New platform focuses on using smartphone technology to teach practical skills

Iris Epstein
Iris Epstein

Studies demonstrate that when students videorecord themselves performing a practical skill or performance, and receive feedback, there is an increase in students’ feeling of engagement in a community of learners, as well as increased confidence in performing the hands-on skill. To support practical and embodied learning in online and blended courses, Iris Epstein, an assistant professor of nursing in the Faculty of Health, envisioned a platform that might advance pedagogical innovation through the use of smartphone video production and interactive feedback tools.

Thanks to Epstein and faculty and students across four disciplines (nursing, education, engineering and dance), the York community will now be able to turn to the Smartphone Accommodation Resource Toolbox (SmART) to help bring remote practical skills training and assessment to life. Epstein will unveil SmART this spring, thanks to funding from an Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) grant. The platform will provide a suite of tools designed to allow for the smooth incorporation of video into the learning process, subdivided into guidance on making practice-based videos; video feedback and assessment tools; ethics, privacy and security concerns; and home-based “task-trainer” creation.

A student uses the task trainer in SmART to hone the skill required to administer an injection

“The SmART toolbox was initially developed to support students with performance anxiety, and to accommodate diverse and remote students in learning contexts where practical skills could be dramatized, captured and shared with smartphone video tools,” said Epstein.

After conducting research and surveys, Epstein found that students and instructors alike were interested, more generally, in integrating the use of smartphone video production and feedback into practical, professional and studio-based learning courses.

Epstein highlighted its usefulness in a basic nursing skill – teaching students how to inject a patient. “It’s a skill that improves with time and practice and ongoing feedback,” she said. “When students try it under the watchful eyes of instructors, they may be anxious and find it difficult.”

However, if they can practise at home, SmART tools will help them to create smartphone videos of their attempts and to send them to instructors for feedback. “This saves time,” Epstein said, “and faculty can give recorded detailed feedback as well as create their own model videos to share with the entire class.”

Another view of the task trainer in SmART

Practising skills independently may require additional tools, and that’s where the task trainers fit in. They are devices that allow students to simulate work or practice-based situations cheaply and easily. In fact, Lassonde School of Engineering Professor James Andrew Smith and a group of his engineering students have developed techniques so nursing students can make task trainers at home for use in practising and videorecording injections. The task trainer simulates skin, complete with veins, and allows students to use a pencil in place of a needle to “inject” a patient at home and improve their technique. Best of all, a kit costs the student only eight dollars. Task trainers can be created for other disciplines teaching practice skills, such as biology or chemistry.

SmART is an online platform made by students, faculty and staff for students, faculty and staff, Epstein said, adding that “SmART is open-access and cost-effective. It is also teaching students and faculty to work together in a cross-disciplinary fashion.”

The idea for the toolbox originated from Epstein’s work with students who identify with disabilities, students living in faraway communities and English language learners, as multimodal smartphones are dominant accommodation tools. Epstein realized that it would be very useful in the School of Nursing’s distance education programs and other programs teaching practice-based skills.

“After extensive research and surveys, we found that students and instructors alike were interested in integrating the use of smartphone video production into practical learning courses, and wanted to learn more about video production techniques and the time-saving tips, the affordances of interactive feedback tools, as well as ethics best practices,” said  Epstein.

Epstein and her colleagues plan to unveil the online platform this spring and are interested in hearing from other faculty who teach embodied, hands-on skills. “SmART is an open-access resource that supports practice-based student video production, dynamic interactive feedback tools and ethics/security best practices,” she said, “with how-to tutorials for constructing task trainers/models.”

By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer to Innovatus