Teaching Professional Behaviors Online

Patricia Schaber

Patricia Schaber, Ph.D., MDiv, OTR/L
Program in Occupational Therapy, Center for Allied Health Programs, University of Minnesota

+1 612-626-5111

Project Statement

The goal of my DMC Faculty Fellowship Program project is to design teaching and learning experiences that promote the behaviors and attitudes of novice health care professionals. The project is part of a full course revision for OT 6102: Professional Identity: Behaviors and Attitudes, that moves the course from a classroom-based to a hybrid/online format. This course was formerly taught using in-class, small group reflection and discussion to mold student impressions and attitudes around core occupational therapy concepts such as disability, pain, death and dying, empathy, and spirituality. The object of the module selected for the project is to educate the students about pain and working with clients in pain; specifically, to sensitize students to persons living with acute or chronic pain. The challenge for this project is to capture the rich, attitude-changing, self-reflection and dialogue in an online format that will lead to the development of professional behaviors and attitudes.


The project is designing one module in the Professional Identity course that is part of a new, entry-level master's occupational therapy curriculum. The curriculum was designed using a hybrid format that has increasing gradation of face-to-face, center-based learning as the student moves through the four-semester didactic program. There are two center sites, 90 miles apart, with the plan to create additional educational centers around the state.

The fifteen-week course, Professional Identity: Behaviors and Attitudes, contains four units: 1. The profession and the professional, 2. Self-exploration, 3. Ethics, 4. Interprofessional teams. The project focus is on one module in the self-exploration unit that serves as a model for the structure and use of technology in the other modules. Other than one face-to-face, six-hour session on self-awareness in the seventh week, the course is entirely in an online format.

Learning Challenge

The instructor had been successful in designing in-class learning experiences that modeled and shaped professional attitudes. A DMC team member observed a class period and discovered a pattern for teaching and learning activities. Initially, the instructor would draw in student interest using a brief exercise that set the tone. It was a tone that the environment was safe, supportive, confidential, and reflective. The exercise was designed to challenge the students to think differently about the topic. Next, there would be a personal reflection on the students' own experiences. Then content on the topic was delivered through lecture or guest presentations. Students would break into smaller groups for an exercise of guided disclosure and discussion. Finally, the instructor would bring the groups back together for large group discussion and summary.

The questions that emerged were, what are the best technology-enhanced learning tools to simulate the classroom experience, how can we use them to facilitate the degree of self-reflection that is needed for attitudinal changes, and what would be the best order to use them in an online module?

"Designing the learning experiences using a new format or technology-enhanced tools is not a matter of plugging in the tool and expecting better or 'fun' learning. You need to begin the process with the learning outcome, the learning objectives, and connect the content with the design and selection of the tool."

Design of Module

The technology-enhanced learning tools selected for the pain module were Wimba Voice Tools, a videotaped case, and a brief discussion board exercise. The "aha! moment" during development was when Wimba Voice Tools were introduced. Adding vocal qualities to an online discussion seemed to generate honesty and openness; there was a spontaneity with the tool that elicited sharing. While using the voice tools, we tried scripting the response and it fell flat, void of emotion. Unscripted talking seemed to personalize the sharing. When we demonstrated the tool for the project, it was apparent that many participants seemed comfortable responding to personal questions. Also, listening to others' responses on the Wimba tool was enjoyable and elicited an emotional response in the listeners.

The videotaped case was of a young woman who talked about pain from her own experience. She was a student in the program and the presentation became a student-to-student listening event. Rather than a list of "how to talk to people in pain" rules, the case sensitized students by presenting the techniques within the story. The use of a videotaped case had several advantages: You can edit the video and control the content displayed, video is able to capture the emotion, students can replay the video, you do not need a guest speaker every year, and there seemed to be a greater ease for the guest who may not have been comfortable in front of a class.

Along with the online content on pain, there were three readings: one technical; one from a novel, The Gift of Pain; and a textbook chapter on interventions to use with clients in pain. A discussion board question served as a brief forum on strategies for alleviating pain. Students returned to using the Wimba Voice Tools at the conclusion of the module to explore attitudes that were reinforced or altered by the learning experience.

In designing the learning experience, after selecting the teaching/learning elements in the modules, the decisions were around the order in which the elements would be presented.

Take Home Message

Designing the learning experiences using a new format or technology-enhanced tools is not a matter of plugging in the tool and expecting better or "fun" learning. You need to begin the process with the learning outcome, the learning objectives, and connect the content with the design and selection of the tool. Next you need to try it out, take risks, be willing to change it if it doesn't work. Finally, measure the learning. This means assessing learning throughout the course, not just at the end. Each learning activity may be effective or ineffective. Each needs at least a brief assessment to determine if you are obtaining the outcomes you anticipate.

Future Plan

The plan is to extend the design of this module to the other topics in the Self Exploration unit including disability, empathy, spirituality, and loss/grief/death and dying. The anticipated outcome is that by using a consistent approach to present the online learning activities, students will feel comfortable with the format and be open to exploring their own attitudes and behaviors and be open to change. The course will be evaluated and the learning outcomes will be measured against the classroom-based experiences from prior years.

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