Delivering Virtual Labs in Rehabilitative Sciences During COVID-19: Strategies and Instructional Cases

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session Blended

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

While hands-on training for students came to a halt during the pandemic, the University of Saint Augustine for Health Sciences leveraged its technology, simulation expertise, digital resources, and innovation culture to deliver active learning. We provide our framework and share cases of how faculty creatively used resources such as video, 3D printing, and simulation to “keep teaching” now and into the future.  


Dr. Maria Puzziferro’s experience as a transformational academic leader, researcher, and teacher spans more than 25 years at public and private institutions in roles related to the advancement of innovative teaching and learning approaches. She has served as a President, Provost, and Dean with extensive experience developing, launching, and operating online and blended programs.
Dr. Elisabeth McGee began her career as a physical and occupational therapist. She joined USAHS in 2005 and is based on the Saint Augustine, FL campus. She currently serves as Director of Simulation Education and CICP Operations. She has her PhD in Educational Technology which has a strong focus in simulated learning, innovation, and digital learning. She has experience in simulation, educational technology, academia, and clinical practice. She has served on several university committees including the Innovation Steering Committee, Transformational Steering Committee, the Faculty Development Committee, and the Technology Steering Committee. She has participated in key educational technology initiatives that revolve around effective simulated learning environments, online learning platforms, educational technology pilot processes, 3D printing, robotics, and virtual reality.

Extended Abstract

Due to federal and local regulations related to social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, programs in the medical and rehabilitative sciences have been faced with the unique challenge of converting hands-on laboratory activities to an online format. This conversion has been complicated by rapidly evolving standards regarding activities acceptable to meet accrediting body guidelines for fieldwork and/or clinical education. However, most accrediting bodies have sanctioned the use of virtual labs to maintain continuity of instruction by preparing and in some cases substituting virtual for hands-on learning activities.

This presentation will provide an overview of the strategic learning framework that is being employed by the University in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and share practical case examples of how faculty have used university resources and support to not only maintain academic continuity, but to deliver excellence during virtual instruction.

We will also examine how the new approaches and changes we have supported are impacting the future of how we define quality in online and blended education. Many of the new approaches and technologies will become permanent parts of our teaching model, and we will offer strategic lessons learned to guide planning and budgeting for a complex and uncertain future. These strategic pillars include:

Strategy 1: Invest in Instructional Design and Resources for Media Development

A quality digital video approach, particularly in the health sciences where visual cognition is important for learning, incorporates and integrates rich, relevant, and outcomes-linked instructional video. Skills demonstrations and clinical scenarios using standardized patients and simulated environments provide students with the important visual models and processes to prepare them to perform competently in authentic clinical settings.

During the rapid pivot to virtual instruction, two additional pedagogical considerations emerged – 1) the need to quickly produce new video and multimedia content to supplement minimized or lost physical lab demonstration time, and 2) the need to adopt a “two-way” video approach to replace the physical lab feedback model. We will share our strategies and lessons learned as we met these challenges.

Strategy 2: Implement Simple Yet Powerful Active Learning Techniques

Although there are many ways to do make online learning “active,” our focus is on supporting faculty to adopt a few essential technologies to accomplish a) synchronous and asynchronous interactions with personalized feedback, b) critical thinking activities that promote authentic learning, creativity, higher-level thinking, and application, and c) knowledge and skill competency using hands-on learning activities.

To support a lab learning environment, we implemented a variety of strategies that include synchronous and asynchronous interaction, at-home lab kits, as well as a video demonstration and multiple modes of feedback. We also adapted simulation to be “virtual,” and constructed unique interprofessional simulated learning experiences to engage students and support the development of their clinical skills virtually.

Strategy 3: Amplify Development, Support, and Digital Resources

As the University leaned into the virtual environment, we made a decision to not just provide support to faculty, but to overwhelm them with support opportunities using a just-in-time, active, and multi-modal approach. We will share the numerous resources, ideas, approaches, and strategies that guided our faculty support model, which also includes the University’s Technology, Innovation, and Peer Support (TIPS) team of faculty on each campus who offer virtual sessions for faculty peers and provide one-on-one consultation on a variety of topics to support instruction and overall teaching effectiveness.  

Strategy 4: Adopt the Mindset of an Innovation Culture

At the heart of the University’s mission is “innovation.” We know we are being “innovative” when we as educators and institutional leaders thoughtfully apply and experiment with different tools, technologies, and approaches in order to optimize student learning. At USAHS, a culture of innovation manifests in many ways. For example, grant support is competitively awarded to faculty and staff (including financial, professional development funding, and technical resources) through the Innovation Steering Committee, which is dedicated to supporting new ways to strengthen student outcomes. Our cultural mindset fosters and encourages a passionate curiosity and a measured risk-taking approach. The University is committed to scanning the internal environment for problems that need to be solved, and also scanning the external environment for best practices, tools, and technologies to foster continuous improvement in healthcare education outcomes.

During COVID-19, as we were faced with the need to quickly innovate to solve problems, teams from across the five campuses came together quickly to examine data, discuss solutions, and identify potential solutions. Internal collaboration allowed us to work together, but agility allowed us to innovate solutions quickly but responsibly. As solutions were identified, we moved quickly to implementation with a healthy tolerance for risk-taking. For example, as noted, faculty required solutions for formative and summative feedback in the virtual environment. Faculty were invited to submit solutions and suggestions, and it was from within the faculty that GoReact was suggested. Within just a few days, the Information Technology, Finance and Contracts, and the Teaching, Learning and Innovation teams had collaborated to license, install, and integrate the platform into the learning management system. A similar process was executed with Respondus, which was needed to replace campus-based proctored testing.

Instructional Cases

During the session, we will present examples of faculty innovation that embody the strategic framework that has guided our approach to COVID-19. These cases show how the university leveraged its culture of innovation, agility, and problem-solving to meet student needs. Faculty across the University designed and implemented hundreds of such cases and continue to do so as we approach a future shifting toward a greater reliance on virtual teaching due to COVID-19.  

The cases we will highlight with video, images, and practical perspective as to “how-to” are:

Case 1: Virtual Lab Kits for Home Fabrication of Orthoses

Case 2: 3-D Printing of Anatomic Models

Case 3: Using GoReact for Formative Assessment of Psychomotor Skills

Case 4: Using GoReact for Summative Assessments

Case 5: Telehealth Focused Virtual Simulation

Case 6: Virtual COVID-19 Patient Case Simulation Using the Double Robot

A Look at the Future

USAHS has been able to quickly apply a strategic learning framework with innovative solutions to preserve the integrity of the University’s active learning model during a rapid shift to fully virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Undeniably, the pandemic has changed higher education, in some ways potentially permanently. If there is a silver lining in such a tragic episode, it is that the pandemic has forced all higher education stakeholders to solve instructional problems creatively and be resilient. Technology has also afforded us the opportunity to stay connected virtually, and rather than merely replicating our campus environments, we have had to innovate new ways to teach.

At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, we remain committed to innovating new and enhanced teaching and learning strategies, as well as assessing our progress using data-driven approaches. The University has established data points and ongoing measurements for learning outcomes and student satisfaction throughout the alternative teaching period.

During the presentation, we will share our perspectives on the future and invite participants to share theirs as well.