platform to field questions were a must. While anonymous check-ins with students were useful, future iterations of the course will involve a formal reflection on learning component (either as an assignment or embedded in Zoom sessions) to ascertain how students are learning using the on-line format, and to what extent they feel connected, engaged, and in control of their learning.

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