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Occupational Therapy Class Keeps Connection While Learning Virtually

By Nicole Carrera

Published on July 13, 2020

Sarah Corcoran OTD, OTR/LAs COVID-19 brought stay-at-home orders and the transition to virtual life began for many people, classes at USciences and everywhere had to be adapted. For Sarah Corcoran OTD, OTR/L, this meant bringing OT 105/405: Overview of Occupational Therapy (OT) Practice to life online. 

Typically the first course for professional, post-baccalaureate students entering the Occupational Therapy curriculum, the coursework included both synchronous and asynchronous instruction for 50 students. She made the class engaging by establishing community, utilizing a team approach, and purpose for each activity.

Dr. Corcoran values the connection between people and how they participate in life both separately and in a group. She strived to maintain this personal connection in her online class as well. “I thought the biggest challenge when redesigning the course for the online environment was finding ways to establish community among the students, who are embarking on their OT education together at this time in history.” 

Dr. Corcoran was able to maintain this personal connection by emphasizing her appreciation of feedback from students, and acknowledging the stress and strain on mental health that the situation was causing. She took the time to allow for personal reflection during class, and sharing how things may be changing at the University and at the professional level as a result of COVID-19.

As with many things in life, transitioning a class to an online learning experience is made easier with support from others. Dr. Corcoran credits many of her colleagues for their help in ensuring her students received the most effective virtual course, namely her teaching assistant Nancy Greene DrOT’20, members of the academic technology support team, and Leslie Bowman AMLS and Jennifer Hasse MLIS for helping students to learn the APA writing style. 

Other alterations, such as getting to know students in small groups, helped Dr. Corcoran successfully support her students. She also adapted her syllabus to account for new challenges of virtual learning, adding sections such as Zoom class etiquette. Dr. Corcoran was able to track learning objectives throughout the course by making sure students understood why they were completing a certain assignment or activity. 

"When setting up my online course, I thought about planning a party."

-- Sarah Corcoran OTD, OTR/L

“When setting up my online course, I thought about planning a party.” Dr. Corcoran explains. “As the host, you get everything ready for guests in advance. Inevitably, you need something you didn’t plan for- maybe you need to run out for ice, order extra food, or change the music. Staying flexible, emphasizing the reason to celebrate, paying attention to your guests’ needs, and asking others for help can make the party a success.”

Looking ahead, Dr. Corcoran feels that there are aspects of this experience that she can incorporate into her in-person classes in the future. For example, her use of online office hours was very well received by students, as were her narrated modules that she used to share information. Dr. Corcoran believes that both of these tools can be beneficial to students in the future as they allow for flexibility and accessibility. 

“The modules allow [students] to have the flexibility to learn at their own, guided pace. If a student needs to listen to a recorded module again, it’s available for them.” Dr. Corcoran explains. She emphasizes that recognizing the fast-paced world that students are used to increases the need to efficiently share information. 

Overall, Dr. Corcoran had a positive experience teaching this course online, and believes that her students did as well. “I know that I have much to learn about teaching online, but I believe this change has allowed me to take a closer look at my own teaching. While not without technical challenges, this experience has showed me what is positively possible through online learning.”

Categories: News, Samson College of Health Sciences, Department of Occupational Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Faculty,