Physical Therapy students go HD

High-definition technology improves learning experience

KINGSTON, R.I. – November 19, 2008 – Students in the University of Rhode Island physical therapy program are spending more time in front of television screens, in the interest of learning more about their field.

Over the summer, the physical therapy department installed a video teleconferencing system that includes cameras, three 50-inch high-definition television monitors and additional software in its facilities in Independence Square. The equipment was made possible through a $96,790 grant from the Champlin Foundations.

“The video conferencing system is a major advance for the department,” said Beth Marcoux, professor and chair of the physical therapy department. “The generosity of the Champlin Foundations has helped us improve the manner in which our students are learning.”

Before the new equipment was installed, students would have to crowd around a table while an instructor demonstrated proper techniques and hand placements on a client. With as many as 30 students standing around a table, vantage points were poor for anyone not in the front of a group.

With the big-screen monitors in place, students can watch from a separate room and have a greatly improved view of treatments. Cameras in the treatment room allow for up close views for specific hand placements. The new set-up also creates a much more comfortable setting for the clients receiving treatment.

“Because students can watch from a separate room, the clients have a better sense of personal space, which makes for a more comfortable session,” Marcoux said. “The technology still allows students to ask questions of the instructor and client from the viewing room as treatments are demonstrated, so it is very much an interactive experience.”

Professor Peter Blanpied has incorporated the new technology extensively into his courses. As students learn new techniques, they can watch it on video before performing it themselves. Software from Switzerland-based technology firm Dartfish can provide split-screen capabilities that allows students to watch footage of themselves performing techniques while comparing it to footage of professionals doing the same technique.

“This equipment will absolutely help make the students in the program better prepared in the field,” Blanpied said. “From a technique standpoint, clearly this is a strong learning tool. The student are gaining a more complete understanding not only of what they are doing, but why they are doing it.”

Getting the real-time interaction with actual clients is important for the students. While they can practice techniques on each other during class time, an important part of the learning experience is seeing how different techniques affect different people.

“Practicing a technique on a young, relatively healthy classmate, you are going to see a much different reaction than you would from an older client who is in for treatment because of an injury,” Blandpied said. “Understanding how a client may respond to treatment is a very important piece to the learning process.”

In addition to the improved viewing of live treatment, the new technology allows the department to archive treatments for future viewing. If students want to review a specific type of treatment, they can watch the video outside of class time.

The split-screen technology was first developed for golfers who were studying the mechanics of their swing. The same principals apply for physical therapy.

“With physical therapy, you are dealing with several moving parts with range of motion,” Marcoux said. “Being able to watch those moving parts only makes the students better prepared as they get ready for hands-on experience.”