CARES Act Brings Virtual Labs to Students Amid COVID-19
When the College of Podiatric Medicine moved to fully remote instruction in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire building was closed and inaccessible to students. All faculty worked very hard to successfully transition classes to an online format using web-based conferencing platforms such as Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Microsoft Teams. However, when the anatomy and microbiology/histology laboratories were closed to students for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester, the faculty in those courses faced a difficult challenge as to how to remotely teach content that typically require hands-on experiences for students. It became apparent very quickly that the infrastructure in the preclinical sciences laboratory spaces was not sufficient for this type of instruction.
Through a collaborative effort between the Division of Preclinical Sciences and the college’s IT department, CPM received more than $500,000 from the CARES Act to improve and enhance the technology in preclinical instructional spaces. In the anatomy lab, new all-in-one medical grade computers with webcams will be installed at each cadaver station. The webcam will be connected to an arm that extends up to 12 feet. While physical distancing only permits two students at each cadaver table at a time, those who are in the lab can livestream the dissection to the rest of their group members who are watching remotely in a breakout room in Collaborate Ultra. Students in the lab can interact with those elsewhere via the chat feature. Additionally, 43” ultra HD television monitors will be placed around the anatomy lab. Using the webcams, faculty and staff can project structures of interest in a cadaver to the screens around the room, rather than have students gather around one table.
Similar upgrades will be made in the microbiology/histology lab to enhance instruction administered remotely or while adhering to proper physical distancing. New all-in-one computers with webcams on extension arms will be located at various locations on the lab tables so that students in the lab can livestream lab activities with their group members. As with the anatomy lab, 43” ultra HD television monitors will be placed around the space to allow for interesting findings at one station to be projected to the rest of the students in the lab.
Perhaps most exciting, a new mixed reality (virtual reality/augmented reality) laboratory will be created on the third floor of the college! The lab will serve to augment anatomy dissection instruction, as the number of students permitted in the anatomy lab is restricted due to physical distancing. Thirty Microsoft HoloLens 2 mixed reality headsets will be purchased, to be used in conjunction with the HoloAnatomy® Software Suite. This program allows students to study anatomy via holographic models!
With respect to general instructional spaces, a portion of the CARES funds will be used to purchase new Meeting Owl conference cameras to enhance remote instruction in the classrooms. The podiatric medical classrooms (a divisible modular space) will undergo a full technology buildout, with lecterns installed on both side of the divisible room. Room and table cameras will be included to allow for recording of specific procedures in addition to didactic content. Finally, in order to support the technology upgrades, the network capabilities at the college were updated.
The upgrades to the instructional spaces are expected to be completed prior to the start of the Spring 2021 semester. Jill Kawalec, PhD, Professor and Division Head of Preclinical Sciences, stresses that while the upgrades will support remote instruction and physically distanced learning, the improvements will continue to enhance preclinical instruction long after the pandemic has passed. " The new and upgraded state-of-the-art technology in the preclinical instructional spaces will further solidify KSUCPM's position of excellence in training podiatric medical students", said Dr. Kawalec. "We believe that our students will benefit academically from the new technology and are excited for them to get started!"