Smartphone toolkit proves perfect for online learning during COVID-19

A person is using a computer
A computer

Who knew that creating smartphone videos would become so timely to online pedagogy?

Luckily, three York University professors were ahead of the game with their Smartphone Accommodation Resource Toolbox (SmART), an online platform that teaches users the proper techniques and ethics necessary to create and share their own video works, particularly in practice-based disciplines like health and nursing, the arts and engineering, where the learning, performance, documentation and evaluation of “hands-on” skills is central to the curriculum.

the smart toolkit online entry pointAssociate Professors Iris Epstein of the School of Nursing, Faculty of Health; Melanie Baljko of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the Lassonde School of Engineering; and Kurt Thumlert of the Faculty of Education, combined their expertise to create this innovative way to bridge practical skills training and assessment to life. The group also received a grant from York University’s Academic Innovation Fund.

“With COVID-19, there has been a push to quickly move teaching and learning online, and this is a great opportunity to share resources on how students and faculty can use smartphone video and other software tools to teach and learn practice-based skills. We are excited to share SmART,” said Epstein.

While faculty, staff and students from nursing, athletic therapy, engineering and dance collaborated to develop SmART, the toolbox is also a powerful resource for all disciplines that involve teaching and learning situated in practice-based skills, from medical skills to dance performance, to working with technology tools or doing studio-based arts. SmART provides resources for how to record and share and give feedback on video recordings.  There are examples on how nursing students have created videos to simulate a professional role (role-playing) and demonstrate a complex set of skills (for example, the multiple steps required to safely perform an injection). Their peers and instructors can then provide interactive and multimodal feedback using new software tools.

Following the directions on the SmART website, users across diverse disciplines can access models for how video can be used to document simulations or hands-on skill performances, and can learn the basics of creating videos: using videos as feedback and assessment tools and considering important matters like ethics, privacy and data security.

“I’ve even used it in classes with 120 students so we could all share role-playing videos and learn to value classmates’ feedback,” Epstein said.

The SmART Guide section of the website takes the users through an interactive checklist that guides instructors to the resources they need or want to learn about. The same is true for students who want to create a video work. There is guidance that considers the level of complexity (for example, no editing vs. high editing) or whether the instructor wants to offer live synchronized feedback or asynchronous recorded feedback, suggesting the proper tools for each instance.

“Creating – not watching – videos is becoming central teaching and learning today, especially for students in need of accommodation, or students in remote communities,” said Epstein. “COVID-19 has put us in the same boat now, as online learning is suddenly the new normal. Our SmART toolbox is a platform for sharing models and techniques to use videos when teaching and learning across disciplines and can support instructors in creating a dynamic and collaborative community of connected learners.”

While the website is still a work in progress, its creators hope that various faculties and students will not only learn from the possibilities, but also add their practice-based videos and related class assignment to ultimately create a community of learners.

“I learn a lot from my students’ stories and we can all learn from different disciplines,” Epstein said.

Don’t take her word for it; check out the toolbox yourself.

By Elaine Smith, special contributor to Innovatus

Do you have a story to share about how you are coping, or what you are doing differently, during the COVID-19 pandemic? Email us at yfile@yorku.ca.